DA's Case: Porn, Booze, Fondling

Pop star Michael Jackson arrives at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse in Santa Maria, Calif. Monday Feb. 28, 2005 for the opening statements in his trial for alleged child molestation. AP

A prosecutor laid out the child molestation and conspiracy case against Michael Jackson on Monday, saying his 15-year-old accuser was abused and employees tried to silence him and his family by warning that his mother could be killed.

In his opening statement, District Attorney Thomas Sneddon also said that Jackson showed the boy adult material on the Internet from the first time he stayed at Neverland in 2000, when the boy was 10 years old.

Sneddon graphically portrayed what he called the private world of Michael Jackson, reports CBS News Correspondent Steve Futterman, a world in which Sneddon claims Jackson encouraged his 13-year-old accuser to touch himself, and then Jackson touched the boy.

Opening statements began after Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville read the indictment to the jury, revealing the names of five unindicted alleged co-conspirators. All are Jackson employees.

The judge also read 28 overt acts allegedly committed in a conspiracy surrounding the alleged molestation of the boy, a cancer patient, at Jackson's Neverland ranch and a purported attempt to keep his family silent.

"I think both sides have to be careful about using too much hyperbole in their opening statements," warns CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen. "It's easy and tempting to resort in a big case like this to grand language but I think the jurors are going to be looking for no-nonsense facts and theories."

Sneddon referred to the boy by name after telling the court it would be impossible to proceed without using the real names of the child and his family.

Sneddon, Santa Barbara County's top prosecutor, told the jury that the case was about Jackson's "desperate attempt" to salvage his career after the airing of the television documentary "Living With Michael Jackson," in which the pop star is seen holding hands with the boy and saying he allows children to sleep in his bed.

Jackson had intended to exploit the boy by using the documentary to demonstrate how the singer helped him through his cancer, Sneddon said. He said Jackson told him what to say.

"He never told the boy that this video was anything other than an audition," Sneddon said.

Sneddon said "Jackson's world was rocked" when the documentary aired in early 2003 and backfired by creating negative publicity. At that point, he said, Jackson's team tried to get the boy and his family to rebut it.

The prosecutor said the molestation occurred after those events, in February or March 2003, when the boy was 13. He described two specific incidents of molestation, including one when Jackson reached into the boy's underpants and masturbated the boy and himself.

The defense opening statement was to follow the prosecution's presentation.

The defense has cast Jackson as the target of a money-hungry mother who coached her son to spin stories when it looked like their celebrity benefactor would cut them off. The defense will present evidence that the mother has sued others in the past claiming abuse.

Jackson arrived at court with a throng of news media watching. But there was no big crowd of fans, just a handful outside and about a dozen in the courtroom. Two people demonstrated outside in support of the prosecution.

Sneddon said that Jackson was "heavily in debt" for years before the making of the documentary, drawing an objection from defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. The judge sustained the objection, saying he had not ruled on whether financial evidence would be allowed into the trial.

"Your honor, that's the motive," the prosecutor complained.

He told jurors that the child had undergone surgeries to remove a 16-pound tumor from his stomach. His gall bladder and his lymph nodes were also removed.

It was then, he said, that the child met Jamie Masada, who ran a comedy camp for underprivileged children. He said that the child told Masada his dying wish was to meet Chris Tucker, Adam Sandler and Michael Jackson.

"He actually met all of them," said Sneddon, and in August 2000 Jackson invited the child and his family to Neverland. At dinner during the first visit, Sneddon said, Jackson told the child to ask his mother if he could sleep in Jackson's bedroom and the boy did.

That night, he said, Jackson took the boy to his bedroom along with Jackson employee Frank Tyson and Jackson's own son, Prince Michael.

On that night, he said, Jackson took the boys on a tour of sexually explicit Web sites with naked bodies. "It lasted 45 minutes," Sneddon said.

When an image of a woman with bare breasts came on the screen, Sneddon said, Jackson turned to the group and said: "Got milk?"

The indictment, which had not been released before, stated that between February and March 2003, Tyson, also known as Frank Cascio, threatened the accuser, telling him that "Michael could make the family disappear" and that he also said, "I could have your mother killed."

The indictment alleged a series of bizarre activities including a panicky effort by Jackson employees to get the family of his accuser ready for a trip to Brazil.

It alleged that Tyson told the family they were in danger and "this is not the time to be out there alone. This is not the time to turn your back on Michael."

It also alleged that in February 2003, Jackson's staff was instructed in writing not to let the boy leave Neverland.

Also named as unindicted co-conspirators were Ronald Konitzer, Dieter Wiesner, Marc Schaffel and Vincent Amen.

Prosecutors who unsuccessfully pursued Jackson over a decade ago on charges he molested a different boy are investing huge resources to make this set of charges stick. A battalion of deputies raided Jackson's ranch to seize evidence and a cadre of lawyers and investigators have churned out mountains of motions and search warrants.

CBS News has learned attorney Gary Dunlap has joined the defense as a lawyer. He himself was prosecuted by Sneddon two years ago for perjury and filing false documents, but was acquitted. Now he's suing Sneddon for $10 million for malicious prosecution.

"I think he's going to bring a venomous passion to the defense. He knows Sneddon inside and out," said CBS News Legal Consultant J. Randy Taraborrelli, a Jackson biographer.

"I think they're going to say this is a prosecution is out of control, that Tom Sneddon and his people are on a mission from God," agreed CBS News Legal Analyst Mickey Sherman, a defense lawyer, on CBS News' The Early Show.
  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.

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