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A case with plenty of holes

Jackson's defense has frayed the seams of case against him
/ Source: msnbc.com

It wasn’t the worst conceivable case Michael Jackson’s prosecutors could have mustered. 

They got Jackson’s now-15-year-old accuser to take the stand, tell his story and more or less hold his own against as formidable a legal epeeist as Tom Mesereau.

They got the kid’s mom on the stand for a couple days, too. She was sharp-edged when she should have been tender, and probably a bit too blubbering and incoherent for most jurors’ tastes (“Don’t judge me,” she pleaded), but her face in the courtroom helped District Attorney Thomas Sneddon put his case in a more human perspective.

They offered more, like the maids and bodyguards who described what they thought they saw: Jackson showering with his young pals; Jackson fondling, kissing and engaging in oral sex with at least one young boy.  The only problem?  Most of these former Neverlanders had huge credibility deficiencies stemming from a failed lawsuit against Jackson and his own countersuit against them.

Of all Jackson’s former workers who took the stand, the most unimpeachable was probably Phillip LeMarque, who claimed he saw Jackson fondle actor Macaulay Culkin, a sight so unsettling that LeMarque said he nearly dropped the order of fries he was carrying to the pop star. Only problem?  Culkin has repeatedly denied anything untoward between him and his longtime pal — and in fact will help launch the defense’s case.

The other hard-to-ignore witness, one made for one of the trial’s more wrenching moments thus far, was the son of one of Jackson’s former maids, now 24, who testified that Jackson molested him when he was a child. They watched cartoons, he said, as Jackson turned a tickling game into a chance to touch the boy’s privates. 

In two of three incidents, he said, Jackson slipped him $100 afterwards.  And his mother said Jackson begged to sleep with the boy: “He said, ‘You don’t trust me. We’re a family. Why won’t you allow him to be in my bedroom?’”

But this young man got a $2.4 million settlement in 1994, and despite his own halting, trying time on the stand, the defense quickly underscored his and his mother’s fiscal motives.

Tables turnedWith the possible exception of the current accuser’s brother and sister, whose testimony was simply a mess, most of the first-person witnesses managed to help round out Sneddon’s case. But Jackson’s defense did just what a talented, well-paid defense team is expected to do: Find the right holes to poke in each witness, and poke them.

As for the conspiracy charges?  Prosecutors offered plenty of tempting details — like those tickets to Brazil for the accuser's family, and remember the claims that Jackson's henchmen would portray the accuser's mom as a "crack whore"? — but it's hard to add those up to a coherent strategy, and even harder to tie them to Jackson.

Now comes the defense’s turn.  They have plenty of chances to keep building those doubts, and it’s a savvy move on their part to open their case with testimony from three of the five alleged Jackson molestees about whom Judge Rodney Melville allowed testimony: Culkin, plus Aussies Brett Barnes and Wade Robson.  Presumably, all three will deny any untoward behavior and insist that MJ is a pal among pals. That leaves just the maid’s son, who already appeared, and another who won’t be taking the stand.

While Mesereau certainly will have substantive witnesses help widen the holes he’s poked, let's face it: The real anticipation is for some of the many a-list celebs the defense included on its voluminous witness list, stars like Liz Taylor and Stevie Wonder. These character witnesses will bring this trial full circle back to the bizarre Los Angeles universe from which it emanated.

Honestly, the defense team doesn’t need to stretch itself too far; if anything, Mesereau needs to just keep his client quiet and reserved in the courtroom.  Prosecutors have handed him an extraordinary gift: a case founded on witnesses so flawed that jurors can’t but have ample doubts about who’s telling the truth.

Guilt or image?The fact that so many holes were so easily poked in the case gives credence to one of Jackson fans’ more plausible conspiracy theories: that Sneddon doesn’t really care whether he wins — he simply loathes the King of Pop and wants to destroy what's left of Jackson’s reputation and career.

Legal types have been saying even before the trial began that, regardless of whether Jackson is guilty, he’s likely to beat this rap: The case is simply too weak.  After more than two months, they’ve largely been proven right. Even if jurors loathe Michael Jackson, it will be hard for them to piece together enough to convict on any of the major counts.

But at this point, it doesn’t much matter how weak the prosecution’s case may be.  The trial has been a focal point for every bizarre, grubby, whisper-in-the-dark rumor that has been tacked onto Jackson over the years.  It is Jackson’s cultural Waterloo.

The defense is just now putting its game face on, but I’m not sure even the late, talented Johnnie Cochran could resurrect Michael’s image.  America loves to forgive its celebrities, but some things are just too weird to forget.