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Questions remain on eve of Jackson molestation trial

Judge to rule if accuser will testify in public following Friday hearing
/ Source: The Associated Press

With jury selection set to begin Monday, the judge in Michael Jackson’s child-molestation case is still considering whether the entertainer’s accuser should testify in public and whether jurors should see a British documentary about the pop star.

Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville scheduled a pretrial hearing for Friday to address those and other questions related to witnesses and evidence.

Jackson, 46, has pleaded not guilty to charges of molesting a 13-year-old boy and plying him with alcohol.

Jury selection could last as long as a month, with the judge and attorneys for both sides expected to screen as many as 750 prospective jurors.

Prosecutors want to close the courtroom to the media and public when the boy, now 15, and his 14-year-old brother testify. Reporters would be allowed to hear their voices through an audio feed.

Jackson’s accuser already has been seen in the documentary, which aired on ABC-TV in 2003 and contains footage of the two holding hands and Jackson defending his practice of sleeping in the same bed with children.

Prosecutors want the jury to see the documentary. Defense lawyers object, denouncing it as “heavily edited in the most sensational fashion possible.”

Prosecutors have also subpoenaed Martin Bashir to testify about the making of the documentary, titled “Living With Michael Jackson.” Bashir, who now works for ABC News, is fighting the subpoena, arguing that under both California law and the U.S. Constitution, he cannot be forced to testify.

A coalition of media covering the high-profile case, including The Associated Press, is arguing that the boys’ testimony should not be closed.

“A cloud of doubt will hang over any verdict” unless the public gets to see them as well, argued attorney Theodore Boutrous.

“The ability to observe, not merely to listen or read, testimony is a fundamental aspect of the public’s First Amendment right to attend a criminal trial,” Boutrous wrote in a brief.