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Jacko Day #1

SANTA MARIA, Calif. – Michael Jackson’s child molestation trial opened Monday with a prosecutor’s contention that the King of Pop is a closet pervert who used wine and pornography to lower the inhibitions of a 13-year-old boy.

When the court day concluded, Jackson’s defense lawyer was only halfway through a dollar-by-dollar description of an alleged scheme by the accuser’s mother to cash in on Jackson’s kindness and vast wealth.

In six months or so, jurors will have to decide which portrayal is more accurate. Their decision could determine whether Jackson spends the rest of his career in prison or back home at the Neverland Ranch, the scene of his alleged crimes.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon addressed jurors for more than three hours, much of it spent outlining an alleged conspiracy that began following the Feb. 6, 2003, airing of a documentary entitled, “Living With Michael Jackson.”

According to Sneddon, Jackson and his media handlers went into a sort of hyper-damage control after filmmaker Martin Bashir asked Jackson at length about his habit of allowing young boys to sleep in his room. Jackson’s current accuser appeared in the documentary, holding Jackson’s hand and laying his head on the singer’s shoulder.

Jackson insisted that the boy and his brother slept in his bed while Jackson slept on the floor, but Jackson’s comments that he shared beds with other boys and saw nothing wrong with it sparked investigations by Sneddon’s office and California child welfare officials. Sneddon charged that, for weeks, Jackson and five unindicted co-conspirators on his payroll worked feverishly to keep the boy away from the media and to force the boy and his family to tape a video that cast Jackson in a positive light.

The prosecutor repeatedly used Jackson’s public statements to tell jurors that his public persona as a champion of children belies his private passion for sexual intimacy with them.

“You see, the private world of Michael Jackson reveals that, instead of cookies and instead of milk, you can substitute wine, vodka and bourbon,” Sneddon said.

Lead defense attorney Thomas Mesereau has yet to address charges that Jackson plied the now 15-year-old accuser with wine and Skyy Vodka, and exposed him to a Samsonite suitcase full of magazines featuring “Barely Legal” teens and ’60s-era magazines depicting children at nudist camps.

Mesereau focused much of the first 90 minutes of his opening statement, however, on an alleged scheme by the accuser’s mother.

“I’m here to tell you these accusations are false, they are bogus and they never happened,” said Mesereau, his white hair flowing below the shoulders of his 6-foot-3-inch frame. “These charges are fake, silly.”

Although Judge Rodney Melville lifted an order prohibiting the parties from naming the complaining witness or his family in court, Court TV has opted not to name the accuser or his mother. The boy and his mother are identified in court papers as “John Doe” and “Jane Doe,” respectively.

Mesereau promised to prove that Jane Doe is a con artist who coached her children on how to lie for profit. He told jurors about a $152,500 settlement with J.C. Penney over a 1999 claim that she was held against her will, assaulted and molested by store personnel. More recently, Jane Doe tried to use the accuser’s cancer, now in remission, in both successful and unsuccessful efforts to gain sympathy and cash from celebrities like Jay Leno, Chris Tucker and George Lopez.

“The most-known celebrity, the most vulnerable celebrity, became the mark — Michael Jackson,” Mesereau said.

According to a grand jury’s indictment, which Melville read to jurors Monday before unsealing it, Jackson is accused of 28 acts in a conspiracy to imprison the accuser and force him and members of his family to appear on a video rebutting the Bashir documentary. The indictment also accused Jackson, now 46, of committing lewd acts with a child and administering an intoxicating agent in furtherance of a felony, in this case the alleged molestation.

As a light rain fell, more than 50 fans waited outside the courthouse before dawn, hoping to win a lottery for one of 45 seats set aside for the public in Melville’s courtroom. Those admitted to the courtroom sat quietly, heeding the warnings of stern sheriff’s deputies that no outbursts or signs of emotion would be tolerated.

Jackson arrived to a flash of cameras and proceeded smiling down the courtroom aisle with his mother, Katherine, and brother, Jermaine. Wearing a black suit, dark vest with large buttons, a sunburst medallion and a red arm band, Jackson helped himself to a cough drop from a bailiff’s jar before taking his seat next to Mesereau.

He wore glasses for much of the day but did not take notes during Sneddon’s lengthy opening statement.

“It’s extraordinary in its length but this is an extraordinary case,” Sneddon said. “There is only one person responsible for this conduct and the consequences … the defendant, Michael Joe Jackson.”

Mesereau, a high-profile attorney who previously represented actor Robert Blake, will finish his opening statement Tuesday morning before Sneddon calls his first witness. Bashir, the filmmaker, is expected to be the first witness for the prosecution.

According to Mesereau, Bashir flattered Jackson and promised to show him in a good light to get him to agree to take part in an eight-month documentary project. Instead, Mesereau charged, Bashir worked hard to create “a scandal” involving Jackson that would bring Bashir millions in connection with his documentary.

“It worked,” Mesereau said.

Sneddon also told jurors they will hear from the accuser, an older brother who claims he saw Jackson sexually touching the accuser, and a long list of former employees and flight attendants who observed Jackson drinking alcohol with children to the point of intoxication.

The sun had come out by the time Jackson and his entourage left the courtroom. The defendant blew a kiss to a section of fans. Another 50 or so supporters — and some detractors — stood behind a temporary fence set up to keep them a distance away. “Michael, we love you,” one supporter said. Another responded, “Michael, how does it feel to put your hands down a boy’s pants?”

The trial, which is expected to last as long as six months, resumes Tuesday


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