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Jackson’s lawyers face ghosts of star’s past

Prosecutors expected to rest case this week
/ Source: Reuters

Prosecutors are expected to rest their case against Michael Jackson this week after two months portraying him as a man who used his Peter Pan persona and Neverland Valley Ranch to lure young boys into a sordid web of booze, pornography and illicit sex.

To clear him, defense lawyers must fight not only the charges of sex abuse, which rest entirely on the testimony of two teenage brothers, but also the implication that the 46-year-old pop singer is a serial molester.

Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville ruled prosecutors could call witnesses who told jurors they had seen Jackson’s prior sexual conduct with boys, including “Home Alone” star Macaulay Culkin and four others, under a 1995 California law allowing such evidence and written with the singer in mind.

“I don’t find the prosecution case very compelling, given the particular charges,” said Stan Goldman, professor at Loyola Marymount Law School in Los Angeles. “What makes it a potentially winning prosecution case is that Jackson has been painted as a career pedophile.

“The jury has to decide two things: Is he a pedophile and did he do this particular crime,” Goldman said. “If you bring in evidence of prior offenses you’ve done two-thirds of the heavy lifting.”

The law, known as Section 1108 of the California evidence code, was created because cases of sex crime against minors --which typically rely on the testimony of a single child witness -- are hard to prove and because pedophiles are among the criminals with the highest rate of repeat offenses.

The measure was enacted after Jackson paid $23 million in an out-of-court settlement in a 1993 case brought by a teen who accused him of molestation. The boy’s mother testified for prosecutors in the current trial.

Will Jackson testify?Jackson is charged with four counts of molesting the boy in the current case, then 13, at Neverland in 2003, four counts of plying the youth with alcohol in order to abuse him and one count of conspiring to commit child abduction, extortion and false imprisonment.

Though prosecutors will have called more than 80 witnesses, only his young accuser and the boy’s brother testified to what they say was molestation. Those counts rest on their credibility.

Analysts said testimony that Jackson had engaged in inappropriate conduct with young boys before, however, could make the jurors more likely to believe the brothers.

“That evidence is so radioactive that it doesn’t just stand on its own; it infects everything else,” said former San Francisco prosecutor Jim Hammer, who is following the case as a media analyst.

“The case comes down to this: If the jury gives a lot of weight to the 1108 evidence, Jackson has a good chance of being convicted,” Hammer said. “If they don’t and they just focus on the current case, the prosecution could be in trouble.”

Lead Jackson attorney Tom Mesereau has vowed to call some of the most famous people in America, including film legend Elizabeth Taylor, basketball star Kobe Bryant and talk-show host Jay Leno in the pop star’s defense. He may also summon Culkin, who has said Jackson never behaved improperly.

But Mesereau, who hinted during his opening statement that Jackson would testify, must decide soon if he will in fact call the King of Pop to the stand to counter the boy’s claims.

Criminal defendants are not required to testify and legal experts consider doing so risky -- especially for a defendant like Jackson, who would be cross-examined at length about the past accusations and is known for his erratic behavior.

“Putting Jackson on the stand is a real roll of the dice based on his past performance as a witness (in civil cases),” Hammer said. “The biggest risk is that if the jury thought he was lying about something, that could be enough for the prosecution to turn around and win it.”