Michael Jackson: Critical Stage

Can The Superstar Beat The Latest Rap?

As day broke in California this morning, an eerie calm seemed to have draped over the Jackson case -- for a change.

In Las Vegas, Michael Jackson remained sequestered behind the walls of the Green Valley Ranch, while in Santa Barbara, the courthouse was empty and quiet for now.

It's been a wild week – even by the standards of one of the history's most eccentric celebrities. Correspondent Bill Lagattuta reports on the latest developments in the Jackson case.


Starting Tuesday, a bizarre series of scenes began to unfold – the images ranging from the cinematic to the surreal.

First, there was the battery of investigators combing every corner of the house where one of the world's most famous men lives: Jackson's modern-day Xanadu, the Neverland Ranch.

Then there was District Attorney Tom Sneddon's irreverent and cocky press conference, presenting multiple charges of lewd and lascivious behavior: "Jackson has said that this was all done to ruin his new CD – like we're into that kind of music…"

And finally, there was the spectacle of Jackson's handcuffed homecoming, his haunting mug shot, his family lashing out, and the strange sight of the star seeking solace in the adoration of his fans.

That was how it began. Now, as both sides hunker down for what's sure to be a legal thriller, the public is left with more questions than answers.

"This family is absolutely devastated by these allegations. And they're devastated not only because it's a problem with the claims that are being made, but it's the people who are making the claims who are the problem," says Jackson family attorney Brian Oxman, who has been firing the first salvo of Michael's media offensive.

Its targets are clear: the family of the accuser and the district attorney himself. "The district attorney in Santa Barbara County is someone who this family views has a vendetta to get Michael Jackson, has had a vendetta for years," adds Oxman, who says Sneddon has been salivating for a Jackson prosecution ever since the 1993 case against the superstar was settled out of court.

Oxman also points to the glib tone of the Sneddon and the sheriff's comments, and their open invitation to other accusers to come forward.

"What we saw at this press conference was this jovial, excited presentation by the district attorney," says Oxman. "He has stars in his eyes. He wants to see his name in the public light. He wants to make a news phenomenon of this event."

"In my opinion, that was out of character. I don't know him to be a stand-up comic. He's blunt and straight-forward," says Steve Balash, a Santa Barbara attorney who used to work for the district attorney before starting his own defense practice.

He says for Sneddon, it's strictly business, not personal: "Mr. Sneddon is a hard-nosed prosecutor, but he's an equal opportunity prosecutor. If you break the law, he prosecutes you."


How difficult is it to make a case for child molestation?

"In a case like this, the big issue is going to be the allegations from a prior case. I think that's going to be central," says Balash. "You're sitting there with someone accused of child molesting. The defendant says I didn't do it, but they bring in somebody who says, 'Well, he did it to me 20 years ago.' That changes the whole picture."

In Jackson's case, it was 10 years ago. Another child in a 48 Hours exclusive video sued the singer and eventually took a payoff to keep quiet. Now, there is a real possibility that this child, now an adult, will play a role in this case.

But can you bring in testimony from the past and make it relevant in this case? "Under the current status of law in California, yes you can," says Balash. "If you bring in evidence of prior uncharged misconduct, that will come in."

Still, the case will be won or lost on the credibility of the current accuser. Today, the biggest question remains – Who is he?

"The defense for Mr. Jackson has said they believe the young man that is making these accusations was the same young man seen on special on TV who had cancer," says Russell Halpern, an attorney representing the boy's father.

A few years before appearing in a now infamous British documentary, the boy was undergoing cancer treatments at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles.

"Mr. Jackson was a visitor at the hospital, possibly doing charitable work," says Halpern. "He took particular interest in my client's child because he obviously visited a lot of children, but not all of them became his personal friend."

According to Halpern, Jackson became friends with the boy, then 12, and his parents: "The impression that I got was that in fact that they did visit each other's homes. At least my client had been at Mr. Jackson's home."

Halpern said that his client's son spent time with Jackson during the time he was in the hospital and possibly at other times, too. "However, when you say, 'spending time with him,' if you are talking about spending the night with Mr. Jackson, that occurred after my client lost custody of his child," adds Halpern.

The young man reportedly says Jackson served him wine before molesting him repeatedly.


So how would this child have come to spend the night at Jackson's place?

"That would be a question best asked of my client's ex-wife. The way I understand, it was with her consent after she had divorced my client, that her son would go to Michael Jackson, alone, and spend the evening with him at his home," says Halpern.

The parents are involved in a bitter custody battle. The father has admitted to abusing his family and hasn't seen his son in more than a year.

According to Oxman, the child's mother has consulted the same civil attorney hired by the accuser from a decade ago. They settled for millions, prompting Oxman to make to make a passionate, if familiar, complaint: "If this is the person who I am thinking of, then this allegation is motivated completely by money. And completely by an effort to get Michael."

But attacking the accuser in court can be a dangerous strategy. "Can you imagine asking a child witness really hard questions and the child bursts into tears," says Balash. "If that happens, you just want to crawl under the counsel table because you know you're not making any points with that jury."
Shouldn't the family then, after what happened 10 years ago, have advised Jackson not to hang around with children if it's going to get him in trouble with his public image?

"These kinds of conversations have happened hundreds of times by what I've been told be every family member," says Oxman. "To which Michael responds the same as he has done in public. He is not going to change because of his critics. He is not going to alter his lifestyle to suit somebody else."


However, there are those who would like to see that lifestyle altered immediately – if necessary, by the state.

"I sometimes have the sense that there are two standards of justice. One for celebrities and one for everyone else," says Gloria Allred, a Los Angeles attorney and one of Jackson's most ardent critics. Allred thinks Jackson is a menace not just to his young fans, but also to his own kids.

Yesterday, she publicly requested that the Department of Child Welfare Services consider removing Jackson's three children from his custody: "The basis for removal would be the entire history of Michael Jackson with children: The 1993 allegations of sexual abuse; the November 2002 incident wherein Mr. Jackson dangled his own baby over the side of a fourth floor balcony … the February 2003 statements by Mr. Jackson in the televised interview."

Wouldn't this be difficult to do since Jackson hasn't been accused of molesting his own children?

"It isn't difficult. It isn't unusual. And I think it might very well have happened had he not been a celebrity," says Allred.

Whether this celebrity ultimately helps or hurts Jackson in court, it appears that the next move is his to make.

"I think we're going to see a defense which is very stern, very powerful, and very focused," says Oxman.

"I know that it will be a battle royal," adds Allred. "That it will be fought because Mr. Jackson has a lot at stake."