In a hallway outside a courtroom here Friday, Michael Jackson stood beside his defense attorney, who said the pop star regretted paying millions of dollars a decade ago in two previous lawsuits accusing him of molesting children. Jackson blamed greedy advisers, who stood to make fortunes off his music and business deals, and therefore urged him to settle out of court, the entertainer's lawyer said.
"Mr. Jackson had hoped to buy peace in the process," defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. said of two lawsuits from the early 1990s, in which Jackson paid a sum estimated to exceed $20 million. The entertainer "now realizes that the advice he received was wrong. He should have fought these actions to the bitter end and vindicated himself," said Mesereau.
Jackson, whose jaw was trembling as the statement was read, has never admitted any wrongdoing. The regret expressed Friday, however, was a sign of the toll taken on his reputation and career by past and current accusations of sexual child molestation at his Neverland Ranch. "The recent publicity about these settlements is unfair and damaging to him, his family and his dedication to the world's children," Mesereau said.
Though the molestation and conspiracy case is still under a gag order, Judge Rodney S. Melville allowed Jackson to make a statement after two news reports aired recently. In a Sept. 3 "Dateline NBC" report, former Santa Barbara County sheriff Jim Thomas said that his investigators were following leads that the singer may have molested as many as 10 boys a decade ago.
In another report that aired earlier this week on the syndicated show "The Insider," excerpts were played from a tape made by sheriff's investigators last year in which the mother of Jackson's current accuser said that the singer's people told her she had to leave the country because someone was plotting to kill her or her family. "I didn't want to go to Brazil as they wanted me and my kids" to do, she said on the tape.
Accompanied by sisters LaToya and Janet and brothers Jermaine and Randy, Jackson appeared in court Friday for another pretrial hearing, dressed all in white, with a vest brocaded in gold and little silver balls on his shoes. In the bright light of the courtroom, the skin on his face was pallid and pitted. A few dozen supporters screamed his name when he arrived.
Jackson came to hear testimony from the mother of the now-13-year-old boy and cancer sufferer who is at the center of charges of sexual molestation and conspiracy against the pop singer. Jackson, 46, has pleaded not guilty and is free on $3 million bail. His trial is scheduled to begin in January.
Referred to as "Jane Doe," to protect the identity of the child, the mother walked to the stand and made the sign of the cross. She was short, plump and feisty, dressed in a black jacket and skirt, and had recently given birth by caesarian section, she told the court.
Speaking with a slight Spanish accent, the mother was by turns combative or emotional, precise or vague in her answers, sometimes sighing and slapping the podium or rolling her eyes or wagging her finger at Mesereau as he questioned her.
Mesereau and his defense team are asking the court to throw out evidence seized by Santa Barbara sheriff's deputies from the Beverly Hills offices of private investigator Bradley Miller, who at the time of the raid was working for Jackson's previous defense attorney, Mark Geragos. The defense maintains that the raid last year was "an invasion of the defense camp" and violated attorney-client privilege. Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon says he did not know at the time of the raid that Miller was working with Geragos.
The Jackson defense will almost certainly focus on the alleged financial motives and credibility of the accuser's family. On Friday, Mesereau sought to portray the mother as a litigious combatant who had hired at least five different attorneys over the past few years to pursue Jackson and, in an unrelated matter, to win a settlement from J.C. Penney for being manhandled after members of her family were accused of shoplifting.
The point Mesereau was trying to make was that Jane Doe would have enough experience with the legal system and with the Jackson camp to know that private investigator Miller was working for Geragos.
But the mother gave as good as she got. She referred to Jackson's security detail as "bad men" and accused Geragos and Miller of being part of an elaborate and hostile "damage-control team" who threatened her, saying one of Geragos's associates told her "how my children were going to be ripped from my arms" if she persisted in her accusations of molestation.
Part of the conspiracy charges against Jackson allege that he and his security detail imprisoned his accuser and his family at Neverland and at a nearby hotel.
In some exchanges, the mother employed legalese, saying, "As I told you, Mr. Mesereau, these specific dates apply to specific attorneys and specific situations," referring to a document introduced as evidence.
At other moments, she exclaimed that the case was a "nightmare." Asked by Mesereau what she thought the purpose of Friday's hearing was -- part of an attempt by the defense to show that she had been extensively briefed and prepared to work on the prosecutor's behalf -- the mother answered, "The purpose is to bring more torture on me and my children."