In a dazzling display of courtroom oratory, lawyers for the prosecution and defense began closing arguments in the Michael Jackson molestation trial Thursday, presenting radically different portraits of the defendant and the evidence against him.
Prosecutor Ron Zonen portrayed Jackson as a sexual predator who lures young boys to his Neverland ranch and then, through a careful "grooming process," prepares them for molestation. Jackson molested the accuser in this case, Zonen said, "and numerous other boys."
Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. described Jackson as a "naive" and childlike "idealist" -- an easy mark for con artists eager to get his money by concocting false stories of molestation. The case against Jackson, he said, was created by money-hungry accusers and overzealous prosecutors.
Jackson, 46, faces 10 counts of molestation, attempted molestation, providing alcohol to minors and conspiracy. If convicted, he could face 20 years in prison. The jury is expected to get the case Friday and begin deliberations after three months of testimony.
In their twin take-no-prisoners summations, both lawyers attacked each other's cases -- and each other's veracity. "Ladies and gentlemen," Zonen began, "this case is about the exploitation and abuse of a 13-year-old cancer survivor at the hands of an international celebrity."
Jackson plied his accuser with drinks and molested him on at least four occasions, Zonen said, and the pop star also masterminded a plan to imprison the family at Neverland until they helped make a video statement praising him. Then, he said, Jackson plotted to ship the boy and his family to Brazil so they could not reveal the truth. "They had no intention of bringing this family back," Zonen said. "They were simply going to disappear into Brazil."
Jackson's first phone call to the accuser's hospital room fits a pattern, Zonen said -- picking young boys from troubled families as his victims. Zonen compared Jackson to "the lion on the Serengeti" who "goes after the weakest, not the strongest."
As he has done with other boys, Zonen said, Jackson allowed the accuser and his brother to run wild at Neverland, showed them pornography, gave them alcohol and allowed them to sleep in his bed. With the accuser thus "groomed," Zonen said, Jackson molested him.
Zonen described Neverland as a candy-coated place without rules, curfews or discipline. "At night, they entered the world of the forbidden," Zonen said, "and they learned about human sexuality."
Zonen showed the jury slides of four boys who have accused Jackson of molestation -- including the boy who received about $20 million to settle a lawsuit in 1994. "Michael Jackson paid this kid off," he said.
Zonen predicted that Mesereau would attack the accuser and his brother -- who allegedly witnessed acts of molestation -- as liars. "Mr. Mesereau is going to say these kids made all this up," he said. Zonen also predicted that Mesereau would attack the accuser's mother as a woman who tried to con celebrities into giving her money. But, he added, the mother "never asked for one penny from Michael Jackson."
After Zonen spoke for nearly three hours, Mesereau went before the jury and did exactly what Zonen had predicted -- ripped into the credibility of the accuser and his family.
"This is a family where children have been taught to con and children have been taught to lie," Mesereau said. "The whole family has difficulties with the truth, difficulties with honesty, difficulties with money -- and they've been raised that way."
Like Zonen, Mesereau told the jury he had found a pattern of misbehavior -- in this case the accuser's mother's history of making charges of molestation, first against security guards at a JCPenney department store, then against her ex-husband. Now, Mesereau said, she has coached her children into accusing Jackson so she can file a civil suit against him later.
"Same pattern, same motive, same as here," he said. "She just needs one thing: you to convict Michael. You have the power to make them rich and they'll never have to work a day in their lives."
During his argument, Zonen projected on a large screen pages from books about male sexuality. Of one of them, he said, "This is a study of what two men are able to do with each other. The pictures are absolutely graphic. This is a publication you are not going to find on anyone's coffee table."
He added, "Are you comfortable with a middle-aged man who possesses this book getting into bed with a 13-year-old boy?"
The prosecutor also showed heterosexual adult material from Jackson's collection of magazines and said they were intended to get boys aroused.
Mesereau responded that Jackson wasn't charged with possessing illegal pornography because everything in his home was legal, that no child pornography was found in his home or on computers, and that prosecutors used the adult magazines just to make the singer look bad.
"They have dirtied him up because he's human. But they haven't proven their case because they can't," he said.
Mesereau mocked Zonen's claim that the mother never asked Jackson for money -- "he looks you in the eye and says that she never asked for money" -- and then he ticked off several occasions when the mother and other family members asked other celebrities, including comedians Chis Tucker and George Lopez, for money and gifts.
"She had an almost compulsive addiction to celebrities," Mesereau said of the mother. "They called every celebrity in town that they could get ahold of."
Finally, the family targeted Jackson -- "the most poplar celebrity in the world." Jackson was an easy mark, Mesereau said. "He has a reputation or being a very childlike person. Very naive, a musical genius, a person who attracted millions of dollars before he knew what it meant." Jackson is, Mesereau said, a celebrity "with a history of being taken advantage of," a man "whose generosity knows no bounds."
Jackson responded to the family with kindness, Mesereau said. "He took them into Neverland and he took care of them." The family got what it could from Jackson, Mesereau said, and then consulted two lawyers about filing a civil suit before reporting the alleged molestation to the police. This case, Mesereau said, was designed by those attorneys to pave the way for a lucrative lawsuit against Jackson.
"Aren't they all after millions from Mr. Jackson?" Mesereau asked the jury. "They're all lined up. These people are ready to pounce."
Mesereau blasted the prosecution's charge that Jackson conspired to imprison the family to force them to make a video rebutting a TV documentary in which Jackson admitted non-sexual sleepovers with boys, including the accuser.
"Does he look like the kind of person who is even capable of masterminding this kind of criminal conspiracy?" Mesereau said. "It's absurd."
At one point, Mesereau attacked Zonen by name, saying his tactics were "abusive, mean-spirited and having nothing to do with looking for the truth."
Like a boxer jabbing at a cut over an opponent's eye, Mesereau pounded away at the weaknesses in the case. He was not done when the court recessed at 2:30, but he slipped in one last parting shot at the prosecution: "It's the story of this case -- anything to win."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.