Crucial ruling expected in Jackson trial

 

The judge in Michael Jackson's child molestation case expected to decide today if prosecutors can tell the jury about past accusations of sex abuse by the pop star in a ruling legal experts say could be the most important in the trial.

Among the witnesses prosecutors want to call are a young man to whom Jackson reportedly paid millions of dollars in the mid-1990s to settle accusations of abuse and who could help portray the 46-year-old entertainer as a serial molester of young boys.

"The judge's decision tomorrow may literally decide the case," Jim Hammer, a San Francisco prosecutor and media analyst, said yesterday.

"If he lets this evidence in and if the alleged) victims from the past testify credibly, it will be very hard for the defense to overcome."

Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville said last week he intended to rule on the matter today.

In the current case, Jackson is charged with sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy at his Neverland Valley Ranch and plying the youth with alcohol in order to abuse him. The singer is also accused of conspiring to commit child abduction, extortion and false imprisonment.

Jackson was never charged with a crime in the past accusations, but prosecutors want to convince jurors that the self-proclaimed "King of Pop" has a pattern of behavior toward young boys - evidence that legal experts say could be devastating to the defense.

"It's the nuclear weapon of evidence for the prosecution," Hammer said. "If you can bring in prior evidence of bad acts, no matter what the judge says most jurors can't help but think 'Oh, my God, this is bad guy.' This is why the defense fears this evidence. Its explosive. Its radioactive.

Defense lawyers were expected to argue that such evidence would unfairly prejudice Jackson. And if the judge allows prosecutors to use the evidence, they still face another hurdle -- getting the past accusers to testify against Jackson.

The young man, now 20, who was at the center of the 1993 case lives out of state and is reportedly reluctant to participate in the current trial. On Sunday, Jackson said during a radio talk show that he was innocent, calling the accusations against him "totally fabricated."

"I'm a warrior and I know what's inside of me," the singer told the Rev. Jesse Jackson on his syndicated talk show. "But it's very painful. At the end of the day I'm still human, so it does hurt very, very much."