Prosecutor's damning portrait of Jackson kicks off trial

The public prosecutor throwing his all into nailing Michael Jackson for his alleged mistreatment of a 13-year-old cancer victim painted a disturbing picture yesterday of the singer introducing the boy to pornography, feeding him wine and reaching into his underpants for his sexual initiation.

The public prosecutor throwing his all into nailing Michael Jackson for his alleged mistreatment of a 13-year-old cancer victim painted a disturbing picture yesterday of the singer introducing the boy to pornography, feeding him wine and reaching into his underpants for his sexual initiation.

Tom Sneddon, the Santa Barbara County district attorney, has made little secret of his ambition to see Mr Jackson convicted. As the hotly anticipated trial got underway and Mr Sneddon made his opening statements, he adopted a slow-burn approach, building up a portrait of a highly dysfunctional atmosphere at Mr Jackson's Neverland ranch before introducing the most explicit sexual details.

Mr Sneddon described how Mr Jackson twice masturbated the boy, along with himself, and tried and failed to induce the boy to perform sexual acts on him. He told the jury that the boy, now 15, would testify in court and tell the whole story personally. "He will describe to you his sexual experiences with Michael Jackson," he said. "He will do it here in open court and he will do it with the whole world watching."

It was the first time details of the alleged sexual encounters have been publicly aired. Even when hundreds of pages of grand jury testimony were leaked to a website two weeks ago, the sexual details were alluded to but missing.

After 13 months of preliminary hearings and jury selection, Mr Jackson was at last forced to listen to the 28-count indictment and Mr Sneddon's elaboration. He, and five employees named as unindicted co-conspirators, are accused of feeding alcohol to the boy even as he was recovering from chemotherapy, showing him pornography on the internet, having him sleep in his bed, threatening him, confining him to Mr Jackson's ranch against his will and, at one stage, attempting to hustle him and his family out of the country to Brazil.

At the centre of the case is the television documentary made by Martin Bashir made in 2002 and aired in 2003, in which Mr Jackson talks openly about sharing his bed with young teenage boys ­ including the alleged victim who appeared on camera. Mr Sneddon alleged that the boy had no idea he was participating in a film to be seen by millions of people, and was under the impression he was taking part only in an audition.

Mr Sneddon told the jury the case was about Jackson's "desperate attempt" to salvage his career after the documentary, Living With Michael Jackson, was aired around the world and rapidly turned into a public relations fiasco. "Jackson's world was rocked," the prosecutor said, citing one of the co-conspirators saying it was little short of a "train wreck".

The indictment alleges a series of bizarre activities including a panicky effort by Jackson employees to get his accuser's family ready for a trip to Brazil. It alleged that one of them, Frank Tyson, also known as Frank Cascio, told the family they were in danger and "this is not the time to be out there alone. This is not the time to turn your back on Michael".

The indictment stated that between February and March 2003, Tyson threatened the accuser, telling him that "Michael could make the family disappear" and that he also said: "I could have your mother killed."

It also alleged that in February 2003, Jackson's staff was instructed in writing not to let the boy leave Neverland.

Mr Jackson appeared in court in a flamboyant, if relatively restrained, black suit with a red armband and made a V-sign with his fingers for just a handful of fans as he entered the courthouse in Santa Maria, an agricultural town near the Neverland ranch, 170 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

The indictment was read out by Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville, a no-nonsense manager who completed jury selection at breakneck speed, despite a break of several days caused by Mr Jackson's decision to check himself into hospital.

Mr Jackson's lawyers had been expected to focus on the sexual allegations and blame the victim's mother for spreading lies about Mr Jackson. They are expected to depict her as a serial litigator who has made unsubstantiated allegations of child sexual abuse in the past.

Their task may now be complicated, however, by the welter of other evidence that Mr Sneddon appears to have chosen to present first. Mr Sneddon, whose nickname is "Mad Dog", tried and failed to nail Mr Jackson on child sex abuse charges more than a decade ago, in a case that was settled out of court with the complainant, Jordy Chandler, being paid an undisclosed sum of money.

The defence is expected to accuse him of a personal animus against Mr Jackson, raising questions about the judgement behind the entire prosecution case.

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