Michael Jackson came to court on Monday to smack back at the prosecutor who seeks to have the fading pop star convicted of sexually molesting a young cancer patient.
In a pretrial hearing, Jackson's defense attorney charged that Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon trampled the musician's rights, violating the sanctity of attorney-client privilege, when sheriff's deputies raided the offices of a Beverly Hills private investigator with ties to Jackson who had been hired by the singer's legal team.
The Beverly Hills raid last year -- in which officers used sledgehammers to break down doors -- snared computers, files and video and audio tapes that prosecutors want to show a jury to prove that Jackson and his entourage conspired to falsely imprison and extort money from the family of Jackson's 12-year-old accuser. The boy, investigators say, told them that Jackson plied him with wine and sexually molested him during one of his stays at Neverland Ranch.
Though he is not required to attend pretrial hearings, Jackson appeared at the Santa Maria courthouse Monday morning in a bronze double-decker bus. He emerged dressed in white suit, shirt and shoes, an armband of gold brocade around the right sleeve of his jacket, to the shouts of "We love you, Michael!" from a hundred mostly young supporters outside the court.
Jackson was surrounded by his bodyguards, shaded from the sun by a black umbrella and accompanied by brothers Randy and Jermaine and sisters LaToya and Janet -- all of them also dressed in white. Jackson waved and then ducked into the courtroom.
Jackson and prosecutor Sneddon have been combatants for a decade. In 1993, Sneddon and the district attorney in Los Angeles sought to file charges against Jackson in an earlier sexual molestation case. That case imploded after Jackson's accuser settled a civil lawsuit out of court for an undisclosed sum reported to be in the millions. But the accusations and sensational publicity severely damaged Jackson's career and fortunes.
Jackson responded at the time with a song contained in his 1995 "HIStory" album in which he attacks a "TA" named "Dom Sheldon," whom he calls "a cold man." On the album, the name rendered as Dom Sheldon on the liner notes sounds very much like "Tom Sneddon"; the song ends with the sound of a gunshot.
In the current case, Jackson, 45, has pleaded not guilty and has called the charges "a big lie." He is free on $3 million bond.
In court on Monday he sat at the defense table, eyeing Sneddon as he took the witness stand and was grilled for three hours by Jackson's silver-maned attorney Tom Mesereau Jr.
Mesereau and Sneddon repeatedly locked horns, interrupting and correcting each other on points of law and grammar. Mesereau, his voice dripping with sarcasm, asked how it was possible that Sneddon did not know that private investigator Bradley Miller was working for Mark Geragos, Jackson's lawyer at the time.
"It never dawned on you that Miller worked for Geragos?" Mesereau asked.
"Absolutely not," Sneddon said.
At one point, Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville warned Sneddon, "I'm going to ask you not to spar with the attorney."
Mesereau did score points. Sneddon told the court that he never inquired of Geragos or anyone else whom the private investigator was working for. The district attorney said he assumed Miller was working for Jackson, not his lawyer.
Sneddon told the court that during their investigation they tried to keep "a very tight hold" on information so as not to tip off the Jackson camp that they were on the singer's trail.
Why didn't Sneddon contact Geragos before the raid to ask about the private investigator? Sneddon replied, "It's pretty obvious. If we would've called Mr. Geragos there wouldn't be anything to find" at the private investigator's offices, because he would have removed any incriminating evidence.
Sneddon, though, was forced to concede that he did tell Jackson's defense attorneys last year that he knew Miller worked for Geragos. Sneddon said he misspoke. "I was wrong. Absolutely I was wrong," Sneddon said. He explained to the court that he was "extremely angry and upset" that day because he and his prosecutors had almost missed an important deadline for filing papers to the court.
If Judge Melville rules that Sneddon knew or should have known that Miller worked for Geragos, he could refuse to admit any evidence seized during the raid of the private investigator's offices -- a ruling that could severely damage the prosecutor's case, which maintains that Jackson and his associates sought to intimidate and coerce his accuser's family to make a videotape praising the singer. Sneddon finished his testimony, but the judge will hear other pretrial motions Tuesday. Jackson is not expected to attend.