Prosecutors using girlie magazines in case against Jackson

Monday, March 21, 2005

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- Michael Jackson's child molestation trial has started to look like an X-rated show, complete with lurid magazine covers of topless women projected on a large screen in the courtroom.

The prosecution intended from the outset to haul Jackson's reading materials before jurors, implying that he used the magazines to arouse young boys.

"They want the jury to get the sense of Michael Jackson as a pervert who doesn't live by the rules and is obsessed with sex," said Laurie Levenson, a former prosecutor and professor at Loyola University Law School. "But this could backfire."

Jackson's attorney, Thomas Mesereau Jr., might cast it as a desperate ploy to distract from sometimes-contradictory testimony by the accuser, Levenson said. And jurors might question why a battalion of deputies had to scour Jackson's enormous library for books that his accuser might never have seen.

The exhibits that have been splashed on the screen in recent days include commercially available magazines such as "Barely Legal" and "Penthouse."

The boy and his brother said they saw this type of magazine when they were in Jackson's bedroom. In one case, they said, they found the publications on their own while poking through Jackson's belongings.

Now, the prosecution is having a hard time showing that Jackson and the boy handled the magazine together -- an important premise of the case.

On Friday, the defense noted that only one magazine submitted in court has a single fingerprint each from Jackson and his accuser. And that magazine was shown to the boy on the witness stand during grand jury hearings and was not tested for prints until after the grand jury returned an indictment.

Prosecutors insist the boy did not put his fingerprint on it at the grand jury. But fans of the television show "CSI" -- and there are some on the jury -- might wonder why the tests were not done earlier.

Meanwhile, the pile of smut grows larger.

One by one, sheriff's deputies who raided Jackson's estate in November 2003 have paraded into court, each identifying some item they found -- a magazine, a videotape, a DVD, an art book -- and describing them as being found on Jackson's bedroom floor, at the edge of his Jacuzzi tub, or in his office where some magazines were hidden in cabinets or stored in boxes.

Photos of Jackson's Neverland ranch suggest an incurable pack rat. The defense has asserted that many of the books were gifts from famous photographers who wanted to set up sessions with Jackson.

Some legal experts question whether the focus on Jackson's magazines can bolster the narrative the prosecution had been telling -- that the boy, a young cancer survivor, sought the company of the pop star he idolized, only to have that trust shattered by a pedophile.

"It sounds like a distraction, but as a trial strategy you can't keep the jury distracted forever," said Los Angeles lawyer Steve Cron, who has tried molestation cases. "It may be that stronger points of [District Attorney Tom] Sneddon's case are yet to come, but it's always hard to overcome a weak accuser."

During grueling cross-examination by Mesereau, the now 15-year-old boy and his brother said they found a briefcase full of sexually oriented magazines while poking around Jackson's bedroom.

They also said the singer masturbated the boy at least twice, maybe four or five times, before the family left Neverland.

Prosecutors contend the boy's family was held captive for more than a month because Jackson wanted them to make a video rebutting a damaging TV documentary about Jackson that aired on Feb. 6, 2003.

But on the stand, the boy said he didn't take advantage of several opportunities to escape Jackson's estate because he didn't want to leave and envisioned Jackson as a mentor in a sort of Big Brother program.

"I liked being at Neverland. It was like Disneyland," the boy said. "I was having fun."

By the end, the boy said, that changed.

"I don't really like him anymore," he said, glancing across the courtroom at Jackson. "I don't really think he's deserving of the respect I was giving him as the coolest guy in the world."

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