Actor John Travolta may be the star witness in a trial beginning in the Bahamas today. Two men stand accused of trying to extort $25 million from the movie star in the days after his son's death.
Bernard Turner, chief prosecutor in the Bahamas, said in his opening statement, "Contact was made with certain persons to communicate a threat
to John Travolta."
CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella reported on "The Early Show" Tuesday that three men and six women have been chosen to serve on the jury. Experts, Cobiella reported, say the case hinges on testimony by Travolta. The actor has not announced whether he will take the stand, but according to People magazine, he is staying in an exclusive gated community and is prepared to testify Tuesday.
The movie star was not in the courtroom Tuesday as the proceedings began.
Paramedic Tarino Lightbourne and local politician, Pleaseant Bridgewater, who prosecutors said worked as an intermediary, have pleaded not guilty. But prosecutors say the two men demanded $25 million from Travolta and threatened to go public with a document related to the emergency care of his son.
Attorneys say Travolta's testimony is key.
CBS News legal analyst Lisa Bloom said, "He's got to take the stand and tell the jury what it felt like when he received that demand, how upset and how disturbed he was. Nobody else can do that for him."
Sixteen-year-old Jett Travolta died in January after suffering a seizure at the family's vacation home in the Bahamas. The ambulance driver told "Inside Edition" that both parents were emotional as they rode with their son to the hospital.
The first trial witness, police inspector Andrew Wells, testified that after 16-year-old Jett was loaded into an ambulance, Lightbourne told him that Travolta wanted his son taken directly to the local airport instead of the hospital. Wells said that Travolta signed a release form.
It was unclear why Jett Travolta was not taken to the airport, and why the defendants allegedly believed the actor would pay to keep it secret.
Experts say this is an odd case, since the extortion is not based on a photo or a smoking gun, Cobiella reported. The document in question was a routine waiver clearing paramedics of liability if the Travoltas did not allow Jett to be transported to the hospital. However, not only was he taken in the ambulance, Travolta and his wife, actress Kelly Preston, rode with him, so the waiver was never valid in this case.
Lightbourne said, referring to Travolta in the ambulance, "He was crying. His eyes were red. ...I remember him looking up at the ceiling and saying God, please help me."
Travolta is one of 14 potential witnesses for the prosecution.
Trial evidence, Cobiella reported, may include recorded conversations Travolta had with the two defendants.
Mike Fleeman, west coast editor of People.com, told CBS News, "There were negotiations that were tape-recorded, they have a record of what went on, so they have tried to create this sort of paper and tape-recording trail to nail these people."
Travolta's testimony at trial would be the first time Travolta has talked publicly about the tragedy. He has cancelled interviews for his films and is rarely spotted out and about.
Earlier this month Travolta, Preston, and their daughter, Ella, appeared at a photo-op to promote a film they made together.
Fleeman said, referring to Travolta, "He's standing next to his wife and he's standing over his daughter, and the John Travolta sparkle is gone, that spark, that star power is gone, you are looking at a man who is grieving."