Jackson Trial Update: Closing Arguments Set to Begin

After months of testimony, closing arguments are set to begin on Thursday in the Michael Jackson child sex abuse case in Santa Maria, Calif. The judge made a key ruling that allows the jury to consider past allegations of child molestation made by prosecution witnesses.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, a Southern reporter moves west and finds the race story there waiting for him.

First, this. After nearly five months and 138 witnesses and an awful lot of media speculation, the child molestation case against Michael Jackson is finally coming to an end. With closing arguments expected tomorrow, the case could be at the jury by the end of the week. NPR's Luke Burbank is at the courthouse in Santa Maria, California, and joins us now.

Luke, it's almost over. What are we expecting today and during those final hours before the case goes to the jury?

LUKE BURBANK reporting:

Well, this is a little bit of housekeeping, Alex, before the big fireworks of tomorrow. The jury instructions are still being wrangled over between the defense and the prosecution; that is, the specific language the jury will get as to sort of what kind of evidence they can consider and how they should consider that evidence. One of the big issues they were debating yesterday was how to address previous sexual abuse allegations against Jackson, things that didn't go to court but that were settled. The final agreement on that was that the jury could consider it--it goes to his character--but they weren't allowed to consider whether or not those allegations were true or not.

CHADWICK: I presume that he will be there for the closing arguments tomorrow.

BURBANK: Oh, yeah, he will be in attendance for the closing arguments tomorrow. The closing arguments, I'm told, are going to be pretty important to this case. I've talked to a lot of trial watchers who have been here the whole time and they said this is, in their opinion, basically, a draw right now. There has been pretty strong evidence presented on both sides. And so if Tom Sneddon, the prosecutor, or if Tom Mesereau, the defense attorney, make a particularly strong case in the closing arguments, that could really swing this thing.

CHADWICK: It could, but, still, it has been almost five months and all these witnesses. One would think there's an awful lot for the jury to kind of talk over and consider. It could take a while to get to a verdict. Michael Jackson going to be sitting there in the courthouse waiting for this?

BURBANK: No, Alex. The thing is, with all of the excitement that surrounds any time Michael Jackson shows up, the security--I think he's trying to sort of be here only for times when the jury is sitting in that courtroom. The rest of the time he's going to be probably hanging out at Neverland Ranch, which is about 30 miles from here in Los Olivos. I actually went and visited Neverland Ranch last night, and I ran into a woman who had taken a train from New Jersey out to Los Angeles, had taken a bus up to a town called Solvang, rented a mountain bike, rode her mountain bike about 30 miles to the Neverland Ranch where she was waiting for Michael to come in or out.

BURBANK: Well, they are fans. You know, I said earlier that you were at the courthouse. You explained to me just before we began recording this that you're actually at a baseball field right down the street because if you stand near the courthouse, the fans are so angry at the media they scream expletives behind you.

BURBANK: Well, some of them. I mean, it should be said, there are probably about 150 Jackson supporters, a lot of them sporting glittery arm bands, which has kind of become their symbol that they stand behind Michael. And this morning at 6:00--they have a lottery, which are the last few seats actually inside the courthouse. And what happens is all the fans line up, and then all of us reporters line up, too. And if a reporter's number is drawn, all the fans `boo' and hiss. And if one of their friends--if one of their friends' name is chosen, they do like the wave and, you know, that person quickly hands their digital camera back to their friend and then they run back into the courthouse. So definitely, it's the people vs. the media, at least as far as the Jackson fans go out here.

CHADWICK: But there is a serious trial going on here and very serious charges. Michael Jackson could be--he could be going to jail.

BURBANK: Yeah, he could be going to jail for potentially up to about 16 years, Alex, if he was found guilty on all the charges and if the judge decided to max him out on those charges. That seems pretty unlikely. If he's found guilty on the substantial portion of this case, which is essentially that he molested this accuser, he could be in jail for maybe three to seven years. And because this is what's called substantial molestation, there's no chance of him getting probation. He will have to serve 85 percent of the time if he's found guilty.

CHADWICK: NPR's Luke Burbank, outside the Santa Barbara County Courthouse in Santa Maria, California.

Thank you, Luke.

BURBANK: Sure, Alex.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. More coming up on DAY TO DAY.

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