SANTA MARIA, Calif. – The opposing legal teams in Michael Jackson's (search) child molestation case delivered their opening statements Monday, painting wildly different portraits of the embattled pop star.
In their morning statement, the prosecution claimed the then 13-year-old accuser was abused and that Jackson employees and associates tried to silence him and his family by warning that his mother could be killed.
District Attorney Thomas Sneddon (search) said the boy, now 15, will describe to the jury his sexual experiences with Jackson and show that the musician's Neverland Ranch was a devilish lair.
"The private world of Michael Jackson will show that instead of reading them Peter Pan, he's showing them sexually explicit magazines. ... Instead of cookies and milk, you can substitute wine, vodka and bourbon," he said.
Later in the day, Jackson's defense team countered with their own opening salvo, saying their client was the victim of a con artist who used her cancer-stricken son to prey on celebrities for cash.
Opening statements began after Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville (search) read the indictment to the jury, revealing the names of five unindicted alleged co-conspirators.
The judge also read 28 overt acts allegedly committed in a conspiracy surrounding the alleged molestation of the boy, a cancer patient, at Jackson's Neverland ranch and a purported attempt to keep his family silent.
After the nearly three-hour opening by Sneddon, defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. (search) went on the attack, saying the mother of the accuser fraudulently claimed to many people that she was destitute and that her son needed money for chemotherapy. In truth, he said, the boy's father was a member of a union that covered his medical bills.
Mesereau said the mother went to comedian Jay Leno for money and Leno was so suspicious that he called Santa Barbara police to tell them he had been contacted and "something was wrong. They were looking for a mark."
The mother also approached comedian George Lopez and a Los Angeles TV weatherman who staged a fund-raiser for the child at a comedy club, the defense attorney said.
"At the fund-raiser, there was [the boy] in the lobby of the Laugh Factory with his hand out, prodded by [his mother]," Mesereau said.
He said celebrities including Mike Tyson and Jim Carrey turned the family away, but Jackson was too sympathetic.
"The most vulnerable celebrity became the mark, Michael Jackson," Mesereau said.
Sneddon, so identified as Jackson's nemesis that the star insulted him in a song, argued that Jackson was hardly a victim. The Santa Barbara district attorney said the pop star not only molested the boy, but tried to use him in a plot to regain respectability.
Sneddon told the jury that the case was about Jackson's "desperate attempt" to salvage his career after the airing of Martin Bashir's television documentary "Living With Michael Jackson," in which the pop star is seen holding hands with the boy and saying he allows children to sleep in his bed.
He said one of the co-conspirators described the airing as "a train wreck" and Jackson's associates began a bid to get the family's help in a public relations campaign to rebut it.
Jackson had intended to exploit the boy by using the documentary to demonstrate how the singer helped him through his cancer, Sneddon said. He said Jackson told him what to say.
"He never told the boy that this video was anything other than an audition," Sneddon said.
Sneddon said "Jackson's world was rocked" when the documentary aired in early 2003 and backfired by creating negative publicity. At that point, he said, Jackson's team tried to get the boy and his family to rebut it.
The prosecutor said the molestation occurred after those events, in February or March 2003, when the boy was 13. He described two specific incidents of molestation, including one when Jackson reached into the boy's underpants and masturbated the boy and himself.
During his opening, Sneddon referred to the boy by name after telling the court it would be impossible to proceed without using the real names of the child and his family.
Sneddon said that Jackson was "heavily in debt" for years before the making of the documentary, drawing an objection from the defense. The judge sustained the objection, saying he had not ruled on whether financial evidence would be allowed into the trial.
"Your honor, that's the motive," the prosecutor complained.
He told jurors that the child had undergone surgeries to remove a 16-pound tumor from his stomach. His gall bladder and his lymph nodes were also removed.
It was then, he said, that the child met Jamie Masada, who ran a comedy camp for underprivileged children. He said that the child told Masada his dying wish was to meet Chris Tucker, Adam Sandler and Michael Jackson.
"He actually met all of them," said Sneddon, and in August 2000 Jackson invited the child and his family to Neverland. At dinner during the first visit, Sneddon said, Jackson told the child to ask his mother if he could sleep in Jackson's bedroom and the boy did.
That night, he said, Jackson took the boy to his bedroom along with Jackson employee Frank Tyson and Jackson's own son, Prince Michael.
On that night, he said, Jackson took the boys on a tour of sexually explicit Web sites with naked bodies. "It lasted 45 minutes," Sneddon said.
When an image of a woman with bare breasts came on the screen, Sneddon said, Jackson turned to the group and said: "Got milk?"
The indictment, which had not been released before, stated that between February and March 2003, Tyson, also known as Frank Cascio, threatened the accuser, telling him that "Michael could make the family disappear" and that he also said, "I could have your mother killed."
The indictment alleged a series of bizarre activities including a panicky effort by Jackson employees and associates to get the family of his accuser ready for a trip to Brazil.
It alleged that Tyson told the family they were in danger and "this is not the time to be out there alone. This is not the time to turn your back on Michael."
It also alleged that in February 2003, Jackson's staff was instructed in writing not to let the boy leave Neverland.
Also named as unindicted co-conspirators were Ronald Konitzer, Dieter Wiesner, Marc Schaffel and Vincent Amen.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.