Further blow for Jackson defence team

THE same day the judge in the Michael Jackson molestation case ruled the pop star’s ex-wife can testify as a prosecution witness, word emerged that the defence has lost another member of the team.

Jackson’s attorneys told the judge and prosecutors in a notice released yesterday that attorney Brian Oxman’s departure was effective last Thursday. The notice did not include a reason.

After court yesterday, several reporters watched as Oxman had an animated conversation with lead Jackson attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. The two then embraced in a hug. Oxman did not return a call for comment.

Oxman was taken from court last month and hospitalised with what turned out to be right lung pneumonia. Jackson and his mother welcomed him back with hugs when he returned.

Oxman is the fourth attorney to part ways with Jackson since the singer was charged in 2003. Jackson replaced attorneys Mark Geragos and Benjamin Braffman with Mesereau and Susan Yu in April. In October, Jackson announced that long-time attorney Steve Cochran was taking a temporary leave.

Jackson, 46, is accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy in February or March 2003, giving the boy alcohol and conspiring to hold the boy’s family captive to get them to rebut a TV documentary in which Jackson appeared with the boy and said he allowed children to sleep in his bed. Jackson called the sleeping arrangement non-sexual.

Prosecutors said their witnesses will include Cynthia Montgomery, a travel agent who was expected to testify about a plan by Jackson associates to send the family of his young accuser to Brazil.

The judge decided yesterday to grant “use immunity” to Montgomery, who is under investigation by federal authorities looking into the alleged secret videotaping of conversations between Jackson and Geragos on a charter jet flight.

The immunity means Montgomery’s testimony cannot be used against her in any other proceeding. She had told the court last week she would refuse to testify about anything involving the charter flight.

The decision came as Judge Rodney S Melville overruled defence objections and said he will allow Jackson’s ex-wife Debbie Rowe to testify as a prosecution witness.

Prosecutors want Rowe, the mother of two of his three children, to tell jurors she was compelled to appear on a videotape praising Jackson as a good father and a humanitarian.

Prosecutors say Rowe did the interview under duress, having been told by Jackson associates that if she did not do it she would risk losing her visitation rights with her children, Paris and Prince Michael.

The defence objected on grounds that the testimony was part of a prosecution “desperation” tactic at the end of its case and had no relevance to the charges against Jackson.

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