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Jackson case in hands of the jury

Jury spent two hours deliberating before going home for weekend
/ Source: The Associated Press

The child molestation case against Michael Jackson went to the jury Friday after the defense begged the panel to acquit the singer, portraying Jackson as a victim of grifters trying to pull “the biggest con of their careers.”

Prosecutors painted a vastly different picture during their closing argument — one of Jackson as a serial child molester and his Neverland Ranch as a predator’s lair.

Jurors spent about two hours deliberating before going home for the weekend.

Judge Rodney Melville has approved live audio of the verdict being read.

The jury got the case on a day marked by an impassioned plea by defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. for Jackson’s acquittal. He said the pop star is not the “monster” that prosecutors have portrayed, and he said the accuser and his family fabricated the molestation allegations to take advantage of Jackson.

“They are trying to profit from Michael Jackson. They think they have pulled it off. They are just waiting for one thing — your verdict.”

He added: “If you look in your hearts do you believe Michael Jackson is evil in that way? Is it even possible? It really is not.”

During his rebuttal, Senior Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen sought to answer the defense lawyer’s question.

“Why would Mr. Jackson do it?” Because he could,” Zonen said. “This child was in love with him. This child would do anything he said.”

Soon after, as the jury went to work, a grim-looking Jackson left the courthouse and walked slowly to his entourage’s waiting vehicles in front of the courthouse. He drove off without comment.

Jackson felt nervous in court but was physically fine and was relieved the trial is nearly over, said his spokeswoman, Raymone K. Bain.

“He’s very strong and he has a strong faith in God and the justice system. He is not falling apart. He has been a true soldier in all of this,” Bain said.

Looking gauntJackson, 46, has appeared gaunt in recent days, and officials at Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital disclosed Friday that he had visited the emergency room overnight. Hospital spokeswoman Janet O’Neill refused to discuss why he was there.

He arrived at court on time with his parents, sisters Janet and LaToya, and brothers Jermaine, Tito and Randy. He clutched his mother’s arm as he walked in.

“Michael’s innocent!” came shouts from some in a crowd of about 75 people outside.

Jackson is charged with molesting the boy, then a 13-year-old cancer patient, in 2003. He allegedly plied the boy with wine and conspired to hold his family captive to get them to rebut the documentary “Living With Michael Jackson.”

He could face several years in prison if convicted of all charges.

After Mesereau’s closing argument and a prosecution rebuttal, Judge Rodney S. Melville ordered jurors to begin their deliberations and gave them 98 pages of instructions. He told Jackson he could stay at Neverland during deliberations but attorneys would have to stay within 10 minutes of the courthouse in case the jury had questions that needed to be addressed.

The deliberations are the final step in an ordeal that began 14 weeks ago. The panel of eight women and four men has since heard from more than 130 witnesses. They included the now-15-year-old accuser and three young men, including actor Macaulay Culkin, who said as boys they spent time with Jackson and were never molested.

Mesereau earlier mounted a fierce attack on the accuser and his mother, brother and sister. He said that “what they are trying to do to Michael Jackson is so harmful, so brutal, so devastating ... if you have any reasonable doubt about the double-talk, the lies, it’s over. You must acquit Michael Jackson.”

‘Honor the system’Mesereau spoke about the American system of justice and said, “We have the best system in the world and ladies and gentlemen I’m begging you to honor the system. ... You must acquit him.”

He accused prosecutors of trying to “dirty up Michael” because they lack the evidence to prove their case.

“The witnesses are preposterous, the perjury is everywhere,” Mesereau declared. “None of it works. The only thing they’ve had is to throw dirt all over the place and hope it sticks.”

Mesereau played excerpts from a video in which Jackson denied sexual impropriety and said he had never “been betrayed or deceived by children.” The attorney closed by telling jurors that Jackson had been lax with his money and had let the wrong people into his circle but was not the “monster” prosecutors had portrayed and was not guilty of any crime.

Afterward, prosecutor Zonen, who had given his closing Thursday, offered a brief rebuttal. As he prepared to speak, Janet and LaToya Jackson left their front-row seats and walked out of the courtroom. Bain said they did not want to see their brother vilified.

Zonen reminded jurors of past allegations from other boys against Jackson and said such testimony was necessary “to see the total picture.”

Zonen alleged that Jackson had been “in love” with a boy who received a large monetary settlement from him in 1993. He said testimony about Jackson sleeping in bed with other boys could not be easily explained, and he added that the current accuser is a “clone” of the boy in the 1993 case.

On Thursday, Zonen ridiculed the idea the boy’s mother could have made up the entire molestation story and prompted her children to lie in order to make money with a future lawsuit against Jackson.

“It’s unmitigated rubbish,” he said.