If you hoped to avoid jury duty, you’re out of luck, at least when it comes to the Michael Jackson trial. For that one, we’ve all been recruited, whether we like it or not. Whether you go away on a tropical vacation, unplug the phone and the computer, or simply hide in the basement, details of the case will find you. So you might as well stop resisting and pour a cup of coffee, grab a pen, jot down the high points presented by the two sides and take a mock vote among your friends, because you’re officially sequestered.
The prosecution and defense finished their closing arguments on Friday in Santa Maria, and now the case is in the hands of the jurors (the real ones). Both sides reiterated their positions — prosecutors called Jackson a predator who preyed upon star-struck young boys while the defense lashed out at the accuser and his family, painting them as con artists — but the closing arguments were the equivalent of the end credits on a porn movie: the shocking stuff had already been revealed.
Star power could have an impactThe overriding element of this trial remains Jackson’s celebrity, and although it took a thorough beating, it remains intact. Jurors will not only have to decide if the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but if Michael “King of Pop” Jackson, he of the Jackson 5 and the moonwalk and the videos from “Thriller,” is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of one of society’s most despicable acts.
A reminder of Jackson’s star power — which may portend well for him during deliberations — came to me a few weeks ago when I shopped at a giant electronics store. One of the big-screen plasma TVs showed Jackson’s legendary performance at the Motown 25th anniversary show. There must have been a good 50 people gathered around the TV, mesmerized. I could read their minds: “Wow. He used to look good, and he used to be a great performer.” If even a hint of that Michael Jackson is still present in the jurors’ minds, it could cause them to give slightly less weight to the actual evidence and testimony.
But that’s a sizeable if, because some of the evidence the prosecutors presented was highly compelling. The topper was the video that was presented to the court at the end of the trial, showing the accuser telling police that he was molested and asking the police not to tell his mother. It has been described as a bombshell, although pundits throw that word around frequently after they’ve been bored stiff by redundant testimony and timeline minutiae over 14 weeks or so.
The prosecutors also scored when they were allowed to show evidence that Jackson molested boys in the past, suggesting a pattern that led to this current accuser. Prosecutor Ronald Zonen showed the jurors pictures of three of those boys and compared them with a photo of the accuser in this case. The four all bore resemblances to each other, which may have connected the dots for the jurors in terms of a type of boy that Jackson may have preferred.
And don’t forget the Martin Bashir documentary. You might think with all of Jackson’s money, and all the innuendo and past history of surrounding himself with young boys, and the large settlements he had to pay out to two of them after they accused him of molesting them, that someone in his inner circle would have advised him against admitting on camera how much he enjoyed sleepovers with kids. Even the guy who carries Jackson’s parasol should have known that much.
Family of flim-flam artists?But Jackson paid handsomely for an expert defense, and he got one. Thomas Mesereau didn’t seem to diffuse the impact of the final video the prosecution unveiled, but he tried during closing arguments by emphasizing that the accuser seemed to show no emotion during it and reminding jurors of his overall opinion of he and his family — that they’re flim-flam artists out to bilk Jackson out of his millions.
He did pound away at the fact that a witness testified the boy’s mother had once fabricated evidence to win a settlement from a department store, then committed welfare fraud on top of it by hiding the cash she received.
If this were an impeccable, All-American family with a sterling reputation, Jackson might be cooked. But Mesereau used the boy’s mother to counterpunch throughout the trial. Every time prosecutors zeroed in on Jackson’s highly unusual behavior at Neverland Ranch, and the secrecy which he demanded in and around his bedroom, and the alleged conspiracy to keep the family either bound to his estate or sent away where they could cause him no trouble, Mesereau retaliated.
Mesereau tried to convince the jury that this entire trial was made possible because the boy’s mother is practically the first lady of the American theater, and her children are the equivalent of the Seven Little Foys. He did a number on her when she took the stand, and even though she proved to be no pushover, she did come off as somewhat wacky. He poked away at areas of vulnerability, including the fact that she consulted civil attorney Larry Feldman about the alleged molestation before she contacted the police, and that she did not call 911 during a period in which she claims the family was held against its will.
Both sides did a commendable job of presenting their cases. As opposed to the lopsided Robert Blake trial, where the prosecutors were at a severe disadvantage because of a lack of evidence, this one is an even fight. In one corner is Jackson, his celebrity and the perception that his accuser’s motives might be questionable. In the other is the boy and his family, who benefit from Jackson’s queasy past involving young males.
The jurors have their work cut out. So do we.
Michael Ventre lives in Los Angeles and is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.