Jackson Trial Update: Prosecution Rests its Case
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.
Now it's Michael Jackson's turn. The prosecution has rested, and today defense lawyers began their case at his trial in Santa Maria, California. The 46-year-old pop star is accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy and conspiring to hold the boy's family captive at the sprawling Neverland Ranch. At this midway point, we have two dispatches from the trial. First, here's NPR's Carrie Kahn.
CARRIE KAHN reporting:
Ten weeks and 87 witnesses later, prosecutors say they've made their case against Michael Jackson. The jury has seen more than 600 pieces of evidence, listened to conspiracy theories and heard from a parade of witnesses alleging that Jackson engaged in similar sexual misconduct during the 1990s. The numerous missteps have plagued the people's case says Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and now professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
Professor LAURIE LEVENSON (Loyola Law School): It's been a bumpy ride for the prosecutors in this case.
KAHN: Levenson says the worst errors included the erratic testimony of the accuser's mother, who at one point begged jurors not to judge her, the boy's inability to remember key facts of the molestation and, most damaging, the testimony of Debbie Rowe, Jackson's ex-wife. She described the pop star as a great father unwittingly duped by advisers, whom she called opportunistic vultures. Levenson says Rowe broadsided the DA.
Prof. LEVENSON: We've seen the types of mistakes in this case that we've seen in other high-profile cases. You know, putting the ex-wife on the stand was sort of tantamount to having O.J. try on the gloves. It was an experiment that totally backfired against the prosecutors. Throughout the case, almost every witness has failed to deliver at least what the prosecutors promised in their opening statement.
KAHN: Adding to the prosecution's woes, the skillful defense team lead by attorney Thomas Mesereau, who attacked the credibility of many key witnesses including those accusing Jackson of past misdeeds. The defense team showed that many had sold their stories to tabloids or had been on the losing end of lawsuits with the entertainer. But former Santa Barbara Sheriff Jim Thomas, who is now a TV trial analyst, says don't underestimate his friend District Attorney Tom Sneddon or the case he's presented.
Former Sheriff JIM THOMAS (Santa Barbara): I think it's going better than a lot of people give it credit for.
KAHN: Thomas says despite the prosecution's problems, the DA has shown that Jackson has a history of abusing boys, giving them alcohol and showing them pornography.
Mr. THOMAS: And if you believe the first three, your mind has to be totally open to the very good potential that number four is true, as well. I've believed that since 1993.
KAHN: Craig Smith, a professor at Santa Barbara College of Law, says recent testimony filled with boring phone records and tedious financial statements has given the defense a leg up.
Professor CRAIG SMITH (Santa Barbara College of Law): I think they're starting from a bit of a high point. I think they got a big boost from Debbie Rowe's testimony, and I don't think there's really been anything but slow down their momentum since then.
KAHN: As the defense begins, the big question is whether Michael Jackson will testify. Laurie Levenson says Jackson's lawyer has a history of putting his clients on the stand, but in this case, Levenson says that's risky.
Prof. LEVENSON: The problem with Michael Jackson is he tends to get himself in trouble with his own words. You know, don't forget if he had never said, `I like to sleep with boys,' he may not be in this mess today.
KAHN: Even if Jackson doesn't take the stand, the defense's witness list contains plenty of star power, including Elizabeth Taylor and former child star Macaulay Culkin. Carrie Kahn, NPR News.
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