Bashir takes the stand as first witness in Jackson abuse case

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The Independent US

The British television journalist Martin Bashir, whose 2003 documentary on Michael Jackson was the catalyst leading to the singer's trial on child molestation charges, took the stand as the unwilling first witness for the prosecution and was treated, along with the jury, with a showing of his film.

The British television journalist Martin Bashir, whose 2003 documentary on Michael Jackson was the catalyst leading to the singer's trial on child molestation charges, took the stand as the unwilling first witness for the prosecution and was treated, along with the jury, with a showing of his film.

Mr Bashir, who now works for ABC television in the United States, took the stand at the courthouse in Santa Maria, in central California, only after being issued with a subpoena. The judge quickly informed him that he had the right not to answer questions if he felt they risked breaching journalistic confidentiality, but said the lawyers in the case still had the right to ask them.

Mr Jackson was seen smiling and mouthing the words "It's Martin" as Mr Bashir entered the courtroom. The lead prosecutor in the case, Tom Sneddon, Santa Barbara County district attorney, has portrayed the airing of Mr Bashir's film as the pivotal moment in the case, leading ­ in his view ­ to panic, threats, an attempt to spirit the 13-year-old alleged molestation victim and his family out of the country and finally a series of sexual advances.

Mr Sneddon characterised the airing of the documentary as a "train wreck" for Mr Jackson's career, because of a torrent of negative publicity over his admission that he frequently shared his bed with pubescent boys and saw nothing wrong with it. Earlier yesterday, the defence responded to the prosecution's vivid depiction of sexual weirdness and celebrity dysfunction at Mr Jackson's Neverland Ranch by ripping into the credibility of the alleged victim's family, saying they had a track record of lying and cheating for their own material gain.

In contrast to Mr Sneddon's rambling, sometimes confusing presentation, Mr Jackson's lead lawyer, Tom Mesereau, held the jury's attention as he depicted the alleged victim's mother as a celebrity bounty hunter and serial litigator who only turned against the singer, in his view, when she realised the financial tap was about to be turned off.

Mr Mesereau depicted his client not as a sexual predator with an unhealthy interest in pubescent boys, but rather as a victim of his own. When the cancer-stricken boy first approached Mr Jackson in 2000, his mother also tried to talk other celebrities into giving him money to pay his medical bills. Hesaid the approaches amounted to a "shakedown", which the likes of Mike Tyson, the boxer, Adam Sandler, the comedian, and Jay Leno, the television talk-show host, chose to resist.

As for the multiple allegations of criminal misconduct at Neverland ­ plying the cancer victim with alcohol, exposing him to pornography, confining his family to the ranch against their will and molesting him ­ Mr Mesereau said they "never happened". He said that in the period most closely studied by the prosecution, from February to March 2003, the alleged victim's mother spent $3,000 (£1,600) on Mr Jackson's credit card, suggesting she was very far from being his captive.

Mr Mesereau said the alcohol consumption was the result of the alleged victim and his brother breaking into the wine cellar. On one occasion, they were found drunk by ranch employees. He adopted the same defence about the allegations that boys had been exposed to pornographic magazines. He said they had taken the magazines without permission from a briefcase. Mr Jackson's fingerprints were on the magazines, he added, because he had wrested them out of the boys' hands. On the molestation question, he challenged the evidence, saying no DNA samples of the alleged victim had been found in Mr Jackson's bedroom.

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