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Jackson Defense Was Always Sure

June 15, 2005|Steve Chawkins and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

SANTA MARIA, Calif. — Basking in a courtroom victory that seemed to stun everyone but the defense, Michael Jackson's attorneys on Tuesday said they would have prevailed at the pop star's molestation trial even without the bizarre testimony of the accuser's mother.

Jurors cited the often-erratic mother, who witnesses said committed welfare fraud and lied to win a lawsuit, as the weak link in the prosecution's case. But lead defense attorney Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., in an interview outside his temporary lodgings in Santa Maria, said testimony from a number of prosecution witnesses, including the now-15-year-old accuser, was flawed.

"We had them on the defensive from the outset," he said.

Still groggy from a round of predawn interviews for New York-based morning TV shows, Mesereau said that after Monday's not-guilty verdicts on molestation and related charges, he spent time at Jackson's Neverland ranch with the singer and his family.

The group was subdued and relieved, he said. They prayed, and Jackson, whom Mesereau described as suffering from exhaustion, tried to eat.

The pop star, rail thin at 120 pounds when the trial began in January, lost 20 pounds from stress, Mesereau said.

Jackson will no longer "allow other families into his bedroom" at Neverland, Mesereau said. Santa Barbara County's criminal investigation of the pop star was triggered by his admission in a British TV documentary that he shared his bed with children during nonsexual sleepovers.

Jackson has never molested children, Mesereau said, adding that the singer now realizes he cannot allow his own actions to open him up to attack.

Mesereau also said that jurors did not give Jackson a break because of his celebrity, as Santa Barbara County Dist. Atty. Tom Sneddon suggested in a news conference Monday afternoon.

"That's just sour grapes," Mesereau said. "The fact is that their witnesses were destroyed repeatedly."

In fact, Jackson's fame worked against him, defense attorney Robert Sanger said in a separate interview at his office in Santa Maria. Prosecutors would not have filed such a weak case against an ordinary person, he said.

During jury selection, the handful of African Americans who might have served on the panel were eliminated over defense objections.

Mesereau said he "would have preferred" the presence of some black jurors but added that their absence was never a source of great concern for him.

Although defense attorneys employed a consultant during jury selection, they did not use "shadow juries" -- groups that give their opinion about testimony presented by actors, Mesereau said.

"I had a good feeling about this jury from Day 1," he said, describing the panelists as honest, sincere and independent-minded.

Sanger, who served alongside Mesereau in the courtroom, said the central defense strategy was to show the manner in which the accuser's "family worked together to do whatever it was they did to people."

Although a video of the boy telling investigators about his alleged molestation in 2003 was dramatic, both lawyers said the media exaggerated its importance.

"At first blush, it looked like it would hurt us," Mesereau acknowledged.

But in his closing argument, Mesereau was able to cite the tape as an example of the boy's changing story -- and of the boy's consummate acting ability, he said.

The assertion wasn't lost on the jurors, said Sanger, who said they viewed the tape with more detachment than the media.

"It wasn't simplistic. It wasn't, 'Oh we are moved by this child who is telling a story,' " Sanger said. "When they are listening to this kid in his interview, they're not just taking it in on an emotional level, they are looking at it on an intellectual level. And on an intellectual level, they are saying, 'Now wait a second, what's really going on here?' "

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