Attorney Andrew Cohen analyzes legal issues for CBS News and CBSNews.com.
In a three-hour-long monologue sprinkled both with photos of nude boys and caustic comments about opposing counsel, one of Michael Jackson's prosecutors Thursday steadily and relentlessly told jurors that the so-called "King of Pop" is a serial child molester whose predatory behavior toward the alleged victim in the case was part of a despicable pattern of "horrible" crimes.
Jurors in this nasty conspiracy and molestation trial looked at times fascinated and at times monumentally bored as senior deputy district attorney Ronald J. Zonen tried with words, photos, and charts to tear down Jackson's legal defenses and at the same time raise up the credibility and accuracy of the alleged victim and his family. It was not a flashy end to the prosecution's case but it monumentally more coherent than was the opening statement given by Santa Barbara County District Attorney Thomas Sneddon. That doesn't guarantee a conviction — closing arguments never do — but it sure doesn't hurt.
Zonen called Jackson's conduct "horribly illegal" and called the defense theory "unmitigated rubbish." He told jurors that Jackson has a drinking problem and sexual perversions and that the defendant lured his accuser "into the world of the forbidden" in the bedroom of Jackson's Neverland Ranch here. The liquor, the adult magazines, the talk about masturbation and sexuality at Jackson's palacial estate all were designed by the defendant to "reduce the inhibitions" of the young boy, Zonen added. And then, when the boy was ripe and awash with trust for Jackson, the prosecutor told jurors, Jackson would make his move.
It was all part of a routine by Jackson, Zonen told jurors. And then, using the theme of routines and patterns, the prosecutor talked about other alleged molestation victims whose stories made it into evidence at this trial. Indeed, Zonen was at his best when he reminded jurors about the story of another alleged Jackson victim, whose testimony, the prosecutor said, was "absolutely beyond reproach." Unfortunately for Zonen, and as pointed out by defense attorney Thomas Mesereau, the young man upon whom Zonen relied so much in his closing is not Jackson's accuser. It is almost as if Zonen wished it were so, since the other young man was relatively more believable and likeable than the alleged victim in the case.
Zonen did well (or at least as well as he could) in trying to rehabilitate the credibility of the alleged victim and his family. The prosecutor told jurors that the alleged victim's mother was also a victim of Jackson because she "lacked the emotional wherewithal to deal with" the swirl of events when her sons were staying at Neverland. The accuser himself, Zonen told the panel, did as well on the stand as anyone might expect given his age, his difficult past, and the abuse itself, which Zonen said made the young man at times hesitant and feisty while testifying. The alleged victim was weak, Zonen told jurors, and predators like Jackson, like lions in the desert, always go after the weak. It's the first time we've heard the "Jackson as Lion" theory of the case.
Another strong part of the prosecution's presentation was its focus upon the idea that common sense should dictate a conviction in the case. This surely will resonate with jurors since so little of what Jackson does or says makes sense to anyone else. But whether it resonates enough to pull the jurors to a conviction is the question for deliberations. In the meantime, Zonen was content to ask jurors if they feel "comfortable with" what Michael Jackson did when the young accuser and his brother were staying with him at Neverland.
"Why would they make up something like this?" Zonen asked jurors, referring to the defense claim that the alleged victim and his family made up the whole story to get a big payday from Jackson following a conviction. He told jurors repeatedly to use their common sense in evaluating the evidence — a request that the defense would also make before the day's talking was done. Prosecutors hope that the most logical story here — that it is more likely that Jackson is lying rather than the handful of young men who have come forward to accuse him — is the one jurors grab hold of if and when the deliberations get difficult.
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