Attorney Andrew Cohen analyzes legal issues for CBS News and CBSNews.com.
Nothing became the prosecution's case like the end of it. Finally showing a little creativity and drama — finally outmaneuvering a defense team that had run circles around him at trial — Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon waited until the likely last moments of testimony to give jurors in the Michael Jackson molestation and conspiracy case some reason to feel some sympathy for the King of Pop's alleged victim.
Waiting until the prosecution's rebuttal case to unveil the most emotional piece of evidence of the whole trail, and gambling that the judge would in the end allow it before jurors, Sneddon showed the panel Friday a police videotape of an interview conducted with Jackson's accuser soon after the young man's family had reported a crime.
The tape was raw, powerful, and emotional. In it the young man displayed the sort of sympathy-inducing demeanor and tone that was notably absent from his repertoire when he testified in person a few months ago. In chilling detail, he described the alleged acts of molestation that are at the core of this case. In other words, he acted like a genuine victim and not, as he had in court, like a street-wise punk.
In case that is all about credibility, the videotape does not answer the question of whether the young man is or is not lying. But it does offer jurors another perspective on the alleged victim that can only help prosecutors as they soon make their last-ditch plea for a conviction. The tape surely fills out and softens the image of Jackson's accuser that jurors will take with them into the jury room later this week. And in that sense its presentation to the jury, near the end of the case, is a great move for prosecutors who had seemed until this moment at trial to be always and obviously one step behind their defense counterparts.
What did the tape do? It humanized the alleged victim and made him seem sympathetic. Now, if you are thinking to yourself: "You mean, an alleged victim of child molestation, and a cancer survivor to boot, hasn't already been seen by jurors as sympathetic?" You have distilled into a single thought the problem prosecutors have had throughout this odd trial. Until the playing of the videotape, Jackson's accuser came off to many as more predator than prey; as someone who was so rough and gruff and misbehaved that there is no way the slender, frail, little defendant could have abused him.
The big reason for this pre-tape perception is the alleged victim himself, who testified a few months ago in a manner that must have dismayed prosecutors. He couldn't remember the exact number of times he said he was molested by Jackson.
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