Jackson fights back in briefing war as lawyers prepare for jury battle

Click to follow
After five days of relative peace and quiet, the little town of Santa Maria will once again be under siege when Michael Jackson returns this week for the next stage of his molestation trial.

Jackson, as usual, has fuelled the frenzy himself, this time by giving a television interview, broadcast last night, in which he claimed his celebrity had made him a target.

The interview, to Fox News Channel's Geraldo Rivera, was Jackson's first since he was indicted by a grand jury in April. Although a gag order barred him from talking about the charges he faces, he spoke of the children he had entertained at his Neverland Ranch over the years.

"I created Neverland as a home for myself and my children ... it gave me a chance to do what I couldn't do when I was little," he said. "We couldn't go to movie theatres. We couldn't go to Disneyland. We couldn't do all those fun things. We were on tour. We were working hard."

The singer will be in the Santa Maria courthouse tomorrow as Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville and lawyers for both sides begin the laborious process of weeding the 250-strong jury pool down to a panel of 12 men and women who can give him a fair hearing.

The selection of potential jurors, which was expected to take at least a week, was completed in a day and a half last week. Although the trial is expected to last six months, relatively few asked to be excused. Some analysts speculate there may be those whose interests are primarily fame or fortune among the pool.

For the past five days, lawyers have been studying the would-be jurors' answers to a questionnaire crafted by Judge Melville. It asks whether they or any relatives or close friends have been accused of, or been victims of "inappropriate sexual behaviour", or have done any work for children's advocacy groups.

Jackson faces 10 charges of child molestation, plying children with alcohol and conspiring to kidnap the accuser and his family. If convicted, he could face 20 years in prison. His legal costs are expected to run into millions of pounds. He is facing even more bills in a lawsuit brought by his ex-wife, Deborah Rowe, who is seeking to regain custody of their two children, Prince Michael Jr and Paris. Ms Rowe, who will be called as a witness for the prosecution, began trying to regain custody of the children shortly after Jackson's arrest in November 2003.

Under their divorce settlement, and in return for a multimillion-dollar settlement, Ms Rowe agreed to keep silent about the intimate details of Jackson's life, give up custody of the children and not communicate with them. According to court documents posted on a website, she asked a judge in October 2001 to terminate her parental rights completely, a request that was granted.


The bigger the star, the bigger the target.

Jackson in TV interview last night

In the last few weeks, a large amount of ugly, malicious information has been released into the media about me ... The information is disgusting and false.

Jackson on his website on Monday

I created Neverland as a home for myself and my children ... Other men have their Ferraris and their airplanes ... My bliss is in giving and sharing and having simple, innocent fun.

Jackson in TV interview last night

I allowed this family into my home because they told me their son was ill with cancer and needed my help. Through the years, I have helped thousands of children who were ill or in distress.

Jackson on his chief accuser, now aged 15

Please keep an open mind and let me have my day in court. I deserve a fair trial like every other American citizen. I will be acquitted and vindicated when the truth is told.

Jackson on his website