Jackson's past accusers allowed to testify

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The Independent US

Prosecutors in the Michael Jackson child molestation case received a much-needed boost when the trial judge said he would admit evidence concerning as many as five prior allegations of sexual abuse of pre-teenage boys.

Judge Rodney Melville set strict limits on how much the Santa Barbara County district attorney's office could tell the jury about the earlier allegations, but he said it was legitimate to discuss what he described as a "pattern of grooming" - the allegation that Mr Jackson had approached and corrupted a number of boys in very similar ways over a period of years.

Among the cases that will now be discussed are those of two boys who reached multi-million-dollar settlements with Mr Jackson in the early 1990s. A boy who received $2.4m in 1990 is expected to testify in person, as is his mother, who worked as a maid at Mr Jackson's Neverland ranch.

According to Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon, the evidence includes eyewitness testimony of Mr Jackson in bed with four pre-teenage children, all apparently without their underwear, and various instances of kissing, hugging and Mr Jackson allegedly sliding his hand into the boy's underwear. All of the boys were between the ages of 10 and 13, the prosecutor added.

However, Jordy Chandler, who received $20m in his 1993 settlement, has made clear he would rather skip the country than have anything to do with the current trial. The prosecution is not expected to try to subpoena him, relying instead on second-hand testimony concerning his alleged sexual initiation by Mr Jackson.

Judge Melville was acting, in part, on a special provision in California law allowing the airing of earlier allegations of child sexual abuse, even when those allegations did not lead to successful criminal prosecution in the past.

In a spirited hearing yesterday morning, Mr Jackson's defence lawyers put up vigorous arguments against admitting such evidence against the singer, saying they were a sign of desperation by a prosecution team that knew it was in trouble. They pointed out that three of the five boys now up for discussion have consistently denied any inappropriate interaction with Mr Jackson, among them the former child actor Macaulay Culkin, who still considers himself Mr Jackson's friend.

Lead defence lawyer Tom Mesereau also argued that admitting the extra evidence would "prolong this trial interminably", because he and his colleagues would feel obliged to rebut every past allegation as though each were the subject of its own mini-trial.

Yesterday's ruling was crucial to the prosecution. As the trial hits the one-month mark, many legal analysts say the defence has been successful in punching holes in the account of the Arviso family, which alleges that Mr Jackson molested their 13-year-old son Gavin at a time when he was recovering from a rare form of cancer.

Mr Mesereau has established numerous contradictions in their accounts of their time at Mr Jackson's Neverland ranch in central California. Gavin, the chief accuser who is now 15, could not pinpoint when he was allegedly molested, or how often.

The prosecution will now have an opportunity to demonstrate certain patterns in this and previous cases: Mr Jackson's alleged habit of kissing boys on the head, his way of encouraging them to call him "daddy", his pattern of giving gifts both to the boys and to their mothers, and so on.

It will also be easier for the prosecution to argue that the lies and inconsistencies to which the Arvisos have admitted were part and parcel of the trauma of an abusive relationship, not a concerted attempt to make gratuitously vindictive accusations against Mr Jackson or even to extort money from him.