Last Shot At Jackson Jury

After many long months of investigation, 14 weeks of trial, and the testimony of 135 witnesses, the prosecution and defense in the Michael Jackson child molestation case have one last chance to sway the jury.

In his commentary, CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen previews the logic each side could use to prove its point in closing arguments, which begin Thursday.



What The Prosecution Should Say

The following is a summary of what Santa Barbara prosecutor Ron Zonen should - but probably won't - say during his closing argument in the Michael Jackson child molestation and conspiracy case.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: Thank you for your patience and focus during this long case. I know it has not been easy on you and your families and I just want you to know that we appreciate your service and the commitment you have made. You are here to determine a man's fate and that is never an easy thing to do.

This case, however, is easier than most. The defendant himself has told you, and the world, on videotape, that he sees nothing wrong with sleeping with young boys. He sees this, in a twisted way, as perfectly natural.

I submit to you that it is natural only to someone willing and capable of child molestation. The defendant's own words put him at the scene of a crime; a crime that was detailed to you not just by the victim in this case but by several other witnesses, none of whom were particularly happy about coming forward and telling their stories.

This case does not come down to a "he said/he said" battle of credibility but even if it did, you should have an easy choice between the courage of the young man who came before you as a victim here and the silence of the defendant.

The victim here is not perfect and we never said that he would be. He is not smooth or slick and neither are the other members of his family. They are regular people, caught in a maelstrom of events, brought along by the current of the law to this time and place.

Like other victims of abuse, the young man at the center of this storm has seen his share of troubled times. And like other survivors of a fatal disease, he is angry about his fate and about his lot in life. Do you blame him? I don't.

Please don't confuse that anger with a lack of credibility or sincerity or even accuracy about his reminiscence of the events which brought us here. Please don't confuse his lack of polish and articulateness with a lack of candor.

As you heard from one of our experts, victims of abuse often react the way you saw this victim react in this courtroom. The defense wants you to believe that this is because the young man was acting on the witness stand. I suggest to you that a good actor, an earnest actor, would have come off as far smoother than the victim did in this case. Sometimes there is rawness in truth; sometimes there is conflict in pain.

This is not a case about the victim's past. It's a case about the defendant, and the conduct he engaged in and condoned. It's a case about a pattern of abuse and cover-up, of threats and intimidation, of the controlling of the innocent.

The evidence shows, overwhelmingly, that Michael Jackson lured to his majestic, fantastical Neverland this victim and other young boys similarly situated, and systematically wore down their defenses until they were vulnerable to abuse. Games. Liquor. Freedom from discipline and supervision. Sexual images and conversation. All designed to wear down defenses, and morals, and the reasonable expectations that society places in the minds of young people about what is right and what is wrong.

And then the defendant struck. Perverting the innocence of childhood, the defendant is a grown man who acted like a child in order to seduce his child victims. Remember the testimony of these young men. Remember how similar their stories are. Remember how closely the details track one another.

Remember these things and then ask yourself what is more reasonable, what is more likely: that they all are lying or that the defendant and his lackeys are. The lackeys! They are the men and women who implemented the defendant's conspiracy against the victim and his family in this case. The defense wants you to believe that their actions were merely part of a marketing and public relations campaign designed to limit the damage caused by Michael Jackson's own sick statements to the world.

But the evidence shows otherwise. The evidence shows a dark, malevolent pattern of control and manipulation of the victim and his family. It shows a pattern of threats and coercion. It shows panic on the part of the defendant and his entourage. In short, it shows what you would expect to see from someone who did something terribly wrong and wanted to hide that from the world.

Don't let the defendant off the hook simply because he was not involved in every detail of every act designed to further this goal. The law does not require such involvement in order to convict. But it does allow you to use plain old common sense.

You know the old saying that goes: where there is smoke, there is fire? We've shown you columns of smoke in this case. You've seen it billowing from the mouths of witness after witness, who came forward to tell you that the defendant had the motive, the opportunity and the evil intent to commit this awful crime. You've seen patterns of it from the defendant's past. From past and current employees there, you've seen it cloud the air over Neverland.

We don't have a videotape of the molestation. We almost never do. And we don't have a confession to it by the defendant. We almost never do.

What we do have is a compelling story of predator and prey. Judge for yourself who is who in this case. And when you do, send the defendant a message that no matter how rich or famous or powerful he is, and no matter how sick and tragic were the events of his own childhood, there is no justification or excuse for taking advantage of a young cancer victim and his family.

The defendant so far has led a life of fantasy. It's time for you to bring him back down to Earth and to teach him, finally, what is right and what is wrong.

What The Defense Should Say

The following is a summary of what lead defense attorney Thomas Mesereau should - but probably won't - say during his closing argument in the Michael Jackson child molestation and conspiracy case.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: on behalf of Michael Jackson and our entire team, I know this trial hasn't been easy on you or your families but we are grateful for your service and for the attention you have paid over these long months of testimony.

