SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Prosecutors yesterday cast Michael Jackson as a bizarre schemer who held the family of his alleged molestation victim under virtual house arrest in order to tape a video of the boy proclaiming the pop star's innocence.
In the aftermath of a disastrous British documentary, Jackson saw the boy - referred to in court as John Doe - as "the one person who could put out the fire," Santa Barbara prosecutor Gordon Auchincloss contended in a pre-trial hearing. In the documentary, Jackson shredded his own reputation by acknowledging sleepovers with young boys at his palatial Neverland Ranch.
The singer, who is charged with molesting the 12-year-old cancer patient and conspiring to cover it up, said no sexual contact occurred with any child at Neverland. Even so, the prosecutor said, the world reacted with "loathing and scorn," and a desperate Jackson came to think of the boy as the perfect spokesman for his wholesome, childlike intentions.
While still general, the prosecutor's allegations are a stark departure for a case in which so much - from the grand jury's meeting place to routine motions - has been conducted in secret. Much of the indictment against Jackson is still under wraps, despite continuing legal efforts by a media coalition.
Outlining a few of the "overt acts" that were hallmarks of Jackson's alleged conspiracy, Auchincloss offered an unusual peek into a prosecution strategy of attacking Jackson as a ruthless predator.
Defense attorneys angrily countered that John Doe's mother - called Jane Doe in court - was money-hungry and untrustworthy.
"I'll say it's a shakedown," said Thomas Meserau Jr,, Jackson's lead attorney, echoing a comment from his predecessor, Mark Geragos.
"It's utterly ridiculous that you can imprison these people to somehow get a film made," he said. "It will be laughed out of court because it's so ridiculous."
The comments came during arguments on a defense motion to throw out Jackson's grand jury indictment. Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville said he will issue a written ruling on the motion.
At first, Jackson treated the boy and his family to a host of excesses in an effort to win them over, Auchincloss claimed. He said Jackson bought the boy, his mother, his brother and his sister lavish gifts. At Neverland, he gave them "a world of self-indulgence," the prosecutor said: "Eat what you want, do what you want, stay up late, no homework, no school."
Along the way, the prosecutor alleged, Jackson invited the boy into his bed and molested him.
But when the family tried to leave Neverland, Jackson had his aides keep them against their will, Auchincloss said. In a "deceitful and despicable" threat, the star suggested he would turn the children over to authorities if their mother kept resisting his pleas to let her son go public, the prosecutor said.
Meserau scoffed at the claims, pointing out that the family managed to "escape" Neverland but returned just a week later.
The defense has attacked the Santa Barbara District Attorney's office on a number of fronts. In their effort to get the indictment dismissed, Jackson's attorneys have painted District Attorney Tom Sneddon as an unscrupulous operator who bullied and misled the grand jury.
They also are asking Melville to throw out evidence seized during a raid at the office of a Beverly Hills private investigator, Bradley Miller. Yesterday, they called to the stand four Santa Barbara sheriff's deputies and a district attorney's investigator who were involved in the office search.
All denied even speculating that Miller may have been working for Geragos, Jackson's attorney at the time.
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