SANTA MARIA, Calif.
Whosoever works for Michael Jackson, it seems, also works Michael Jackson.
As the prosecution concludes its case this week in the Michael Jackson child molestation trial, it has proved one thing beyond a reasonable doubt. Jackson's home, Neverland ranch, was a shady place to work -- a hotbed of intrigue and petty theft, disgruntled employees and hangers-on. When workers weren't stealing candy from Neverland, or peeking at each other's paychecks, they were getting fired and suing Jackson for millions, selling his "kinky sex secrets" to tabloids and writing tell-all books.
(Lucas Jackson -- Reuters)
Neverland employees could not form friendships among themselves, Jackson's former chef testified at one point: "Everyone was spying on each other."
This is Phillip LeMarque, who -- according to a prosecution document -- spent seven years running a pornographic Web site called Virtual Sin. He is not to be confused with the Jackson business associate who once produced porn videos, Marc Schaffel.
Criminal trials often attract seedy characters, but the drama playing out on California's central coast is especially dark. "I've never seen a case like this," says Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former prosecutor who's been following the case closely. "Nearly every witness has a major credibility issue."
That is to say nearly every witness is working an angle. Debbie Rowe, mother of two of Jackson's three children, said last week that her eccentric ex was surrounded by "opportunistic vultures." There's the former publicist, Bob Jones, who's hoping to make money off a book about working with Jackson, and chef LeMarque, who's doing the same. There's the band of former employees who sued Jackson for wrongful termination, hoping for millions. (They lost and were ordered to pay him more than $1 million instead.)
There's the mother of the accuser, who exercised her Fifth Amendment right not to testify about allegations she committed welfare fraud. There's the mother of another boy allegedly molested by Jackson, who says she let the pop star sleep in her son's bed, and that Jackson gave her jewelry and a $7,000 gift certificate.
Adrian Marie McManus, one of Jackson's former maids, stakes out a narrow morality when she takes the stand. Yes, she testifies, she sold quotes for a tabloid story about Jackson's "kinky sex secrets," but she didn't actually know any kinky sex secrets, so maybe the tabloid misquoted her. Yes, she was part of the gang that sued Jackson, but only after "the harassment and the death threats," which included a Jackson associate asking her about her underwear. Yes, she took a sketch Jackson supposedly made of Elvis Presley, but she never took commemorative Pepsi cans or laundry baskets filled with Jackson's clothes. Yes, she and her husband were once found by a judge to have defrauded a relative's children of money from their estate, but . . . well, this one isn't explained.
Where should our sympathies lie? We look at the witness, plump and calm, sucking complacently on a piece of candy. We look at Jackson, shrunken into his suit, his elfin mask expressionless. These are our choices? We look back at the witness. For some reason, she's being asked about Jackson's monkeys.
"Did you ever have to clean up monkey droppings?" prosecutor Ron Zonen wants to know.
Yes, McManus says. "Not on the floor but on the walls."
"On the walls?" Zonen asks.
"Sometimes monkeys get wild," McManus says.