February 26, 2005
SANTA MARIA, Calif. - A judge has ruled that Michael Jackson's lawyers can present evidence at his child molestation trial that his accuser's mother has made abuse charges in the past.
The allegations relate to the credibility of the accuser's family. The defense is expected to portray them as after Jackson's money.
Jackson, 46, is accused of molesting a 13-year-old at his Neverland ranch in Santa Barbara County, plying the boy with alcohol and conspiring to hold him and his family captive.
The prosecution alleges the boy was molested after the airing of a TV documentary that showed the boy with Jackson, who said he allowed children to sleep in his bed.
Lead defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. laid out much of his case Friday during motions on whether evidence could be admitted about the accuser's family's lawsuit against J.C. Penney.
The lawsuit claimed J.C. Penney security guards beat them, held them against their will and groped the mother after the boy left a store without paying for clothes.
Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville agreed to allow jurors to hear about the lawsuit, although he was critical over how much Mesereau was revealing about his case ahead of opening statements, set to begin Monday.
"You almost laid out your whole case, not for me, but for other people," Melville said, referring to the courtroom packed with observers, including a dozen reporters. Others watched in an overflow room.
Mesereau told the court that the day after the alleged beating by guards, the mother returned to the store and hugged employees, then filed the lawsuit and later amended it to add the groping claim.
Mesereau also said the woman testified in the J.C. Penney case that her husband had never hit her, but later alleged in her divorce that he had beaten his family for years. She also accused her ex-husband of inappropriately touching her daughter, the lawyer said.
The family's lawsuit ended in a $150,000 settlement from J.C. Penney and Tower Records. Mesereau said the mother hid assets from the settlement to get welfare payments from Los Angeles County.
He also said the mother had her son ask celebrities including TV host Jay Leno for money and spent some of the funds on cosmetic surgery.
Prosecutor Ron Zonen argued that the issue was how the mother acquired the money, not what she spent it on, and that the issue was largely irrelevant.
"The question is whether a man who admits to sleeping with children was sleeping with this child, and what he did with this child. That's what this case is about," Zonen said.
Mesereau argued that it all showed a pattern of fraud.
"She got a breast enhancement and a tummy tuck and then told Mr. Jackson and all these people that she was destitute," the attorney said.
The judge ruled that during opening statements lawyers may not show the jury the entire "Living with Michael Jackson" documentary but may use a clip. The prosecution plans to use a two-minute segment. The first prosecution witness is expected to be the documentary's maker, Martin Bashir.