The prosecution says that where there is smoke there is fire; that because Michael Jackson behaves differently than most when it comes to his relationships with his young friends it necessarily means that he has committed the crime of molestation and the cover-up that goes along with it.

But this trial isn't about the science of how a fire begins. It is not governed by the immutable laws of physics. It's a trial, and a story, about human beings: their strengths and frailties. Sometimes, like in this case, where there is smoke there is only smoke, and no fire, and no amount of fanning by prosecutors or their witnesses can turn that smoke ablaze.

Just because Michael Jackson has odd beliefs doesn't make him a child molester. Just because he sees the world differently than you or me doesn't make him a criminal.

It is not a crime to have a girlie magazine or a book about the human form in your home. It is not a crime to sleep in a bed with young boys. It is not a crime to try to enhance or repair your image to the outside world and it is not a crime to defend yourself in the court of public opinion amid scurrilous reports about your reputation.

Mr. Jackson may not have handled himself perfectly during his relationship with his accuser and the young man's family. But he is not a criminal.

It is your job to determine whether prosecutors have proven their case against Mr. Jackson beyond a reasonable doubt. There is reasonable doubt all over this case. It's in front of you like plates of food at a Sunday brunch. You are free to take a little here and a little there.

Reasonable doubt surrounds this trial and envelops it. It is everywhere you turn.

There is reasonable doubt in the words and the deeds of the accuser, who came to this witness stand and was unable to be sure even of how many times he says he was molested. He told his school principal that he had never been molested and then he said that he had. And no one has disputed the impression others gave of him as someone capable, even eager, to stick up for himself and not allow others to take advantage of him. There is reasonable doubt in the notion that such a young man would permit himself to be molested by anyone, much less Mr. Jackson.

There is reasonable doubt in the words and deeds of the accuser's mother, whose testimony during this trial is an unforgettable as it was scattered and bizarre. Prosecutors want you to buy into what they say is a pattern of molestation by Mr. Jackson but the evidence at trial overwhelming shows a different pattern; a pattern of predatory behavior on the part of the accuser's mother, who used her son as bait in the hopes of luring a suckerfish like Mr. Jackson.

This is a mother who left her children alone with Mr. Jackson at Neverland even after what she now says were clear indications that bad things were happening there. I ask you, as parents, or as people who know parents, does that make sense? If things were so bad at Neverland, would you have let your children return there, and stay there, over and over and over again?

Prosecutors ask you to use common sense. We make a similar request. Ask yourself how many parts of the accuser's story don't make sense. Each of these examples represents reasonable doubt and each should lead you to an acquittal.

There is reasonable doubt, too, from the other young men who came forward, men identified by prosecution witnesses, third-parties mostly, as other so-called "victims" of Mr. Jackson. But these young men testified, under oath, that they are not victims of Mr. Jackson.

So who should you believe? The young with direct knowledge of what went on, or what didn't go on, between themselves and Mr. Jackson? Or other people who say they might have seen this or that? It's like that old line: who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?

And even though it is not the case you are to judge beginning later today, the 1993 episode between Mr. Jackson and another accuser, an event that prosecutors made so much of during their presentation, is full of reasonable doubt.

Michael Jackson already has paid a terrible price for opening himself up to these sorts of extortion games. He knows that. And he regrets it. It's a problem that he has only himself to blame for. But just because he is in many ways innocent, and naïve and vulnerable, as you heard witnesses testify to during this case, doesn't mean that he is a criminal or that he engaged in the awful acts he stands accused of.

But this is more than a weak molestation case. It's a terrible conspiracy case, too. You heard hour upon hour of testimony about all sorts of things that were allegedly done and said to Jackson's accuser and his family.

And yet how many times did you hear that Mr. Jackson said those words or did those deeds? If there was a conspiracy here, absurd in itself, it was brought about by people who do not themselves face charges and who did not show up to testify in this case.

Remember those witnesses who testified about the distance between Mr. Jackson and these men? Remember Debbie Rowe when she testified about how Mr. Jackson was manipulated even by those closest around him? That's your conspiracy.

Some of you may have even asked yourselves, based upon how bad this conspiracy evidence was, why it even was included in this case. It was included so that prosecutors could convince the judge to allow into this case all those other phony-baloney molestation accusations you heard about, second- and third-hand. Don't let prosecutors get away with that trick.

Don't judge Michael Jackson harshly for his lifestyle. It's not perfect. It's not what you or I would choose. Don't judge him for his clothes or his fame or his face or the unusual way in which he views the world.

In America, it isn't a crime to be strange. And you folks have a unique opportunity to remind everyone that it never should be.



Attorney Andrew Cohen analyzes legal issues for CBS News and CBSNews.com.
By Andrew Cohen