Jackson defence suddenly rests

Michael Jackson’s defence suddenly rested their case without calling any rebuttal witnesses on Friday after prosecutors in a final move showed the jury a videotape of the accuser telling investigators for the first time in 2003 that he was molested by the pop star.

The tape offered little that the boy had not already testified to on the stand, but there was a clear impact as he became via video the last witness the jury would see. The courtroom was hushed and when the lights came up jurors were solemn, looking downward.

Jackson had no comment as he left.

The decision to not present a defence rebuttal means closing arguments could begin as early as Wednesday. Judge Rodney S Melville told jurors they would not need to be in court on Tuesday when attorneys will have discussions on jury instructions.

The jury has been hearing the case since opening statements on February 28.
The prosecution presented more than 80 witnesses and the defence called 50 before ending its main case this week.

Prosecutors then called 15 rebuttal witnesses, some of whom had testified earlier.

Defence attorneys had said they planned to recall the boy, his mother, a psychologist who first reported the molestation allegations to authorities and an attorney who referred the family to the psychologist.

But after jurors saw a tape of the boy haltingly describing the alleged molestation in much of the same language he used in his testimony, the defence decided not to present any rebuttal witnesses.

“He put his hands in my pants. He started masturbating me,” the boy told detectives who urged him to tell his story. “I told him I didn’t want to do that and he kept on doing it. I told him no.”

Prosecutors played the tape after Melville instructed jurors “only to observe the demeanour, manner and attitude of the witness” and said that the boy’s “statements are not to be considered for the truth of the matter stated”.

The judge had also told the jury that if the defence called the boy to the stand, the questions would be limited to the points he had outlined.

The taped interview was conducted in the Santa Barbara county sheriff’s department’s sexual abuse assault response team cottage in Santa Barbara on July 6 2003.

The tape showed the boy, in denim shorts and a blue shirt, slumped in a chair. He occasionally smiled, scratched his arm and fumbled with a button on his shirt.

Investigators made small talk as they tried to build rapport before pressing him to be forthcoming.

“You are not in danger by being here with us,” Sergeant Steve Robel told him. “We are going to try our best to make a case, a criminal case, but we need your cooperation.”

The detectives questioned him about his ideas of right and wrong, and the boy said things that were wrong included staying up too late, fighting, breaking things and killing someone.

With his head down and frequently pausing, the boy described the alleged molestation in a low voice. The account was similar to the one he gave on witness stand.

On the tape he said Jackson masturbated him “five or so” times and later clarified under questioning by Robel that it was five times or less.

In his witness-stand testimony, the boy said he could remember Jackson masturbating him twice but there may have been more times.

His brother testified to twice seeing Jackson molesting the boy.

In the taped interview, he described things that Jackson allegedly said to him, including that boys need to masturbate or they would go crazy.

After that, Robel told the boy: “I guarantee you will feel much better after you get it ... off your chest.”

The boy then took a deep breath and after a long pause went on.

“He said that he wanted to show me how to masturbate,” the boy said. “I said no. Then he said he could do it for me.”

The boy looked down, then resumed haltingly.

“He grabbed me,” he said.

Robel asked him where he was grabbed.

“My private area,” the boy said, going on to describe the masturbation and saying that Jackson touched him for “a long time”.

Asked what Jackson said in response to being told to stop, the boy told Robel: “He said that’s OK. It’s natural.”

The boy said the first molestation occurred after he and Jackson had been drinking at the singer’s Neverland ranch.

“Toward the last days at Neverland ... he would always have me drink,” the boy said.

Robel said at one point: “I don’t care who Michael Jackson is. Michael Jackson has done wrong to you and your mother and his friends.”

At the end, Robel assured the boy he was doing the right thing.

“I’m very proud of you,” he said at the end. “What he has done to you. He’s the bad person, not you. You and your mother and brother and sister are the good people.”

The accuser, now 15, testified at the start of the trial. The prosecution asked to introduce the tape during its rebuttal case, which began after the defence rested earlier this week.

After lengthy arguments, Melville admitted the tape for limited purposes.

Defence attorney Robert Sanger had objected to playing the tape at all and said it could lengthen the defence rebuttal case. He added: “I don’t think by the time the dust settles that the jury will be any further ahead.”

Jackson (46) is charged with molesting the then-13-year-old boy in February or March 2003, giving him wine and conspiring to hold his family captive to get them to rebut a documentary in which the boy appeared with Jackson as the entertainer said he let children into his bed but it was non-sexual.—Sapa-AP

Associated Press writer Tim Molloy contributed to this report

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