[Paleopsych] Toronto Star: The end of innocence

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Mon Jan 31 15:51:02 UTC 2005

The end of innocence


    Michael Jackson is headed to court. His trial, which is scheduled to
    begin with jury selection tomorrow in Santa Maria, Calif., will not be
    simply an evaluation of the charges against him. It will also be an
    indictment of his Peter Pan-like existence from his Disney-style
    Neverland Ranch and toy fetish to his preference for the companionship
    of young boys.

    But being stuck in adolescence is not grounds for conviction, warns
    Tom Lyon, a University of Southern California law professor and expert
    in child molestation cases.

    "He could be a serial pedophile for all we know. But the fact that
    he's kind to children or that he likes to play children's games
    doesn't suggest that he's going to molest kids," said Lyon. "That's
    more a reflection that stereotypically, men are uninterested in kids."

    Free on $3 million (U.S.) bail, the 46-year-old singer has pleaded not
    guilty to 10 charges, including child molestation, giving a minor
    alcohol in order to seduce him and conspiracy to kidnap, detain and
    extort the family of his alleged victim, a 13-year-old cancer patient
    who met Jackson through a Make-A-Wish-type appeal.

    According to reports of leaked documents, the prosecution claims
    Jackson is a predator who plied children with liquor, gave them
    nicknames such as "Doo Doo Head" and "Blowhole" and encouraged them to

    Expect his defence lawyers to portray their client as a benefactor of
    children fallen prey to extortionists.

    They will have a tough time if the judge allows evidence of similar
    allegations involving another 13-year-old boy who settled out of court
    with Jackson in 1993.

    It remains to be seen if any of Jackson's celebrity friends, like
    Elizabeth Taylor and Chris Tucker, show up to lend their support; or
    whether family members, including father Joe, whom he's accused of
    abusing him, and sister LaToya, from whom he was once estranged, will
    be by his side as they were during last year's arraignment.

    One thing is certain: even without cameras in the courtroom, the
    trial, which is expected to last six months, is going to be
    scrutinized and reported in its every detail.

    It's a celebrity scandal of unseen proportions, and to help you wade
    through the case ahead, we introduce you to Santa Maria the
    picturesque city being overrun by the media, the lawyers and their
    arguments, the judge and the potential witnesses. But we begin with
    the man at the centre of it all.

    Not guilty, your honour

    The fifth son of a Gary, Ind., steelworker and his devout Jehovah's
    Witness wife, Michael Joe Jackson is the most successful of his
    singing siblings, largely due to 1982's
    Thriller, the biggest-selling album of all time with global sales of
    more than 51 million copies.

    In the last decade, however, the King of Pop's cat-and-mouse games
    with the public, lukewarm recordings, childlike obsessions,
    implausible plastic surgeries and controversial relationships with
    young boys have transformed him from music icon to punch line.

    But he's still relevant, says Vibe magazine writer Cheo Hodari Coker.

    "Justin Timberlake and Usher cannot do what they do without Michael
    Jackson," said Coker. "When you hear the pureness of Justin
    Timberlake's falsetto, his delivery ... everything that he's doing is
    completely influenced by Michael Jackson. When you see Usher's latest
    video `Caught Up' the hat, the clothing, moves that are very modular,
    but smooth that's `Smooth Criminal.' There may be less crotch grabs,
    that's pure Michael."

    And the twice-divorced father of two sons and a daughter still sells a
    recent hits compilation Number Ones entered Billboard's Top Internet
    Albums Sales chart at No. 1 last January and Thriller sold 228,710
    copies in 2004.

    However, the allegations have given even his most diehard fans pause.

    "As many people love Michael Jackson, you say `Would you allow your
    kids to spend the night at Mike's house?' I think those that say yes
    are probably lying," said Coker.

    Wine country

    "Mike's house" is a 1,100-hectare ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, just
    east of the city of Santa Maria, population 80,528.

    If you've seen the movie Sideways, then you're already familiar with
    the area, located in California's central coast and known for its
    magnificent wineries and strawberry fields. Vandenberg Air Force Base
    is the largest employer, providing jobs to more than 5,000 people. The
    advent of the trial means all of the city's 1,100 hotel rooms have
    been booked.

    "I've heard comments about us benefiting from the misfortune of
    others," said Chamber of Commerce president Robert Hatch, who has
    fielded calls and emails from reporters in Germany and Japan. "But we
    didn't cause this to happen, and we just want to make sure everyone
    who comes here is comfortable, and perhaps they'll remember us when
    the trial ends."

