A Michael Jackson Conspiracy?
Tom Mesereau, the new lead defense counsel in Jackson's child molestation case, is one of the most un-Hollywood of Hollywood lawyers.
He is a regular parishioner at the First AME Church in Los Angeles and is a regular volunteer at the church's free legal clinic.
Says Mesereau, "I like to think of myself as someone who loves his profession, and who believes lawyers can make a difference in society."
But he's made his name with more famous clients, people such as actor Robert Blake, accused of murdering his wife, and boxer Mike Tyson, who was accused of rape.
Does Mesereau see a difference in dealing with a celebrity client as opposed to an ordinary person?
"It really depends on the client," he answers. "Celebrities are targets. They're targets for any number of people to try to develop a reputation and make some money at the expense of the celebrity."
Michael Jackson fans got their first glimpse of Mesereau's distinctive white mane and well-mannered style when the singer was indicted in Santa Maria, Calif.
Mesereau's adversary is Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon, who has charged Jackson with molesting a 13-year-old cancer patient, who was seen in the infamous British documentary about Jackson that aired in February 2003. In that video Jackson said he shared his bed with the teen.
Jackson brought Mesereau in to replace attorney Mark Geragos, saying he didn't want to share Geragos' services with accused murderer Scott Peterson, whose own high-profile trial has just begun.
But it's not only the defense team that's changed in the Jackson case, but also the prosecution's charges. In addition to accusing Jackson of child molestation, the new indictment alleges conspiracy to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. It suggests that after the 2003 documentary aired, Jackson became worried what the teen might tell authorities - and went to great lengths to keep him and his family quiet.
Maureen Orth, a Vanity Fair correspondent who writes about Jackson in her new book, "The Importance of Being Famous," describes the pop star as a "very vindictive person.
"You don't cross him. He is not the defenseless high-voiced creature you think he is," Orth said.
The author has pieced together an outline of the alleged conspiracy.
"What happened was that Michael immediately sent for the [alleged victim's] family. They were put up at Neverland...their belongings were put away in storage," she said.
Once they were at Jackson's compound, Orth says, "my understanding is that they didn't have cars. And Neverland is fairly isolated. They were always in the company of one of the handlers of Michael Jackson."
These handlers – 23-year-old Frank Tyson, of New Jersey, and his buddy, Vincent Amen – are at the heart of the alleged conspiracy. Orth says both were directly supervising the accuser's family.
According to Orth, "They were trying to get their passports and visas made because they wanted them to go live in Brazil or Argentina. And just get out of the country so nobody in the press could pursue them."
Who else may have been involved in the alleged conspiracy is unclear. The accuser's family had contact with Jackson's former business manager, Dieter Weisner.
There's also Marc Schaffel, a former producer of gay pornography. Orth says, "Mark Schaffel tried to get this boy on video immediately and his family on video immediately to say nothing had gone on with Michael Jackson."
Schaffel, hired to produce Jackson videos, also reportedly went to Brazil to scope out locations where the accuser and his family could be hidden away.
But according to Jackson photographer, Ian Barkley, the Brazil plan had an innocent explanation.
"There's no way anyone would try to hold them against their will. There's no way Michael would allow it," says Barkley, who worked with Jackson for most of 2003, and still has close relationships with both Schaffel and Wiesner.
"There was no conspiracy to abduct," Barkley says. "I think the intent of the Brazil trip was actually to distance Michael from the family, temporarily, just so that the relationships were a little bit separated. The family was, from what I understand, they were actually enthused about going to Brazil."
He insists Jackson never harmed the teen, and says the Brazil trip was simply a shrewd business decision. The goal was to draw attention away from the post-documentary scandal and refocus the spotlight on Jackson's forthcoming album launch.
"They were afraid if the kids stayed on the ranch there would be more things coming up. There would be more reports, more investigations done," says Barkley. "As any wise businessperson would do, they just said, 'Let's remove the liability from us. And we won't have to deal with it.'"
Jackson and all of these associates deny any wrongdoing. The attorney for Tyson and Amen, the alleged handlers, says he's waiting for the Santa Barbara district attorney to indict them or offer immunity for their cooperation.
A court order bars Mesereau from talking about Jackson, but he can discuss previous cases that illuminate his methods.
In the 2001 sexual assault investigation of Mike Tyson, Mesereau's team destroyed the credibility of the accuser. Charges were never filed.
Talking strategy, Mesereau says, "Do an investigation. Find out who the accuser was. Interview people who know them, find out about false complaints."
He has also had success in handling conspiracy charges.
"The great trial lawyer Clarence Darrow once said that conspiracy charges were the catch-all for prosecutors," he says. "Because when they had a weak case they couldn't prove, they threw in conspiracy because it was easier to prove."
But isn't it true that as a rule, juries don't like to find out defenders covered up something?
Mesereau says, "I think juries don't like to find out that police or prosecutors abused their power, and filed weak charges, and put someone through a nightmare that they shouldn't have been put through. ...In my experience, they're much more troubled by that."
Later this month, the court will rule on whether to release more information to the public regarding the charges against Jackson. And a judge has set a trial date for Sept. 13. Until then, Mesereau and the rest of the singer's team are quietly keeping their faith.
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