A prosecutor asserted in court Tuesday that pop star Michael Jackson enticed a young boy, then imprisoned him and his family and forced them to make a video absolving him of molestation claims.
The fiery presentation by Deputy District Attorney Gordon Auchincloss disclosed for the first time the prosecution's theory of its conspiracy case against Jackson, claiming that he panicked after a television show threatened to destroy his career by linking him to an obsession with young boys. Auchincloss made his allegation at a hearing on a defense motion to dismiss the case.
"The fact that Mr. Jackson rationalized this behavior on national television was his downfall," Auchincloss said. "It represented the complete and utter ruin of his empire. . . . It made him an international object of loathing and scorn."
Auchincloss said that Jackson sent his private jet to take the family to his Neverland ranch and whisked them away to "vacations" at luxury resorts.
Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. derided the entire prosecution case as "absurd on its face" and argued for dismissal of all charges. Jackson was not in court.
In a TV documentary broadcast in February 2003, Jackson defended his habit of letting children sleep in his bed as "sweet" and nonsexual. The accuser in the current criminal trial is seen in the program.
Auchincloss, detailing a number of the overt acts alleged in the indictment, which have been kept secret until now, suggested that Jackson actually lured the alleged victim to his bed after the program was shown on television.
"The person Jackson perceived could put out [the public relations] fire was John Doe and his family," the prosecutor said, referring to the alleged victim. "If he could get them on tape describing Mr. Jackson as a wonderful person, it would quell this fire."
Auchincloss said Jackson then began to entice the young boy with alcohol.
"He had his private plane land in the middle of the night in Santa Barbara, and take John Doe and his family to Neverland," the prosecutor said. "At Neverland, there are late nights, no homework. Do what you want, eat what you want, stay out late -- no rules. It's a world of self-indulgence. Ultimately, it gets John Doe to sleep in the bed of Michael Jackson."
He also said that Jackson flew the family to vacations at luxury resorts. At some point, the boy was allegedly videotaped saying Jackson didn't harm him.
Mesereau ridiculed the assumption that the trips constituted false imprisonment, saying: "The idea that they were imprisoned and forced to fly on private jets to Florida, to socialize with celebrities such as [comic actor] Chris Tucker, is absurd on its face. It would be laughed out of court by a jury."
Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville listened to 90 minutes of arguments and said he would review the matter and issue a written order. The hearing continued on other matters and could last several days.
Jackson's attorneys are seeking a delay in the trial as well as outright dismissal of the charges. They asked that the Sept. 13 trial date be pushed back four months, until early next year.
Auchincloss responded that prosecutors would not oppose a brief delay but that "any continuance contemplated should be measured in weeks, not months."
Jackson, 45, is charged with committing a lewd act upon a child, administering an intoxicating agent and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. He is free on $3 million bail.