DOCUMENT: Celebrity, Crime

Michael Jackson Case: Dirty Laundry

Prosecutor details prior molestation charges against Michael Jackson, wants jury to hear evidence of star's alleged pedophilic past

MARCH 28--In a significant legal setback for Michael Jackson, a judge ruled today that Santa Barbara prosecutors can present jurors with evidence that the performer previously molested five young boys.

Judge Rodney Melville's bombshell decision came after a two-hour hearing during which Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon outlined several separate "prior bad acts" that investigators sought to present to the 12-member Superior Court jury.

Ruling from the bench after the hearing, Melville told a packed courtroom that he will allow prosecutors to present testimony that Jackson previously molested five boys, including actor Macaulay Culkin (pictured right) and choreographer Wade Robson (pictured left). That evidence, Melville ruled, is admissible to show a pattern of "grooming" on the entertainer's part.

While Melville denied a government request to present testimony about two other boys, he ruled that prosecutors will be allowed to introduce evidence about a pair of financial settlements entered into by Jackson with two of the prior accusers (though Melville said that the D.A. is precluded from mentioning the settlement amounts).

Testimony about the prior incidents will come from one of the alleged victims (the son of a former Neverland Ranch maid) and eight third-party witnesses, according to Melville's ruling. That witness list includes the ex-maid, another former Neverland household employee, ex-Jackson assistant Bob Jones, former security guard Ralph Chacon, and the mother of Jordan Chandler, the California boy who first leveled abuse charges against the King of Pop in 1993 (and who settled a related civil lawsuit for more than $15 million).

Melville's decision appears to reflect his belief that admission of the prior incidents, none of which resulted in criminal charges against Jackson, would not serve to unfairly buttress the current case, which centers on allegations that the performer molested a Los Angeles boy, now 15, in early 2003.

The ruling is Melville's tacit acknowledgment that Sneddon's current case is not nearly as wobbly as Jackson lawyer Thomas Mesereau claims it to be, and that prosecutors would not improperly benefit from the introduction of "propensity" material allowed under California law. Section 1108 of the state's Evidence Code (an amendment signed into law in 1996) allows testimony about alleged prior bad acts so long as its usefulness is not outweighed by any potential prejudicial effect on a jury.

As a result of Melville's decision to admit so-called 1108 evidence, jurors will now weigh the 2003 molestation allegations in the light of other troubling charges from Jackson's past. This is, of course, especially crucial in light of the multimillion dollar settlement deals. While not admissions of guilt, details of these decade-old agreements--Chandler's deal and a $2 million settlement with the maid's son--could prove devastating.

Melville's decision came after a remarkable hearing during which Sneddon offered a detailed recitation of what he said was Jackson's history of sexually abusing boys. Having investigated the singer for 12 years, Sneddon offered up the fruits of that lengthy pursuit, charging that Jackson's pedophilia was borne out by a variety of illicit acts, including:

* One "prior child," Sneddon said, will testify to three separate instances during which his genitals were touched by Jackson. On two occasions, the child was fondled outside his clothes, and once the singer "thrust" his hands inside the boy's pants. The witness in question is the son of Blanca Francia, the former Neverland Ranch maid. The woman and her son, now 24, received a $2 million legal settlement from Jackson in 1994 (and both were included on the prosecution's list of potential trial witnesses).

* Sneddon said that he had a witness who would testify that, on three occasions, they saw Jackson in bed with different children and "that the child and the defandant's underpants were lying next to the bed."

* Witnesses, Sneddon told Melville, would testify to five incidents involving four children (ages 10-13) who were kissed and/or inappropriately touched in the genitals by Jackson.

* Two witnesses will testify that they heard Jackson encourage children to call him "Daddy," which echos claims by the current accuser and his family members.

* One witness told probers of seeing the entertainer lick the head of a young boy. The incident mirrors a claim from the current molestation case (the accuser's brother and mother have both told investigators that they saw Jackson lick the accuser's head while the boy slept during a 2003 flight from Miami to Santa Barbara).

In arguing for admission of such evidence, Sneddon said that Jackson has long shown a proclivity for illicit behavior with young boys the entertainer considers "special friends." He noted that Jackson's grooming of young boys often included the purchase of gifts for a child's mother, so as to keep the parent preoccupied while he frolicked with the minor.

After Sneddon's 40-minute presentation, Mesereau told Melville that the D.A.'s case so far has been a weak one, riddled with repeated lies and contradictions from the alleged victim and his two siblings. Testimony about uncharged behavior, Mesereau (pictured right) said, would only serve to prop up Sneddon's case.

Noting that prosecutors had yet to call the victim's mother to the witness stand, Mesereau asked that Melville delay his decision on the introduction of prior bad acts testimony until the woman testifies. Referring to how Sneddon's case has been unfolding, Mesereau remarked, "Every time they put on a witness, it gets worse."

Jackson's lawyer then went into a point-by-point attack of the old material Sneddon sought to introduce. With the exception of Chandler and the maid's son, the other five boys allegedly molested by Jackson have all repeatedly denied being abused by the performer, Mesereau said. Additionally, since Chandler is not going to testify, Mesereau said, jurors would only hear direct testimony from one of the seven boys prosecutors claim Jackson sexually abused.

Mesereau said that many of the third-party witnesses Sneddon would call to testify about the prior abuse were tabloid informants, disgruntled former employees, and money-hungry litigants. He specifically mentioned a group of former Neverland workers who sued Jackson for wrongful termination and were routed in court (in fact, they lost a countersuit brought by Jackson and were hit with a seven-figure legal judgment, which drove some into bankruptcy).

Testimony about the alleged prior incidents--most of which date back more than a decade--would be incredibly time consuming, Mesereau said, adding that "all is fair game" when it came to examining the motivations of the third-party witnesses. Mesereau specifically mentioned how Francia sold her story to a television tabloid show, but then later disavowed her TV claims during a sworn deposition.

Before Melville called a short break, Mesereau again mentioned the accuser's mother, saying, "The best is yet to come because the mother has not yet testified." He added, "I submit it (the government's case) looks real bad, and it's gonna get worse."