Popstar Jackson's trial set to begin tomorrow

 

Michael Jackson, the once undisputed King of Pop, goes on trial tomorrow charged with child sex abuse.

Jackson (46) strenuously denies the charge. The long-anticipated case has already attracted huge publicity. Bizarre alleged details have captured the public's imagination, fuelling rumour and speculation. But it will be about four weeks before the world hears the case against Jackson.

Under American law a jury must first be selected. With as many as 750 prospective jurors to be screened, the process could take a month at the Santa Maria court, California. The pop icon's trial could then last up to five months and, while court sessions will not be televised, media organisations are gearing up for blanket coverage in an echo of the OJ Simpson murder trial of 1995.

If convicted, father-of-three Jackson faces a maximum of 21 years in prison. The investigation was triggered by British documentary Living with Michael Jackson, presented by Martin Bashir and broadcast in February 2003 on ITV. During the interview Jackson admitted, and staunchly defended, letting boys sleep in his bedroom.

Charges were brought nine months later after police raided his sprawling fairytale estate. When a warrant was issued Jackson turned himself in to Santa Barbara police and was handcuffed under the glare of the world's media. He was released on bail of $3 million.

The prosecution case is expected to be based on evidence from four key witnesses - the accusations of the now 15-year-old boy, his brother, sister and mother. Jackson's ranch, which includes a zoo, ferris wheel, roller coaster and video arcade, was "designed to entice and attract children," they claim.

The Jackson defence team is expected to portray the Thriller star as a harmless "Peter Pan" who donates huge sums to charity. His lawyers will question the credibility of the alleged victim's story, arguing that the family once denied Jackson had been involved in any wrongdoing and that they are simply hoping to profit from financial settlements.

PA