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Jackson trial takes a turn for the seedy

Forget fondling: other claims are equally unsettling

One of Michael Jackson’s earlier accusers, now 24, was visibly shaken as he sat on the witness stand, describing alleged fondling incidents dating back to 1990.

“It’s hard being up here,” he told Jackson attorney Tom Mesereau.

It’s not exactly a picnic down here either, frankly.  If you believe this young man, the son of Jackson’s longtime maid, the pop legend repeatedly used tickling games as a way to grab the boy’s crotch as they watched cartoons. The young man says he didn’t acknowledge the incidents for years because he was so ashamed.

His mother built on this testimony, saying she saw actor Macaulay Culkin staying in Jackson’s bedroom at Neverland, where she said Jackson sometimes brought the child actor alone.

And she said she saw Jackson’s underwear next to a boy’s neon-green underwear next to the shower, where she could make out two figures — “Mr. Jackson and the little kid” — through the steam.

You can poke holes in the credibility of Jackson’s current accuser, the one who prompted this trial. His family has had more brushes with cops and lawyers than an assistant D.A. on “Law and Order.” It’s a lot harder to question the woman and her now-grown son who took the stand this week.

Yes, they settled with Jackson for $2.4 million after the son finally came forward. But they have nothing to gain now and everything to lose — including their privacy, since some news organizations have chosen to publish their names.  If I were one of these folks, I wouldn’t have much motive to show my face, be exposed to the world and then not tell my best version of the very elusive truth.

The Jackson case has gotten very, very seedy indeed in the past few days.  It was bad enough when Santa Barbara investigators described how Jackson’s porn collection was dusted for fingerprints.  Now we’re hearing how he allegedly brought other boys into his bedroom and took at least one in for a communal shower.

Forget the fondling: The rest of Jackson's alleged behavior is just plain bizarre. You might accept it from a father and son.  You might (if you were an open-minded sort) think such things could innocently transpire at, say, a nudist camp.  But it’s an enormous leap from the defense’s vision of Michael innocently holding court in Neverland, giving kids who never saw a sliver of glamour in their lives a chance to romp and play as the singer innocently frolicked with them.

By Thursday, it got even worse. Former security guard Ralph Chacon told the court he saw Jackson perform oral sex on a boy. Chacon has his own credibility issues (he lost a lawsuit and countersuit to Jackson) but still, his claims made it to the jury — and the rest of the world.

Reputation in tatters?MJ may escape the charges he currently faces, but there is no way his reputation survives this trial.  We all accepted his weirdness. Some of us even accepted the rumors that he had a horrid, trying childhood of his own and somehow never managed to grow up — a travesty of his favorite legend, Peter Pan. 

But when you start contemplating middle-aged pop stars showering with little boys who as likely as not are starry-eyed from hero worship, you’re talking about a difficult reputation to digest in polite company.  The Jackson trial is no longer an acceptable topic at the dinner table, though you could make the case it never was.

It’s weird and icky, even to the point that those of us who have a healthy appetite for lurid celebrity mishaps wonder at what point these bizarre details end.

Even if you think District Attorney Thomas Sneddon has a vendetta, it’s increasingly hard to believe Jackson didn’t have some role in bringing us to the very unsavory place in this trial we’ve reached.

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Wednesday night says 72 percent of Americans have a negative view of Jackson; just 5 percent hold a positive view. That’s worse than O.J., who dipped to 62 percent negative during his criminal trial.  It’s hard to imagine most peoples’ assessments of him were that high to begin with, but we're way beyond Liz Taylor and petting zoos. We're into truly unsettling territory.

We’re not even close to being done with testimony in the Jackson case. It’s safe to say things can only get more stomach-churning from here.