Michael Jackson suffered a serious setback in his attempt to fend off charges of child molestation Monday when a California judge ruled that evidence of prior allegations could be considered at the pop star's trial. The Santa Barbara county prosecutor, Thomas Sneddon, said he intended to present evidence relating to five previous child accusers, ages 10 to 13, two of whom had settled out of court with Jackson after their families claimed he had molested the children.
Sneddon said only one of the five would appear in person. Testimony in the other four cases, including that of former child actor Macaulay Culkin, would come from nine third-party witnesses.
He successfully argued that the evidence would show a pattern of "very similar, if not identical" behavior to the 10 charges the singer faces in his current trial, including the "grooming" of young boys, preparing them to be receptive to molestation by plying them with alcohol, and showing them pornography.
Jackson has pleaded not guilty to all charges, and told former civil rights leader Jesse Jackson in an interview on Sunday: "I gain strength from God ... and I gain strength from the fact that I know that I am innocent." He added: "None of these stories are true. They are totally fabricated. It's very sad, it's very, very painful. I pray a lot. That's how I deal with it, and I'm a strong person. I'm a warrior, and I know what is inside of me. I'm a fighter, but it's very painful at the end of the day. I'm still human, you know. I'm still a human being, so it does hurt."
During the hourlong interview, the singer claimed the child molestation charges were part of a wide-ranging conspiracy to discredit him.
Monday's decision is a lifeline to the prosecution team, whose case seemed to be in disarray after defense lawyers undermined the credibility of Jackson's current accusers. His lead defense lawyer, Thomas Mesereau, had argued that the prosecution was resorting to past cases in desperation as its case unraveled. Allowing the evidence, he said, would "easily reduce the burden of proof and the presumption of innocence, and render an unfair trial."
Mesereau pointed out that Culkin had repeatedly said he was never molested, and others would deny that they were abused. He argued that if the supposed victims were not alleging abuse, all evidence from their cases should be excluded from the trial. Mesereau said the evidence was based on third parties, many of whom were after Jackson's money. "How can you just allow a parade of third-party characters to come in without any victims?"
Sneddon said the testimony of other witnesses would show Jackson had a consistent pattern of abuse.
The judge, Rodney Melville, ruled for the prosecution. "I'm going to permit testimony with regard to sexual offenses and alleged pattern of grooming activity by the defendant," he said. While the jury was excluded from the court, Mesereau told the judge that one child from a previous case would claim Jackson had touched his genitals on three occasions, once "thrusting" his hands into the boy's underwear. Evidence will also be admitted from an accuser in 1990 who received a 1.28 million-pound settlement from Jackson.
Jordy Chandler, who came forward with similar charges three years later, will not testify, but Mesereau said he would produce witnesses who had seen Jackson in bed with other boys and seen their underwear on the floor.
In earlier cross-examination, Mesereau had established that the 15-year-old alleged victim in the current case had denied that he had been molested by Jackson when interviewed by the dean of his school. The boy told the court he had denied he had been assaulted because he was afraid of being made fun of by his schoolmates.
The trial continues.