Attorney Andrew Cohen analyzes legal issues for CBS News and CBSNews.com.
Calling his client's accuser a "liar, con artist and thief," Michael Jackson's attorney Friday passionately challenged jurors to judge the defendant upon the sorry state of the evidence and not upon the King of Pop's bizarre lifestyle. Asking jurors to make a choice between the prosecution's "terrible witnesses" and people like actor Chris Tucker, Thomas Mesereau offered a detailed and sharp assault on the molestation and conspiracy charges against the defendant. He attacked the motives of the family and prosecutors and said the case is all about a money-grab by the alleged victim and carelessness by the district attorney's office.
Jackson is prey, not predator, in this story, Mesereau told the panel, and the case against him has been "a nightmare" for the fragile star. Jackson is the victim of a "pattern of extortion" by a family adept, willing and able to use sexual abuse allegations as a weapon to intimidate deep-pocket defendants into paying them money. Jackson, Mesereau said, "has been lax with money, he has let the wrong people sometimes be around him, (and) he was naïve to allow (the alleged victim and his family) anywhere near him." If jurors give points for understatement, Mesereau is the grand-prize winner.
In addition to trying to generate sympathy for his client, the defense attorney continued to savage the family accusing him. The alleged victim and his mother are "liars and perjurers," Mesereau kept repeating to the jury as he begged the panel to "heed the principle of reasonable doubt." Who are you going to believe? Mesereau asked jurors over and over again: a creepy family or a bunch of more reliable and independent witnesses who countered their story? The argument made you think of William Safire's infamous "congenital liar" line about Hillary Clinton. Here, Mesereau said, we have "a family where children have been taught to lie and con."
Mesereau didn't use top-shelf words but his argument was pointed, far more so than the one offered yesterday by his counterpart, senior deputy district attorney Ronald J. Zonen. Where Zonen was unfocused, Mesereau was sharp; where Zonen was deadpan, Mesereau was emotional; where Zonen lost jurors during his remarks, Mesereau kept the panel riveted. These differences won't determine the outcome of this case. But now that closing arguments have concluded it is fair to say, once again in this long case, that the defense got the better of prosecutors.
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