SANTA MARIA, Calif. - A prosecutor told jurors during closing arguments of the Michael Jackson trial Thursday that the pop star targeted a vulnerable cancer survivor, brought the little boy "into the world of the forbidden" in his bedroom and molested him.
Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau countered that the accuser's family consisted of "con artists, actors and liars." He said prosecutors revealed the weakness of their case by attacking him during their closing argument.
"Whenever a prosecutor does that you know they're in trouble," Mesereau told the panel, which is expected to get the case on Friday. "This is not a popularity contest between lawyers."
In a methodical closing argument, Senior Deputy District attorney Ron Zonen berated Jackson and his attorneys, stood by the testimony of the accuser's mother, and used charts and graphics to show what he said was a pattern of criminal behavior.
Zonen argued for nearly two hours before he even brought up child molestation, focusing first on a complicated conspiracy alleging Jackson sought to hold the accuser's family against their will.
He said it was toward the end of a period in which the accuser and his family stayed at Jackson's Neverland ranch that "the behavior had turned to something terribly illegal."
Zonen said Jackson began giving the boy alcohol and even though his mother at that time was unaware of any molestation, she insisted that her family leave Neverland.
"For all her shortcomings, (the mother), after learning Michael Jackson was giving her son alcohol, in 36 hours she had her children out of there," Zonen said.
Mesereau said the real issue was "whether the accuser's family was credible," and he tore into the prosecutor's claim that the boy's mother wasn't out for money, repeatedly returning to the refrain, "Was she asking for money?"
He noted there was testimony that the mother asked actor Chris Tucker for a truck, that she sued J.C. Penney for allegedly being roughed up by guards, and sought welfare right after receiving a $152,000 settlement in the department store lawsuit.
"When she filed for emergency welfare 10 days after getting her (settlement), was she asking for money?" Mesereau asked. "If you do not believe (the family) beyond a reasonable doubt, Mr. Jackson must be acquitted. That's the law."
The prosecutor acknowledged she fraudulently applied for welfare after receiving a large settlement in a lawsuit, but asserted that was the only thing she had been proven to have done wrong in her life.
And Zonen ridiculed the idea that the boy's mother could have made up the entire story and prompted her children to lie in order to get wealthy at a future time.
"The suggestion this was all made up is nonsense," he said. "It's unmitigated rubbish."
Zonen depicted Neverland, Jackson's fantasy estate and amusement park, as a place with no rules, no schooling and no discipline for children who stayed there.
"They rode rides, went to the zoo, ate whatever they wanted - candy, ice cream, soda pop. There was only fun. ... And at night they entered into the world of the forbidden. Michael Jackson's room was a veritable fortress with locks and codes which the boys were given ... They learned about sexuality from someone only too willing to be their teacher."
The prosecutor referred to nights when both the boy and his brother stayed in Jackson's room and said the stage was set for molestation.
"It began with discussions of masturbation and nudity. It began with simulating a sex act with a mannequin," Zonen said.
He said Jackson carefully chose the kind of boys he wanted to prey upon.
"The lion on the Serengeti doesn't go after the strongest antelope," Zonen said. "The predator goes after the weakest."
Referring to the boy's testimony, he suggested that the courtroom scared the teenager.
"It was intimidating. It's intimidating for me. ... He had been molested by a man he once held in high regard," Zonen said.
Jackson, 46, is charged with molesting the boy in 2003, plying him with wine and conspiring to hold his family captive to get them to rebut the documentary "Living With Michael Jackson," in which Jackson held hands with the boy and said he let children into his bed but it was non-sexual.
Zonen also projected on a large screen pages from books about male sexuality. Of one of them, he said, "This is a study of what two men are able to do with each other. The pictures are absolutely graphic. This is a publication you are not going to find on anyone's coffee table."
He added, "Are you comfortable with a middle-aged man who possesses this book getting into bed with a 13-year-old boy?"
The prosecutor also showed again heterosexual adult material from Jackson's collection of magazines and said jurors should understand these were part of the "grooming process" intended to get boys aroused.
"These were not for him," he said. "These were for the boys."
Zonen spent much of his argument attacking Jackson's current and former lawyers.
He accused Mesereau of promising things in his opening statement which he could not produce, including mentioning celebrities who would testify who never appeared.
Zonen was defensive in talking about the boy's mother, one of the most erratic witnesses of the trial.
"(She) never asked for one penny from Michael Jackson," he said. "She never desired anything form him and she doesn't today."