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Jackson Case's Veiled Legal Tussle

Despite the high-stakes legal tussle between prosecutors and defense attorneys in the Michael Jackson child molestation case, the public still doesn't know specifically what the two sides lately are arguing about.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers are battling over still-secret evidence that might make or break the case against the pop star. A pretrial hearing resumes Monday.

The defense has been trying to suppress evidence from two searches, claiming one sweep at Jackson's Neverland estate was overbroad and unjustified, and that another at a private investigator's office violated attorney-client confidentiality.

But defense lawyers also have used the inquiry to uncover information from key witnesses — including the stepfather of Jackson's accuser, who admitted demanding money for the boy's family to appear on a video tribute to Jackson's kindness.

Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville said he will not rule on the evidence until the end of September, when the mother of Jackson's young accuser testifies.

Search warrant affidavits are sealed and witnesses speak only in vague terms about videotapes and other data seized in the separate searches at the private investigator's office and Neverland.

"It's a bit of a question just how important the evidence is," said Loyola University Law School Professor Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor. "But given the fight that's going on, it must be important. This is a major battleground."

Jackson, 45, is charged with committing a lewd act upon a child, administering an intoxicating agent and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.

He has pleaded not guilty and is free on $3 million bail. Trial is set for Jan. 31.

Steve Cron, a defense attorney and adjunct professor of law at Pepperdine University, wondered if the material being debated is worth all the trouble.

"I doubt there will be a smoking gun anywhere," he said.

In the testimony from last week, the stepfather acknowledged that he asked for payment for the family's participation in a video interview intended to restore Jackson's reputation.

"I said, 'This family has nothing and you're making millions from this and what are you going to do for this little family,"' the witness said of a conversation he had with someone he identified only as the "gentleman from Neverland," a reference to Jackson's ranch.

The stepfather, under questioning by the defense, said the person offered to give them "a college education and buy them a house." The stepfather was referred to as "Mr. Doe" to protect his identity and that of his stepson.

The so-called "rebuttal video" was meant to answer negative publicity surrounding a British TV documentary on Jackson that included the alleged victim and showed Jackson defending his practice of having young boys sleep in his bed. He said the contacts were non-sexual and "very sweet."

In the rebuttal video, the 12-year-old boy and his family reportedly vouch for Jackson's good character. Prosecutors say the family was coerced into making the video, which has not been released.

Thursday's questioning appeared to bolster defense contentions that the accuser's family tried to "shake down" Jackson for money. Lawyers for Jackson claim the molestation accusations came when no payment was made.

The stepfather also testified that he asked for compensation at some point from a British journalist who came to the family's home after the documentary on Jackson aired. He said the journalists eventually offered $15,000 for the interview.

During his testimony, the man refused to confirm much of the content of the rebuttal video, saying investigator Bradley Miller virtually ignored him while interviewing everyone else associated with the family.

"You heard Mrs. Doe say very positive things about Michael Jackson, didn't you?" asked Jackson attorney, Thomas Mesereau Jr.

"I don't know," the witness said. "I assume nice things were said. It wasn't about me."

Mesereau then said: "You heard Mrs. Doe talk about Mr. Jackson saving her son's life and being a father figure. Do you recall her saying, 'They filmed a beautiful story about Michael and my son?"'

"No," said the witness. "I don't recall that."

The stepfather and other witnesses at this week's proceedings said they did not know Miller was working for Mark Geragos, who was Jackson's lawyer at the time.

The defense is trying to determine whether authorities knew Miller was working for Geragos when they broke into Miller's office and seized the video. The defense contends that would violate Jackson's attorney-client privilege of confidentiality.

The stepfather acknowledged that the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department used him as a confidential agent at one point, sending him to scope out the location of Miller's office. But he insisted he didn't know Miller worked for Geragos, and he refused to look at documents to refresh his memory.