May 5, 2005
SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Michael Jackson's lawyers opened their case Thursday in his molestation and conspiracy trial, calling a young man who grew up knowing the pop star and denied a prosecution witness's claim that he took a shower with the singer.
The defense opened after Judge Rodney S. Melville denied its motion for an acquittal. Jackson's attorneys had argued that the state failed to prove its case, and that prosecution witnesses had "a tendency to self-destruct" on the stand.
The first defense witness, professional dancer Wade J. Robson, said he has known Jackson since the age of 5 and stayed at his Neverland ranch more than 20 times. He slept in Jackson's bedroom on all but three or four of those visits, he said.
The two played video games, watched movies, talked and sometimes had pillow fights, but Robson, 22, said Jackson never touched him in an inappropriate or sexual way.
A former Jackson maid, the mother of a boy who got a multimillion-dollar settlement from Jackson in the 1990s after accusing the star of molestation, testified previously that she once saw Jackson showering with Robson. Robson said he had never showered with Jackson.
In cross-examination, prosecutor Ron Zonen suggested that when Robson said Jackson never molested him, "What you're really telling us is that nothing happened when you were awake."
Robson responded, "I would think something like that would wake me up."
Zonen then sought to suggest that the witness was often so exhausted by practicing dance and having fun at the ranch that he might have slept heavily.
The prosecution rested Wednesday after calling more than 80 witnesses in an attempt to prove Jackson fondled a 13-year-old cancer survivor, plied him with alcohol, and conspired to detain him and his family so they would rebut a damaging documentary by Martin Bashir in which Jackson said he let children sleep in his bed.
The motion for acquittal was filed by the defense immediately after the prosecution rested. Such motions are common and are rarely successful.
Jackson's attorneys said the accuser, his brother and his mother told a string of lies on the stand, calling the mother a "bizarre" witness who told a "whopper."
"This is one of the most clearly deceptive witnesses that has ever appeared in any court," defense attorney Robert Sanger said.
He said the mother was clearly dishonest when she said that her video interview rebutting the documentary was false. He also said the accuser's brother falsely said he never pulled a knife on a woman, and the sister gave false accounts of where she slept at Neverland.
Sanger also said witnesses such as flight attendant Cynthia Bell, former Jackson employee Jesus Salas and Jackson's ex-wife Deborah Rowe were called by the prosecution but gave testimony favorable to Jackson.
District Attorney Tom Sneddon, who has pursued Jackson for more than a decade, countered that the evidence against the pop star was overwhelming.
"The motive of Michael Jackson is clear," he said. "The evidence is overwhelming. This was a death threat to his career. He was hemorrhaging financially. He had a cash-flow problem. The Bashir film was the last stroke that was going to end his career if something wasn't done."
The judge said he was reluctant to make a decision about the credibility of the witnesses, suggesting that was the jury's job.
Melville also heard arguments but did not immediately rule on whether some items presented during the prosecution case had been sufficiently authenticated by testimony to be admitted into evidence.