    High alert

    When Jackson and his lawyers turn up in Santa Maria tomorrow, along
    with hundreds of reporters, about 1,000 fans and the first batch of
    prospective jurors, there will be 30 police officers a third of the
    Santa Maria Police Department on hand to keep order.

    "The city is working with some of the media to rent some of its
    parking and office space near the courthouse," said city spokesperson
    Mark van de Kamp, who estimates police overtime costs at $40,000 per

    "We are expecting to recoup about 90 per cent of those costs from
    contracts we're negotiating right now."

    Inside the courthouse, sheriff deputies will be on patrol. The
    ground-floor courtroom has 120 available seats: 60 for the public,
    allocated through a lottery system, and 60 for the media. The county
    is charging a group of 100 media outlets $7,500 (U.S.) per day to
    offset the costs of extra staffing, barricades and a portable toilet.

    12 peers

    "I think a lot of them are going to lie through their teeth to try to
    get on this jury panel," said L.A. jury consultant Marshall Hennington
    of the 4,000 people who have been summoned to Santa Barbara County
    Superior Court. And since only 1.9 per cent of people in the county
    are African-American, the final dozen will be more reflective of
    Jackson's current hue than his racial heritage.

    "I think the defence made a crucial mistake by not asking for a change
    of venue," said Hennington. "He would be better off if he had a jury
    panel in which there were more minorities because they would raise the
    burden of proof on the state."

    Vibe's Coker concurs.

    "I think that black people, regardless of whether or not he's
    innocent, feel the need to defend him because of the fact that he's a
    high profile African-American entertainer that's being attacked with
    such vehemence," said the writer, drawing parallels with O.J. Simpson
    who was perceived as having distanced himself from the
    African-American community until he found himself on trial for murder.

    "That's what was going on with the O.J. Simpson trial; the way
    (authorities) were going after him, it was like black America was
    being attacked. So there was a need to protect him," said Coker,
    adding jokingly, "even though by his own admission, O.J hadn't been
    black since 1975."

    Southwestern Law School professor Robert Pugsley doesn't believe the
    race card is in play.

    "I think it's really a question of whether or not the public's
    perception of Mr. Jackson's weird lifestyle has any relevance to the
    charges against him. He seems to be well-liked by his neighbours, he's
    done a lot of charity work for kids ... I think he has as much
    opportunity as anybody of his international fame and celebrity would
    to get a fair trial in that area."

    He says/He says

    `Michael Jackson has to take the stand.'

    L.A. jury consultant Marshall Hennington

    According to The Smoking Gun website and ABC News, the accuser, now
    15, told investigators that the entertainer gave him wine in a soda
    can, showed him porn and fondled him over a four-week period in 2003.

    But the boy, seen holding hands with the singer and talking about
    sharing a bed with him in Briton Martin Bashir's 2003 documentary,
    Living with Michael Jackson, also told child welfare authorities that
    Jackson was a father figure who did nothing wrong.

    "It's pretty clear that they can't get a conviction unless they get
    some convincing testimony from the child," said law professor Lyon.

    "Jurors will look for things like whether the child tears up on the
    stand ... and those are not very reliable indicators (of veracity).
    The best thing is to listen to the amount of detail that he can
    provide and the extent to which what he says is corroborated."

    While the defence may treat the boy and his siblings gingerly on the
    witness stand, expect them to tear into their mother, who has been
    characterized as an opportunist with a history of making false

    "If these jurors can separate the mother from the children and say,
    `Yes, the mother may have been a poor caretaker and been out for her
    own personal gains, but still he should be held accountable for what
    he did,' then Michael Jackson is going to be in for the fight of his
    life," said jury consultant Hennington.


    Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon, 63, is the face of the

    The father of nine, known early in his career as "Mad Dog," was
    disappointed when his 1993 molestation case against Jackson fell apart
    after the alleged victim stopped co-operating and inked a $20-million
    (U.S.) civil settlement with the pop star.

    Two years later, Jackson released the song "D.S." about "a cold man"
    Dom Sheldon who tried to take him down; it was thought to be a
    reference to his nemesis.

