No matter what you think about the Michael Jackson case, it's hard to consider the current allegations against the star without thinking about the past.
If you believe Jackson indulges in disturbing, possibly illicit, moments with young boys, then the current case about alleged 2003 incidents may be about just one of a long string of boys who were lured in by a pop legend — and prosecutors' efforts to finally assemble a coherent set of charges.
If you believe Jackson innocently welcomes children into his Neverland world, then this case is just the latest attempt to frame and extort a blameless man who welcomes ungrateful, eye-on-the-wallet families into his realm, then suffers as they take advantage.
Either way, the past tells us volumes about the Michael Jackson case, and fortunately, jurors will be able to hear about some of it.
Despite exhortations (attached to what sounded like barely veiled threats; really, how else can you interpret Tom Mesereau's comments about a “a full-blown defense”?) that testimony about two earlier cases would serve no purpose but to further smear Jackson, Judge Rodney Melville decided Monday that jurors are entitled to hear it.
Specifically, they'll hear from a 1990 accuser and his mother. Prosecutors say this boy was touched by Jackson twice over his clothes and once under them. He apparently received $2 million from the pop star.
They won't hear from a 1993 accuser, though they may hear from his mother, and they'll hear from security guards and other Neverland workers who may have witnessed what happened. (While we're at it, let me offer a nominee for worst job in the world: Neverland personnel manager.)
The payout for that '93 settlement is under seal, but reports range from $15 to $25 million. Though jurors won't hear the dollar figures attached to each set of claims, the price tag apparently escalated as the '90s rolled on.
Jurors will, however, be allowed to hear District Attorney Thomas Sneddon's evidence about those and up to three other molestation claims, plus testimony about Jackson's alleged habit of “grooming” boys for abuse with gifts and favors. Sneddon said Monday he's got witnesses who can place Jackson in bed with four different children.
In short, jurors will be able to hear about a pattern and practice of alleged molestation, which is the prosecution's best weapon for proving what otherwise is a haphazard set of evidence. Mesereau is likely to poke huge holes in Sneddon's case, but the D.A. can try and convince jurors: Hey, here's a guy who clearly lures kids into his bed.
Living in the pastOf course, Jackson isn't on trial for prior accusations. Jurors still have to decide this case on the specifics of the 2003 accuser's claims, and those will be hard to sustain as Mesereau unloads both barrels in what we can all acknowledge (after watching the way he targeted Jackson's most recent now-15-year-old accuser) will be a blistering, character-withering defense.
But there's good reason for Mesereau to have been worried about Monday's ruling.
Outside court, we all look upon Michael Jackson in the entirety of his career. We've seen the photos of him cradling Bubbles the chimp.
We've seen the eerie footage of kids milling about Neverland — and the even more unsettling footage of him in that 2003 documentary that prompted his latest mess. Even if the accuser's face was blanked out, it was weird to watch.
We've been hearing about these earlier allegations for nearly a decade, and all but Jackson's most rabid supporters have deduced something is seriously amiss at Neverland.
In other words, you can't consider Michael Jackson's behavior in a vacuum. If he is guilty, a pattern of prior behavior sets the stage for the 2003 claims. If he is innocent, a pattern of prior accusations makes clear he's a very guillible, unfortunate mark.
Now the jury will at least have the chance to consider the facts in light of Jackson's long, puzzling history. The rest of us get to do that already, and there's no question Jackson's stranger-than-fiction past governs the way each one of us views him today.