The Case Against Jackson

<B>Troy Roberts</B> On The Upcoming Trial Of America's Pop Superstar

He could be any ordinary American teenager, but the boy seen in an exclusive video is anything but ordinary.

He's the young man, described in court documents only as "John Doe," who is accusing Michael Jackson of child molestation.

And starting Monday, he'll be at the center of the world's most sensational celebrity trial.

Jackson faces 10 criminal counts, including child molestation and conspiracy. Prosecutors have been building their case in unprecedented secrecy. But in recent weeks, many of the documents under court seal have been leaked.

Correspondent Troy Roberts has the details of what Jackson will likely face in court, and how his lawyers intend to fight back.

Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon has been largely silent since November 2003, when he filed charges against Jackson.

But it's clear that the success of his case rests largely on how his 15-year-old star witness holds up on the stand.

In the video, the young man seems fit and confident. On the stand, however, he'll need that confidence to testify about a much darker time.

Back in 2000, the accuser was 10, and dying of cancer. He wanted to meet his favorite celebrities, including Michael Jackson.

"I tried to do something that would help the kid, something I thought was right. That was what I was trying to do," says Jamie Masada, owner of the Laugh Factory comedy clubs.

Masada helped arrange the introduction. "The next thing I know, Michael called him in the hospital," he says.

Their relationship grew as the boy made a remarkable recovery. Soon, he and his family were invited to Neverland, Jackson's sprawling ranch, complete with an amusement park and zoo.

Then, in February 2003, the accuser was seen holding hands with Jackson in a now-infamous British documentary.

In the firestorm that followed, Jackson's friendship with the family fell to pieces. By summertime, the police had gotten involved.

The accuser's mother made a videotaped statement to the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department in July 2003: "They had the ability to make my children disappear."

By now, the boy was telling police the story the district attorney will present to the jury -- that Jackson molested him while they were together in the singer's bedroom. His claims will be backed up by the accuser's younger brother, who says he saw Jackson molesting his brother from an adjoining staircase.

"The little brother, to me, is actually fascinating. He seems to have the ability to recall details of things that take place, almost three years prior to his first police interview," says Bill Bastone, editor of thesmokinggun.com.

Bastone has reviewed transcripts of police interviews and grand jury testimony in the case.

The boys say Jackson plied them with alcohol, and their account was credible enough for the grand jury to couple each of the four molestation charges with a charge of administering an intoxicating agent. "They're quoting brands of booze," says Bastone. "Skye Vodka. Bacardi Rum. Jim Beam Whiskey."

Sneddon will also try to boost the boys' credibility with evidence seized during the searches of Neverland. "They found things in a lot of places," says Bastone. They scored some excellent material."

The material probably can't convict Jackson on its own, but it confirms salient details of the boys' stories. For example, investigators reportedly found a briefcase full of pornography.

"It's no crime to own it. But the fact is that the kids said it was there," says Bastone. "And they found it where they said it was supposed to be."

Jackson's lead attorney, Tom Mesereau, has been worried enough about all the evidence to try to have much of it thrown out.

"There are many motions to suppress that were brought. The prosecutors won it overwhelmingly," says Laurie Levinson, a former federal prosecutor and professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

"Mr. Snedden has left no stone unturned. And in that way, he's gone after everything."

Mesereau is barred by the court from speaking specifically about the Jackson case. "Judge Melville has a gag order, and I respect it and I'm not going to violate it," he says.

But his confidante and occasional co-counsel, Jennifer Keller, is not.

"Children are malleable. They want to please," says Keller. "They in particular want to please their mothers."

From the start, Jackson's team has portrayed the accuser's mother as a scheming extortionist with a litigious past.

They point to her allegations of abuse by security guards a JC Penney's in 1998, which resulted in a six-figure settlement. They also point to questionable community fundraising for her son's cancer treatment, which was reportedly already covered by the family's insurance.

"The motivations seem pretty clear. Money, money, money, money, money," says Keller. "She's made allegations in the past to get money. It's worked. And she's making allegations now to get money."

So is Jackson the victim in this case?

"Well, there have been many young children in this country, boys and girls, who've accused people of doing things that they haven't done," says Keller. "The accusation doesn't make it so."

The mother's potential weakness as a witness could make it harder for Sneddon to convict on the indictment's most curious charge: conspiracy.

"And what it says is that basically Michael Jackson and his employees were extorting this family, were holding them captive," says Levinson.

The prosecution will argue that after the British documentary aired, the Jackson camp panicked. They allegedly held the family at Neverland, forcing the boy to deny any wrongdoing on videotape, and concocting a plan to move them all quickly to Brazil.

But the mother herself admits that during her so-called "imprisonment" at Neverland, she and the kids came and went repeatedly -- and she never bothered to call the police.

"That's a red flag about the size of the state of Texas," says Keller.

One more question hangs over the entire case. Will the prosecution be able to call other boys who will come forward and declare they, too, were molested by Jackson?

"That would be the huge fear for the Michael Jackson team," says Levinson.

There are two young men who accepted multimillion-dollar settlements from Jackson in the '90s. Foremost among them is the boy, now 25, whose 1993 allegations sparked Sneddon's first investigation in 1993.

"That kind of casts the events of 2003 in an entirely different light," says Bastone.

Sneddon's first investigation was derailed when the child's family pocketed a reported $20 million in hush money.

"Some people may say though that if the prosecution can establish a pattern of behavior that that's a slam dunk that could sink the defendant," says Roberts.

"I don't think that's true at all," says Mesereau. "I've been in cases where the prosecution tried that and lost. And he lost big."

Speaking in general terms, Mesereau says he's not worried when prosecutors try to bring in other alleged victims.

"Cause sometimes what the prosecution thinks is similar behavior has no merit," says Mesereau. "Sometimes, the witnesses fall apart like they will in any other part of the case."

Mesereau also has no qualms about cross-examining younger witnesses, and he's reportedly subpoenaed Neverland employees to help portray the accuser as a wild and unruly child.

"I don't see any real difference between how a lawyer handles a witness of any age," says Mesereau.

But does he have to be extra careful not to appear to be overaggressive in questioning a young witness?

"That may be true. But then I've seen some young witnesses that were such liars and were so obviously there to please someone else that even the jury got upset with them," says Mesereau.

In the Jackson case, Mesereau will have at least one thing helping him to discredit the accuser: statements he and his mother made to social workers just months before they went to the police.

"Child protective services interviewed this child and the mother and was told nothing had ever happened. Nothing," says Keller.

And Mesereau will certainly seize on the most startling quirk in the prosecution's case: the illogical timeline.

The world became aware of Jackson's relationship with the boy when the documentary aired in Britain. But the indictment says the molestation didn't begin until Feb. 20, more than two weeks after the scandal erupted.

"That's the point at which he decides to start committing the molestations," says Bastone.

"It's ridiculous. Doesn't make sense. It's intuitively ridiculous," says Keller.

It's a strong point that Mesereau could try to drive home with the ultimate gambit.

"I've been known to put clients on the stand much more often than many criminal defense lawyers do," says Mesereau.