Faltering prosecution pins hopes on Jackson's past settlements

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The Independent US

The prosecution team seeking to nail Michael Jackson on child molestation charges face perhaps their biggest test yet this week, as they prepare for a special hearing in which they hope to persuade the judge to admit testimony about two earlier cases of alleged sexual abuse by the singer which were settled out of court.

The prosecution team seeking to nail Michael Jackson on child molestation charges face perhaps their biggest test yet this week, as they prepare for a special hearing in which they hope to persuade the judge to admit testimony about two earlier cases of alleged sexual abuse by the singer which were settled out of court.

Three weeks into the sensational trial of the man who was once the world's most popular entertainer, a consensus is beginning to emerge that things are not going too smoothly for the prosecution. That, in turn, makes the testimony reviving earlier accusations against Jackson particularly important.

Tom Sneddon, the Santa Barbara County district attorney, and his team are expected to argue that evidence of earlier acts of sexual abuse is admissible under a section of California's criminal code designed to allow juries to see long-standing patterns of aberrant behaviour by suspected paedophiles.

The defence, meanwhile, is likely to counter that unproven allegations from the past could prejudice the jury. Judge Rodney Melville, who has taken a bracingly no-nonsense approach to the case so far, is granted considerable leeway under the law in making his decision.

Even if he believes that the earlier allegations of sexual abuse had merit, he might decide that the most important question now before the jury is whether the family accusing Mr Jackson of abusing their 13-year-old boy, a recovering cancer patient, is telling the truth - something that needs to be decided independently of Mr Jackson's past behaviour.

Alternatively, Judge Melville might decide that looking atearlier allegations might shed light on the plausibility of the Arviso family's story and is, therefore, an important part of the jury's deliberations.

The hearing is set for tomorrow week, and a decision is likely to be issued soon after. The prosecution badly needs a favourable ruling to shore up its somewhat rocky presentation of testimony so far. The defence has successfully demonstrated that the Arviso family has a history of giving contradictory accounts of their time at Mr Jackson's Neverland ranch. The chief accuser, Gavin, can't pinpoint when he was allegedly molested, or how often.

As the trial goes on, the character of the family members is likely to come under further scrutiny. The jury has already heard about disciplinary problems at school, and a questionable lawsuit against a department store that the defence characterised as a form of attempted extortion. On Friday, Judge Melville agreed to admit testimony that Gavin Arviso once tried to scam a moderately well-known comedian, George Lopez, out of $300.

Some of the old evidence against Mr Jackson could be dynamite in the courtroom. According to a 1993 affidavit sealed by the courts but leaked a couple of years ago to the website The Smoking Gun, a teenage boy, Jordy Chandler, who is now in his twenties, has an excruciatingly detailed account - far more detailed than that of Gavin Arviso - claiming repeated sexual contact with Mr Jackson.

The Chandler case never came to trial. It was settled out of court for a figure believed to be as high as $20m.

In the course of the Arviso investigation, Santa Barbara County police also learned of a second out-of-court settlement that had been made in 1990. Details of that case have not been made public.

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