As Michael Jackson’s child molestation case headed to trial today, his parents spoke out in his defence, saying the pop star’s young accuser was simply after his money.
“I know my son, and this is ridiculous,” his mother, Katherine Jackson, said today only hours before jury selection was set to begin in Santa Maria, California. She said people who believe her son is guilty “don’t know him.”
Jackson’s father, Joe Jackson, said his son was beloved around the world but had trouble in the United States because of racism. He said the accuser’s motives were clear: “It’s about money.”
California Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville summoned 300 people to court for the first round of jury selection today. Another 300 are to follow on Tuesday, with a final 150 scheduled to arrive on Wednesday. From that pool, the judge hopes to find 12 jurors and eight alternates.
Jackson, 46, is charged with molesting a cancer patient – then age 13, now 15 - after plying him with alcohol. On Sunday, Jackson issued a court-approved video statement on his Web site, predicting he would be acquitted.
“Please keep an open mind and let me have my day in court,” Jackson said, looking directly into the camera. “I deserve a fair trial like every other American citizen. I will be acquitted and vindicated when the truth is told.”
Jackson spokeswoman Raymone Bain said the pop star’s “spirits are great,” and show down rumours that he had been suicidal.
“He has the support of his family, his children, his friends,” she said. “You’re going to see a Michael Jackson who is going to be here today who is very serious – very businesslike and very serious.”
Jackson is opposed by Santa Barbara County district attorney Tom Sneddon, 61, who has pursued Jackson and what happens at his Neverland Ranch. Jackson has derided him in song as a “cold man” with a vendetta and likened the case to persecution.
Ten years ago, Sneddon tried to build a child-molestation case against Jackson. But it fell apart when the singer’s accuser reportedly accepted a multimillion-dollar civil settlement and refused to testify in any criminal case.
The judge is Melville, 63, a veteran of the bench who has refused to tolerate tardiness or even, in one case, a bathroom break for the defendant. At the final pre-trial hearing Melville made it clear that a gag order stands and he won’t abide lawyers attacking each other.
As jury selection neared, competition for a scoop undermined Melville’s efforts. The 1,900-page transcript of the case prosecutors presented to the grand jury that indicted Jackson was leaked this month to thesmokinggun.com and ABC News.
Among other things, the transcript included the accuser’s testimony that Jackson closed his eyes tightly while molesting him on a bed, and that the pop star ignored the child’s warnings that he shouldn’t drink alcohol because of his medical condition.
More than 1,000 applications for media access to the courthouse complex have been submitted, some of them from as far away as Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, Canada and Mexico.
Jackson’s family members were expected to attend much of the trial, although the judge said he would not permit them in the courtroom when it is packed with prospective jurors.
Jury selection could last a month or longer.
After three days of preliminaries, lawyers will be given time to study prospective jurors’ written answers and return to court next week to excuse those who have strong views that clearly exclude them from service. The lawyers will then begin questioning in depth those still in the jury pool.
The challenge facing the court is not to find jurors ignorant of the case but to find those who say they can put aside everything they have heard and look at the evidence as if they had heard nothing.
“This is an extremely high profile case locally, nationally and internationally,” Jackson’s lawyer, Thomas Mesereau, said in a recent motion. “The publicity is so widespread that there is no jurisdiction in the state or perhaps in this country that would afford Mr. Jackson a trial in front of jurors who have not been influenced by the publicity.”