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Now it's Jackson's turn: will he testify?
Updated: 2005-05-02 11:14

Michael Jackson has sat silently in court for nine weeks, betraying little reaction as prosecutors laid out their child molestation and conspiracy case against him.

Jurors have seen a lot of naked bodies at the Michael Jackson molestation trial, but the bulk of the bodies have belonged to adult women as featured in the pages of Hustler and Barely Legal. [E! Online]

Now, with the defense case about to begin, trial watchers wonder if the pop star can resist the temptation to step into the witness stand spotlight and tell the story as he sees it.

Conventional legal wisdom is that defendants should not take the stand in criminal trials, but lead defense lawyer Thomas Mesereau Jr. has a history of putting his clients on the stand to speak for themselves.

His close friend and associate, attorney Dana Cole, said Mesereau is leaning toward doing the same in Jackson's case.

"Tom feels Michael would make a very good witness," Cole said. "He feels it's important for the client to look at the jury and say 'I did not commit this crime.'" 

"Obviously, he doesn't need to make that decision now. ... But he does want an acquittal, not a hung jury, and to get that he may have to put Michael on the stand."

He noted that other lawyers might shrink from opening up their clients to cross-examination by prosecutors.

"It can be risky, particularly when your case is going well," said Cole. "It can torpedo your case and give prosecutors the one golden opportunity they have not had."

Jackson also has a history of unpredictability, said Loyola University law professor Laurie Levenson, who has attended the trial.

"His words have gotten him in trouble before," she said. "If he had never talked about sleeping with boys in his bed, he wouldn't be in court now."

In opening statements, Mesereau told jurors twice that they would hear from Jackson on specific issues but did not say that Jackson would testify.

Levenson suggests the defense may be planning to present Jackson's side by using outtakes from the famous "Living With Michael Jackson" video, in which Jackson appeared with the boy who now accuses him of molestation and said he allowed children to sleep in his bed but in a non-sexual context.

"You can't cross-examine a videotape, and a videotape is dynamite evidence," Levenson said.

This past week, Jackson's personal videographer, Hamid Moslehi, testified that he had a camera running at the same time that Martin Bashir had his "Living" documentary crew at work. Moslehi suggested the Bashir video was edited to portray Jackson in a bad light and said footage not used in the broadcast could clarify what Jackson said.

Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville refused to let Mesereau show the outtakes during his cross-examination, but said he expected the issue would be raised again during the defense case.

In the recent murder trial of Robert Blake, the defense used the actor's TV interview with Barbara Walters to let jurors hear him deny that he killed his wife. Blake did not take the stand and was acquitted.

Jackson is accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy in 2003, giving him alcohol and conspiring to hold the boy's family captive to get them to rebut the Bashir documentary.

While there are 10 separate counts in the indictment, nine of them dealing directly or indirectly with molestation, the one count that has caused prosecutors the most problems is the one that alleges a conspiracy by Jackson and six unindicted coconspirators to abduct and falsely imprison the boy and his family.

That count relies heavily on the testimony of the boy's mother, who claims Jackson associates forced the family to participate in a rehearsed and scripted video praising Jackson. But the mother came under fierce defense attack on the witness stand for her history of lying under oath.

Her account was further undermined by testimony from Jackson's ex-wife, Debbie Rowe, that backfired on prosecutors. Rowe said she also made a video but that it was neither scripted nor rehearsed. She denounced Jackson's associates as "opportunistic vultures" who conspired not with him but against him.

Before the defense case starts, the prosecution has promised two more days of testimony Monday and Tuesday from unspecified witnesses.

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