The child molestation case against Michael Jackson went to the jury today after closing arguments in which a defense lawyer charged that the pop star's teenaged accuser comes from a family of liars and a prosecutor countered that Jackson has a history of unnatural relationships with boys.
Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville handed the case to the jury of eight women and four men following three months of testimony at the Santa Barbara County courthouse in Santa Maria, Calif.
Jackson, 46, is charged with molesting a 13-year-old cancer survivor at the singer's Neverland Ranch in early 2003, plying the boy with wine and conspiring to hold him and his family hostage. Jackson faces 10 felony counts in the case. If convicted, he could be sent to prison for up to 20 years.
The jury promptly began deliberations behind closed doors. Barring an unexpectedly quick verdict, the jurors -- who range in age from 20 to 79 and include seven whites, four Hispanics and one Asian -- were expected to meet for about two hours this afternoon, then reconvene Monday.
Melville gave the jury final instructions after Jackson's lead attorney, Thomas Mesereau Jr., finished his closing argument and Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen gave a concluding rebuttal.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it only takes one lie under oath to throw this case out of court," Mesereau told the jury today, news agencies reported. "And you can't count all the lies under oath. . . . How many does it take to let you know this case is a fraud?"
Mesereau called the accuser's mother "a complete liar and a fabricator" and charged that the boy himself, now 15, has a history of lying under oath.
Asserting that the family was trying to pull off "the biggest con of their careers," Mesereau portrayed his client as a mark whose generosity was being exploited. "They are trying to take advantage of Michael Jackson," he told the jury. "They are trying to profit from Michael Jackson. They think they have pulled it off. They are just waiting for one thing -- your verdict."
Zonen pointed to similar molestation allegations by other boys and wound up his rebuttal by showing jurors a taped interview from July 2003 in which the accuser describes the alleged molestation. Calling the interview "the worst seven minutes" of the boy's life, Zonen said the accuser clearly was not coached and was, in fact, molested by Jackson.
Zonen described the self-styled "King of Pop" as a pedophile who regularly seduced young boys -- using alcohol and pornography to loosen their inhibitions and arouse them -- and slept with them for weeks or months.
Jackson's sisters, La Toya and Janet Jackson, stood up and walked out of the courtroom as Zonen began his rebuttal. It was the first time that Janet Jackson had joined other family members in the courtroom.
Michael Jackson sat impassively during the closing arguments, occasionally casting quick glances at the jurors. He appeared gaunt and feeble, court reporters said. But he arrived on time for the last day of closing arguments despite a late-night trip to a hospital, reportedly for treatment of dehydration.
As the jury began deliberating, Michael Jackson left the courthouse, a black umbrella shielding his pallid face from the midday sun. A group of fans cheered and chanted their faith in his innocence as he got into his black SUV for the ride home to Neverland.