Michael Jackson’s lawyers today won permission to ask witnesses whether the boy accusing the singer of molestation once claimed that comedian George Lopez had stolen his wallet containing $300 and demanded the money back.
The defence lawyers have repeatedly tried to raise the matter during cross-examination of the boy and other witnesses but have been blocked by objections which Santa Maria Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville upheld.
But after reviewing new information, Judge Melville said he was changing his mind.
Jackson lawyer Robert Sanger said Lopez and the boy, who met at a comedy club, had a falling out.
The lawyer said that after that, the boy, at the urging of his father, accused Lopez of stealing his wallet.
“There is a good-faith belief here that there are parallel patterns,” said Sanger. “When there is a falling out there is an accusation.”
The defence claims the teenager invented molestation claims against Jackson after he and his family were evicted from Jackson’s Neverland ranch, where they planned to stay indefinitely.
District Attorney Tom Sneddon sought to block the Lopez evidence, saying it was his understanding that the boy’s father “tried to induce the child to say there was 300 dollars in his wallet and the child didn’t want to. … The son was not buying what the father was trying to get him to do.”
The judge said he had seen reports that the boy called Lopez and his wife demanding the return of his wallet and saying there was 300 dollars in it. Lopez’s lawyer may oppose the comedian testifying, the judge said, but Sanger said that was not the issue. He said he wanted to question other witnesses about the matter.
“I think you can,” said the judge. “Cross-examination of witnesses that have knowledge of that would not be inappropriate.”
The ruling came during a day of court motions with the jury absent. In a number of key developments:
:: The judge scheduled a hearing for March 28 on the prosecution request to allow evidence of alleged prior offences into Jackson’s trial. He said he was not sure he would need to hear from any witnesses and might make the ruling entirely on legal arguments.
Jackson has never been convicted of a sexual offence but prosecutors want to present witnesses to show that the case is part of a pattern. They seek to tell jurors about an accusation against Jackson by another boy in 1993 which resulted in a multimillion-dollar civil settlement. No criminal charges were filed in that case.
:: Melville denied a defence motion for mistrial which was raised on the grounds that a witness testified this week about the singer’s relationships with 10- to 14-year-old boys at his Neverland ranch and used the name of the boy in the 1993 case.
The defence claimed evidence yesterday by a former Neverland housekeeper violated the judge’s order that no evidence would be admitted on allegations of past sexual crimes until the judge rules on its admissibility.
In denying the motion, Judge Melville said prosecutors elicited the evidence to establish how much contact Jackson had with the boys, not to suggest any impropriety by the singer.
Jackson, 46, is charged with molesting his accuser when he was a 13-year-old cancer patient, at Neverland in 2003, giving the teenager alcohol and conspiring to hold his family captive to rebut a damaging TV documentary in which he appeared with the boy and said he allowed children to sleep in his bed, although he characterised it as innocent.
:: The judge said he would not allow extensive probing of Jackson’s finances because it would be too time consuming and not necessarily relevant. “A statement of general finances can be gone into,” he said.
:: Judge Melville heard arguments on investigating whether the accuser touched a piece of evidence during grand jury hearings, leaving a fingerprint that was not there before the hearings.
Prosecutors acknowledged that fingerprint analysis was not performed on adult magazines seized from the singer’s home until after grand jury proceedings in which the boy and his brother testified about the items.
After arguments which raised the possibility of grand jurors having to testify before Jackson’s jury, the prosecution decided it would call Deputy District Attorney Gordon Auchincloss to say he did not see the boy touch the magazines.
The question of when fingerprints got on to a magazine has been raised by the defence. One magazine in evidence had one print each from Jackson and the accuser, but the magazine was not tested for prints until months after the grand jury returned an indictment.
Deputy District Attorney Ronald Zonen argued that prosecutors were not negligent because they opted to look first for biological evidence such as semen or sweat before doing fingerprint analysis.
“The actual fingerprint process did not begin until after the grand jury,” he said.
The prosecution first asked to call the grand jury foreman as a witness. But after Judge Melville indicated he might order the names of all grand jurors turned over to the defence, the prosecution withdrew its request.