We knew things would heat up when the brother of Michael Jackson's accuser took the stand. The big surprise was that the boy would inadvertently drive such a huge dagger into the case against the pop star.
Monday's testimony was nothing short of lurid. The accuser's brother described life as a member of the Jackson coterie. He told of secret drinking sessions with the singer, crank calls and drinking games, surfing smutty Web sites as Jackson pointed to a woman's breasts, cracked "Got milk?," then muttered even more unsavory things to his own son, Prince Michael.
The brother's narrative was exactly what prosecutor Thomas Sneddon told jurors it would be in opening statements. The boy, now 14, said Jackson appeared before them naked with an erection. He described masturbation episodes, with Jackson's hand in his brother's underwear.
The testimony was the exact sort of prelude Sneddon would want before asking the now-15-year-old accuser himself to tell his story.
The only problem? The accuser's brother has huge credibility flaws, and Jackson lawyer Thomas Mesereau Jr. was quick to pounce on them.
On Tuesday, Mesereau took the brother back to an earlier case the family brought against JC Penney.
'I don't remember'In a key moment, Mesereau got the teen to admit he lied under oath in a deposition about whether the boys' father had ever beaten their mother.
"Please tell the jury why you lied under oath," Mesereau said.
Perhaps there was some reasonable explanation? The mistake of an young child?
All the boy could offer: "I don't remember. It was, like, five years ago. I don't remember nothing."
Score one for Mesereau. But Jackson's lawyer didn't stop there. He asked about another key bit of evidence: the description of a soda can the brother told police contained white wine. But he also said he saw a red ring around the can. As for that discrepancy?
The court reporter "might have misheard me," the brother said.
Mesereau didn't stop there. He showed a copy of Hustler Barely Legal magazine the brother had said Jackson showed the boys before their last visit to the star's Neverland Ranch in March 2003.
"Michael Jackson never showed you that magazine, 'Barely Legal,' did he?" Mesereau asked.
"He did show us," the boy replied.
So why was it dated August 2003, Mesereau wanted to know, months after their last visit to Neverland?
"I didn't say that he showed us that exact one," was all the boy could offer.
The accuser's sister fared little better on the stand. When faced with an audiotape in which she and her mother offer lavish praise for Jackson, she cried and blamed her words on a need to look to the singer for a loving paternal presence.
Quite simply, this family is a mess. Even if the charges are true, there's ample evidence that they latched on to any celebrity they could and had more run-ins with California's legal system than any family would want, their lives in constant turmoil all the way.
Problems with a key witnessIf the accuser's brother was an incidental witness, his hole-ridden testimony could be ignored. But the prosecution's case rests largely on the brother and the accuser himself. Mesereau did exactly what a good defense lawyer is hired to do: He found key weaknesses in the case and drove a steamroller through them.
Even if the accuser is as credible and compelling as can be, this case will essentially be down to an alleged victim's lone story. That's a hard burden of proof for a jury.
Mesereau did something else Tuesday as he walked the brother through his many statements to police and prosecutors. He kept asking who the boy had reviewed his testimony with. He got the teen to acknowledge meeting with Sneddon this past weekend to review a layout diagram of Jackson's private jet.
The veteran defense lawyer wants to make Sneddon an issue in this case -- to portray him as a vindictive man on a mission to destroy Jackson. Now he's managed to paint the brother as a stooge for a flawed prosecution.
And Sneddon? His case rests on the family's testimony. But the family seems headed for a meltdown on the witness stand. It's hard to believe the accuser himself, once he faces Mesereau's cross-examination, can repair the damage his brother did to the prosecution's case.
After all, this isn't a case about whether Jackson is a pedophile, whether he has bizarre habits or should be kept away from kids. It's about specific incidents, an alleged conspiracy and what the jury believes about them.
One key eyewitness just admitted in court that he lies. Leaving aside the lurid details and what you may think of Jackson, it's hard to imagine a bigger setback for a prosecutor.