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Battle lines drawn as molestation trial opens

Prosecution, defense teams give opposing views of Jackson

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- Jurors were given opposing images of Michael Jackson as the pop star's trial opened yesterday -- the prosecution portraying him as a perverted child molester and the defense saying that he was the victim of a con artist who used her cancer-stricken son to prey on celebrities for money.

District Attorney Thomas Sneddon outlined a complicated and sometimes bizarre story involving Jackson showing the youth sexually explicit material and groping him as his associates threatened to kill the youth's mother if he told anyone.

Sneddon said the youth, now 15, ''will describe to you his sexual experiences with Michael Jackson. He will do it here in open court, and he will do it with the whole world watching."

Jackson, 46, is charged with molesting the then-13-year-old youth at his Neverland ranch in 2003, plying him with alcohol, and conspiring to hold him and his family captive.

After the nearly three-hour opening by the prosecutor, defense lawyer Thomas Mesereau. Jr. went on the attack, saying the mother of the accuser fraudulently claimed to many people that she was destitute and that her son needed money for chemotherapy. In truth, he said, the youth's father was a member of a union that covered his medical bills.

Mesereau said the mother went to comedian Jay Leno for money, and Leno was so suspicious that he called Santa Barbara police to tell them he had been contacted and ''something was wrong. They were looking for a mark."

The mother also approached comedian George Lopez and a Los Angeles TV weatherman, who staged a fund-raiser for the child at a comedy club, the defense lawyer said.

''At the fund-raiser, there was [the youth] in the lobby of the Laugh Factory with his hand out, prodded" by his mother, Mesereau said.

He said celebrities, including Mike Tyson and Jim Carrey, turned the family away, but Jackson was too sympathetic.

''The most vulnerable celebrity became the mark, Michael Jackson," Mesereau said.

The prosecutor said Jackson had intended to use the youth as part of a comeback attempt by discussing in a television documentary how the singer helped him through his cancer.

Before the interview with documentary maker Martin Bashir in 2002, Jackson privately told the youth what to say when he was in front of the camera, Sneddon said. When ''Living With Michael Jackson" aired in February 2003, showing the pop star holding hands with the youth and saying he allows children to sleep in his bed, ''Jackson's world was rocked," Sneddon said.

He said one of the coconspirators described the airing as ''a train wreck," and Jackson's associates began an effort to get the family's help in a public relations campaign to rebut it.

The molestation began a short time later, Sneddon said.

Sneddon said Jackson told the youth that masturbation was normal, then reached into the youth's underpants and masturbated the youth and himself. The second event occurred the same way, Sneddon said, but Jackson tried to move the youth's arm toward his own genitals and the youth resisted.

The prosecutor alleged that when the youth and his family first visited Neverland, Jackson told the youth to ask his mother whether he could sleep in Jackson's bedroom. He said Jackson then showed sexually explicit websites to the youth and his own son, Prince Michael, on that visit.

When an image of a woman with bare breasts came on the screen, Sneddon said, Jackson turned to the group and said: ''Got milk?"

Searches of Neverland turned up sexually explicit DVDs and magazines, including 1960s-era periodicals with pictures of naked children, and correspondence from the accuser addressed to ''Michael" or ''Michael Daddy," Sneddon said.

Some magazines had the fingerprints of Jackson, others had the prints of the youth and his brother, and one had prints from both Jackson and the accuser, he said.

Before opening statements, Judge Rodney S. Melville read the indictment, disclosing for the first time the names of five Jackson employees described as unindicted coconspirators.

The indictment alleged that a series of bizarre activities following the 2003 documentary, including a panicky effort by Jackson employees to get the family of his accuser ready for a trip to Brazil.

Jackson's lawyer, meanwhile, suggested a history of fraud by the mother against others, including J.C. Penney, which paid her $152,000 to settle claims stemming from an encounter with security guards when her son left a store with items that had not been paid for.

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