Child molestation charges against Michael Jackson are being driven by “money and revenge,” said defense attorney Mark Geragos, who vowed to derail the alleged victim’s credibility and fight what he called a prosecutor’s vendetta.
For District Attorney Thomas Sneddon, whose similar 1993 case against the pop singer evaporated when the accuser reportedly accepted millions in settlement money, the charges filed Thursday represent a second chance to convict the fading pop star before the prosecutor begins his planned retirement.
Unlike the 1993 case, Sneddon says, this time he has a cooperative witness who isn’t interested in a piece of Jackson’s fortune.
The self-styled “King of Pop” faces seven counts of molesting a child under the age of 14. He also was charged with two counts of plying the boy with “an intoxicating agent” to make it easier to carry out the assaults. A source speaking for the family on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press the substance was wine.
The molestation charges each carry between three and eight years in prison.
Geragos denounced the allegations as driven by money and vengeance, and said Jackson, who is free on $3 million bail, looks forward to resolving the matter in court.
“Anybody else who knows anything about the history of these accusers, anybody who knows anything about the history of the investigators and the axes they have to grind know that these charges are not only categorically untrue, but they’re driven, driven by two things: money and revenge. And we will prove that,” Geragos said at a news conference Thursday.
Later, he told CNN’s “Larry King Live” that winning the case will send a message to anyone who is considering trying to extort money from the entertainer.
“This is going to stick a fork in people who want to do this to Michael Jackson,” he said.
Authorities raided Jackson’s Neverland Ranch last month and arrested him days later on suspicion of child molestation. Sneddon agreed to delay Jackson’s arraignment a week to Jan. 16.
Several hurdles ahead
Sneddon says he has a credible witness and a strong case, but appears to have several hurdles to overcome to win a conviction. For starters, he must persuade a jury to accept the timeline of the alleged crimes.
Five of the counts state that Jackson molested the boy, a 14-year-old cancer victim he had befriended, sometime between the approximate dates of Feb. 7 and March 10. The other two counts, and the charges of giving the boy an intoxicant, state that those crimes allegedly occurred between the approximate dates of Feb. 20 and March 10.
That means Jackson, 45, would have begun molesting the boy amid the swift and fervent criticism he received after the Feb. 6 airing of a documentary in which he told of letting children sleep in his bedroom and sometimes in his bed when they visited his Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara County.
Jackson and his accuser were shown holding hands during that show and saying they slept in the same room but not in the same bed.
Los Angeles County child welfare officers began investigating Jackson’s relationship with the child on Feb. 14, prompted by a complaint to a county hot line from a school administrator who saw the show.
The investigation, which ended Feb. 27, found there was no basis for molestation allegations after the boy, his mother and his siblings denied them. Details of the interview were included in a memo leaked to the media this month.
Sneddon said Thursday the boy may not have wanted to talk about the molestation at first and that Los Angeles County officials may have been too busy to investigate fully.
“LA is a big place. They have a lot of problems down there and that office has a lot of problems. Anyone who lives there knows that,” Sneddon said.
Geragos said he conducted videotaped and audiotaped interviews with the mother and child himself last February. He said they both praised Jackson’s generosity and described him as a father figure to the boy, who was introduced to the singer through the owner of a West Hollywood comedy club.
Words of praiseMichael E. Manning, divorce attorney for the accuser’s mother, told The Associated Press last month that he remembered the mother speaking well of Jackson in April or May, after the abuse is alleged to have occurred.
“’He was really good to us’ — that’s what she said at the time,” Manning said in the Nov. 24 interview. The next day, Manning’s secretary said the boy’s mother had asked the attorney to stop speaking to the media.
The boy’s family also filed a lawsuit claiming the boy, his brother and mother were beaten by mall security guards in 1998 after the boy left a Southern California J.C. Penney store carrying clothes that had not been paid for. The lawsuit also alleged the mother was sexually assaulted. The family received a $137,500 settlement.
Russell Halpern, an attorney for the boy’s father, has said the boy’s mother had a “Svengali-like ability” to make her children lie in testimony. The father pleaded no contest to child cruelty in 2002 and spousal abuse in 2001. The couple are now divorced.
Sneddon gave reporters a news release Thursday giving his answers to the questions he says he is most commonly asked about the Jackson case. Among them was whether the child’s mother is credible.
“Yes, she is credible,” he said, adding the family has “said repeatedly that they are not interested in money.”
Sneddon also denied holding a grudge against the entertainer, who took a thinly disguised swipe at the prosecutor in a song called “D.S.” on Jackson’s “HIStory” album. The song contains the lyrics, “Dom Sheldon is a cold man.”
“Michael Jackson is a talented artist,” Sneddon said in his news release. “That song was not one of his finer efforts.”
Jackson’s arrest came just after he released a greatest-hits album, which has had disappointing sales. Jackson’s record sales overall have slumped in recent years, and he has gained more attention for his bizarre behavior — dangling his infant son from a hotel balcony, radically altering his face through plastic surgery, sharing his bedroom with children — than for his music.