SANTA MARIA, Calif. — The jury deliberating the fate of Michael Jackson may have to decide who’s weirder: Jackson or the mother of his accuser.
Much of Jackson’s defense came down to trying to prove the mother was the winner of the strange contest — even though Jackson’s eccentricities long ago earned him the tabloid tag “Wacko Jacko.” His 2003 admission that he shared his bed with children — non-sexually, he explained — didn’t do much to mitigate that notion.
His lawyers tried to make their client look sympathetic by portraying the mother of his accuser as more out of touch with social norms than he is.
Was his hobby of spending weeks with children creepier than her habit of sucking up to celebrities? Was his insistence that there was nothing wrong with letting children in his bed odder than her habit of saying near-strangers were like family?
Is weirdness relevent?
Trial analyst Ann Bremner, a former prosecutor, was at a loss when asked if Jackson or the mother came off looking stranger to jurors.
“Boy,” she said. “That’s a contest.”
The 46-year-old singer is charged with molesting a 13-year-old boy in February or March 2003. He is accused of plying him with wine and conspiring to hold his family captive to get them to rebut damaging aspects of the documentary “Living With Michael Jackson,” in which Jackson appeared holding hands with the boy as he talked of allowing children into his bed for what he said were innocent sleepovers.
The jury received the case Friday afternoon and deliberated for about two hours before adjourning for the weekend.
Defense attorneys ran a risk by focusing on the mother’s oddities, Bremner said, explaining that her behavior — and even alleged history of fraud — didn’t really relate to whether Jackson had molested her child.
“In a lot of ways she’s ancillary,” Bremner said. “The sins of the mother — do they stick to the son? There has not been a lot of evidence that he would lie at the behest of his mother.”
Prosecutors suggested that Jackson’s behavior was not only weird but criminal, arguing that sleepovers turned into molestations.
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The defense tried to paint the mother as criminally odd as well, arguing that she smothered celebrities with affection to con them. One defense witness testified that the mother also fraudulently underreported income on a welfare application.
Oddity as an asset
Jackson’s attorneys tried to make their client’s oddity an asset. In his closing statement, lead defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. played excerpts of an interview with Jackson to suggest that he was anything but a criminal mastermind.
In the wide-ranging interview, Jackson described writing songs in his “giving tree,” his dream of a holiday for children and his desire to hold a party for animal celebrities, including Cheetah from the Tarzan movies and Lassie.
“Does he look like the kind of person who is even capable of orchestrating a criminal conspiracy of this magnitude?” Mesereau asked.
In another video seen during the trial, Jackson was shown holding his infant son over a balcony and claiming to have had only two plastic surgeries, both on his nose.
Prosecutors tried to prop up the mother’s testimony with outside corroboration. After she said she feared Jackson’s people would hurt her parents and boyfriend, prosecutors presented surveillance tapes of them found in the office of a private investigator who worked for former Jackson attorney Mark Geragos.
Cuts both ways
They also seized on the mother’s erratic behavior on the witness stand to suggest that she couldn’t possibly have orchestrated false allegations against Jackson.
The mother “frankly can’t string two consecutive sentences together that make sense,” prosecutor Ron Zonen said.
The woman repeatedly ignored the typical rules of courtroom decorum by directly addressing jurors, telling them that Jackson’s attorney was being unfair or dishonest. She even spoke to reporters covering the trial at one point, saying she had once thought ill of them but now considered them good people.
She said she once feared Jackson’s posse of associates would make her and her family disappear in a balloon.
Another trial analyst, defense attorney Ivan Golde, said he was surprised prosecutors would bring a case against Jackson based on testimony from such flawed witnesses.
“The D.A. wanted to get Michael Jackson, so he went along with this witness who’s got all this baggage,” Golde said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.