Off to a quick start

The People of California vs. Michael Joseph Jackson finally begins with opening statements by the defense and prosecution.

By Dan Glaister

Published February 28, 2005 3:15PM (EST)

A year and three months since his arrest, and a month after the court case against him officially began, the serious business of the People of California vs. Michael Joseph Jackson finally gets underway Monday in Santa Maria, Calif. The prosecution and defense will make their opening statements before the prosecution calls its first witness, who is widely expected to be the television journalist Martin Bashir. A two-minute clip from Mr Bashir's documentary, "Living With Michael Jackson," is expected to form part of the prosecution's opening statement.

The documentary, broadcast two years ago, showed the entertainer holding hands with the then 13-year-old boy who has since accused him of sexual molestation. In it, Jackson also explained his belief that sharing your bed with somebody was the most loving thing you could do.

The disclosures eventually resulted in charges being brought against Jackson, now 46, in April last year. The charges, to which he has pleaded not guilty, are of molestation of a 13-year-old boy, of giving the boy alcohol and of conspiring to keep him and his family from leaving Jackson's Neverland ranch near Santa Maria, three hours north of Los Angeles.

The trial, which is expected to last up to six months, has got off to a sprightly start. The jury selection process, which many thought could drag on for up to six weeks, was wrapped up by Judge Rodney Melville in less than a week, although there was a weeklong interruption while Jackson was taken to the hospital for what was called a bad case of flu.

Last week the judge ruled that the defense could introduce evidence that the accuser's mother had made abuse charges in the past. The allegations relate to a lawsuit launched against a department store by the mother after her son was detained for allegedly leaving without paying for some clothes. The mother alleged that store detectives had held her and her son against their will, had beaten them and groped her. The store settled the claim out of court for $150,000. The defense wants to introduce evidence relating to the claim to bolster its contention that the mother only brought the molestation allegations against Jackson for financial gain.

Jackson's defense attorney, Thomas Mesereau, told the court on Feb. 25 that the mother had used her son, who was then suffering from cancer, to ask celebrities for money, but had spent the money on cosmetic surgery. "She got a breast enhancement and a tummy tuck and then told Mr. Jackson and all these people she was destitute," Mesereau said.

But Judge Melville ruled against a defense request to introduce evidence related to the mother's use of psychiatric medication and excluded any reference to her extramarital conduct. The deputy district attorney, Ron Zonen, argued that the defense's focus on the mother's reputation was a smoke screen to draw attention from the issue at hand. "The question is whether a man who admits to sleeping with children was sleeping with this child, and what he did with this child. That's what this case is about," he said.

The man in question spent most of last Friday in court, a surprise to many observers, given that Jackson was not obliged to be present to hear the deliberation over the pretrial motions. He appeared relaxed as he chatted with reporters and court officials, even attempting to buy some of the sketches drawn by a court artist.

Many believe his attorney has warned him to take the case seriously and not repeat the antics that typified the beginning of the case, when Jackson danced on his car outside the court.

Dan Glaister

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