Prosecution Concludes Case Against Jackson

By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 5, 2005

SANTA MARIA, Calif., May 4 -- The prosecution in Michael Jackson's molestation trial rested Wednesday after presenting a massive body of evidence comprising nearly 900 exhibits and the testimony of 84 witnesses.

But legal observers immediately suggested the district attorney's case had a few weaknesses, particularly the evidence supporting Jackson's involvement in an alleged conspiracy to keep his then-13-year-old accuser and his family from leaving Neverland ranch and speaking publicly in early 2003. None of the witnesses during the past 45 days of court proceedings has directly linked Jackson to such a conspiracy.

In fact, Jackson's defense team on Wednesday filed a motion requesting that Judge Rodney S. Melville dismiss all 10 counts against him. The motion -- a fairly routine defense maneuver in criminal cases -- argues that there is not enough evidence to convict Jackson of the crimes Santa Barbara County prosecutors have alleged. Melville said he will rule on the motion Thursday before the defense starts presenting its case.

Prosecutors used phone records, fingerprint evidence, financial documents and the accounts of the accuser, his brother, mother, sister and dozens of former Jackson underlings in an effort to convict Jackson. They also introduced testimony from other young men who say Jackson molested them when they were boys in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Each of those accusers, however, was involved in unsuccessful lawsuits against Jackson or were part of multimillion-dollar settlements with the pop star.

As Jackson's legal team begins its counteroffensive, the case may boil down to Jackson's pleas of innocence vs. the word of Jackson's accuser, says Craig Smith, a former Santa Barbara County prosecutor and juvenile court judge. "You have to keep in mind that a single witness is sufficient to prove any fact," he says. "The word of the [boy] may be enough to support a conviction."

Jackson stands accused of plying the youngster with alcohol and molesting him in February and March of 2003, then conspiring with others to detain the boy and his family at his Santa Barbara ranch in order to compel their participation in a video that would rebut a damaging TV documentary. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

Jackson has not testified and is not expected to do so during the defense phase of the trial. Day in and day out, he has sat beside his defense team, saying little. He has limited contact with fans and the media. Upon his arrival each morning, Jackson usually just waves or flashes a victory sign to a crowd gathered outside the courthouse's gates. At the end of the court session each afternoon, he'll barely manage to croak out an innocuous word or two to the media as his bodyguards escort him and his parents to two waiting black vans.

The prosecution's final witness proved to be something less than the blockbuster many courtroom observers had been expecting. The witness, Rudy Provencio, is a former record promoter who worked for one of Jackson's companies from 2001 to 2003 when it was trying to produce a multi-artist recording to benefit charity. The recording, called "What More Can I Give?," was never completed.

Provencio testified that two of Jackson's associates who were allegedly involved in keeping the family from leaving Neverland had told him the family had "escaped" from the ranch at one point in February 2003. Provencio also said that the associates, Marc Schaffel and Vincent Amen, told him that a story used to keep the family from leaving the ranch -- that the family was being pursued by "killers" -- was a ruse. Both claims were designed to support the conspiracy charge.

But under cross-examination by Jackson's lead attorney, Thomas Mesereau Jr., Provencio conceded he had not called police about his concerns and continued to have a business relationship with Schaffel long after the period in question. He also admitted that he altered his notes many months after the events allegedly took place.

In any case, Provencio couldn't provide what the prosecution seemed to be hoping for: an eyewitness who could link Jackson directly to the alleged conspiracy.

The gabby, fast-talking Provencio did provide two extraneous bits of detail about Jackson: He has two voices -- one the soft voice known to the public, the other a deep, stern, manly voice he uses when agitated -- and that Jackson once disguised himself as a clown at the Universal Studios amusement park in Los Angeles.

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