    So, it was an exuberant Sneddon, in his sixth and final four-year term
    as D.A., who announced new allegations against Jackson in November

    "I think that initial press conference was inappropriate," said Loyola
    Law School professor and former prosecutor Laurie Levenson. "He got
    the law wrong; he made light of charges that there's nothing funny
    about; he certainly made it sound personal. During the investigation
    he went out to the search locations, he spoke directly to witnesses
    ... that's the sort of extra zealousness that makes people think he's
    not completely objective."

    Johnny who?

    After quitting actor Robert Blake's murder case over "irreconcilable
    differences," Harvard grad Thomas Mesereau Jr., 54, replaced Mark
    Geragos (of Scott Peterson fame) as Jackson's lead attorney.

    "He's a terrific lawyer, with a pretty amazing track record," said
    Levenson, who estimates Jackson's minimum legal bill at $1 million

    "He's a real detail man, always very prepared, passionate about the
    law and knows how to conduct himself in the courtroom. I think his
    strengths are that he probably knows this prosecution's case better
    than they do.

    "And he's done a lot of work with underprivileged people and in the
    black community. He's not as flashy as a Mark Geragos or Johnny
    Cochrane (who successfully represented Simpson), and he doesn't have
    as much prior publicity, but I do think he's enjoying this limelight a

    He's da boss

    Judge Rodney Melville, 63, "likes to run a tight ship," said Levenson
    of the jurist who has banned cameras at the trial and slapped a gag
    order on participants.

    "He's not a big fan of the media," she noted. "And he can be really
    short and caustic to some of the lawyers. I think he wants this case
    to go away desperately; he has said pretty much he wants his life

    But he's fully aware of the responsibility he has been given. "The
    world is watching justice in the United States here the world. Not
    Santa Maria, not Santa Barbara County, not California the world," he
    said during pre-trial rulings Friday.

    Melville has yet to decide whether he'll allow the prosecution to
    present their evidence of "at least seven" other alleged sexual abuse
    victims from Jackson's past. That could include testimony from the
    1993 complainant, now in his 20s.

    "If the prosecution is not able to get him on the stand to bolster
    their case, that's where it becomes a weaker case than it originally
    appeared to be and may explain why after the (April 2004 grand jury)
    indictment, Sneddon conducted more raids on Neverland and requested a
    DNA swab from Jackson," said law professor Pugsley.

    "It certainly appears no expense is being spared and the D.A. is
    casting an extremely wide net to try to get Jackson this time around."

    I swear to tell the truth ...

    Martin Bashir, now employed by ABC's 20/20, may be called to testify
    about his observations during the making of his two-hour documentary.

    There has also been talk about former child star Macaulay Culkin, who
    often slept over at Neverland, taking the stand for either the
    prosecution or the defence.

    But, none of the 100-plus witnesses slated to appear are likely to be
    more riveting than the pop star himself.

    "Michael Jackson has to take the stand," said trial consultant
    Hennington, "but he's going to have to have significant witness
    preparation work to make sure he comes across as credible, likeable
    and believable.

    "That's what did him in (at a 2003 civil trial he lost to a German
    concert promoter over cancelled shows). He always showed up to court
    late, he made the jurors wait, he'd take long lunch breaks.

    "One time he didn't even show up again after lunch; another time he
    called in after the jurors were seated and said he couldn't make it
    because he had a doctor's appointment. Those things really angered the

    But Judge Melville has already figured in the Jackson factor: the
    trial is scheduled to sit from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day without a
    lunch break.

    "That's a great move," said the Chamber of Commerce's Hatch. "He knows
    if Mr. Jackson goes for lunch and stops out there with the fans ... he
    might not be back on time, or at all. He's just not used to people
    telling him what to do."

    This could get ugly

    If he's convicted of what he's been charged with, probation "will not
    be an option," said Levenson. "He's not going to get a bracelet and
    stay at home; he's facing three to 20 years."

    And Jackson could dodge the prurient allegations and still do time.
    "The big problem is that Sneddon added that conspiracy charge," said
    Pugsley. The prosecution claims that Jackson colluded with aides to
    hide and intimidate the boy and his family after the fallout from the
    Bashir documentary.

    "You can prove conspiracy with relative ease," said Pugsley. "And that
    still carries heavy prison time."

    Even if Jackson goes free, the legal troubles are still not over.

    His former wife, Debbie Rowe, is reportedly set to auction her
    2.13-carat wedding ring on eBay to raise money for a custody battle
    over their two children Prince Michael, 7, and Paris, 6.

    This is his future.

    Dismal. Disgraced. Diminished.

    [85]Additional articles by Ashante Infantry


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