Jackson defence pins hopes on star backing

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The Independent US

Who is willing to stand up and defend Michael Jackson? With the prosecution case winding down after almost two months of testimony, that is the question now hanging over the central California courtroom where the 46-year-old singer is on trial on child molestation charges.

Who is willing to stand up and defend Michael Jackson? With the prosecution case winding down after almost two months of testimony, that is the question now hanging over the central California courtroom where the 46-year-old singer is on trial on child molestation charges.

The defence has certainly had plenty to work with so far - inconsistencies, credibility problems and out-and-out lies from the family of the recovering cancer patient at the centre of the criminal charges. But Jackson's reputation, or what is left of it, has taken a public shredding as one witness after another has testified to blatant sexual acts he allegedly committed on pre-pubescent boys over the past 15 years.

To remedy that, the defence is likely to call a number of Jackson's friends, family and loyal staff members. The witness list presented during the jury selection phase of the trial suggests it could be a star-studded affair - everyone from Elizabeth Taylor and Diana Ross to Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones and basketball star Kobe Bryant, along with celebrity interviewer Larry King and late-night chat show host Jay Leno.

The list is misleading, however, because the judge has already made clear he won't accept witnesses unless they are strictly relevant to the case. Bryant, for example, is almost certain to be kept off the witness stand - not least because he was himself charged with rape in Colorado last year (the case later collapsed).

Some of the witnesses are also less than willing defenders of Jackson's honour. Macaulay Culkin, for example, is certainly relevant to the case - two prosecution witnesses testified that they saw Jackson put his hands down his trousers when he was 10 years old. And he has repeatedly denied that anything untoward ever went on between them. He has also made clear, however, that he wants nothing to do with this trial, and will only come to the courtroom if he is dragged there on pain of contempt of court charges.

Jay Leno could be another problem. He may be called to testify that the family of the alleged victim asked him for money - a potentially valuable part of the defence's contention that the allegations are nothing more than an attempted shakedown of a rich celebrity.

Leno, however, was infuriated when a gagging order - later lifted - was imposed, preventing him from cracking jokes about the case. In fact, he said, "I believe I am the first person over 12 to be gagged by Michael Jackson." He has been making pointed jokes ever since - suggesting, for example, that because his finances are in disarray, Jackson might argue he only puts his hands in boys' trousers to look for lunch money.

The most compelling defence witnesses may, in the end, be more anonymous ones - people like Jackson's make-up artist, say, or his personal magician, who made an eyebrow-raising entrance into the courtroom last week.

A Los Angeles child protective services officer who looked into the allegations when they were first raised and concluded they had no merit is also likely to take the stand. The prosecution has already signalled its low opinion of the services in LA County, and is likely to allege that a representative of Jackson's was in the room when the interviews took place.

Also expected to take the stand are Jackson's closest family members - the brothers who formed Motown's Jackson Five, and also two of his children, Paris and Prince Michael. They are likely to make for queasily compelling viewing from the gallery.

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