After 87 Witnesses, the Prosecution Rests

Dispatches From the Michael Jackson Trial

After 87 Witnesses, the Prosecution Rests

Dispatches From the Michael Jackson Trial

After 87 Witnesses, the Prosecution Rests
Notes from different corners of the world.
May 5 2005 12:25 AM

Dispatches From the Michael Jackson Trial

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Click image to expand. He has a deeper voice?
He has a deeper voice?

8:03 a.m.: Before entering the courthouse, I pause to get a peek at some of the handmade signs being waved around by the fans outside the gate. I rather like "SMOOTH BUT NOT A CRIMINAL."

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

I'm less enthusiastic about "LEAVE THE MAN IN THE MIRROR ALONE"—because when Michael sang about that man in the mirror, he wasn't really talking about himself, per se. The whole point was the universality of it. "If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change."

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If my interpretation is correct, we are all, metaphorically, the man in the mirror. Though most of us do not face molestation charges.

8:29 a.m.: MJ arrives. The armband is simple—burgundy with gold trim. The pants are the real story today: they're black—but with a wide, gold stripe running down each outseam, as though Michael were some sort of majorette.

8:41 a.m.: Rudy Provencio resumes his testimony. He is immediately asked about Michael's two voices. "Well, there's the voice you hear on TV," he says, "and there's the voice you hear when he's upset or something."

"How are they different?" asks Prosecutor Zonen.

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"One is a deeper voice," says Provencio.

(New, top-priority mission at the trial: Somehow, while not overstepping the bounds of human decency, I must provoke Michael into using the "upset" voice.)

8:48 a.m.: Provencio says that Michael always refers to money as "french fries." No explanation is given. I just thought you might like to know.

In the course of his answers, Provencio giggles, smiles at the jury, and pretty much babbles like a songbird on crystal meth. Every question is met with a rambling, nonsensical monologue. Which does not play well in court. Defense attorney Mesereau's mantra, recited nearly every time Provencio opens his mouth: "Objection. Non-responsive. Move to strike."

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Provencio recounts the fallout after the release, in early 2003, of the infamous Living With Michael Jackson documentary. (The one in which MJ attested that he likes to share his bed with little boys.) Provencio says that when the press got a preview transcript of this video, the phone at Neverland Valley Entertainment (where Provencio worked) suddenly "went ballistic. If an octopus could pick up a phone every two seconds, that's how often the phone was ringing." And what was the press asking? "Who is this boy that Michael is sleeping with. That was the number one question."

Provencio says MJ cronies started scrambling to shoot a rebuttal video (which was later broadcast on Fox). They brought in Debbie Rowe, Michael's ex-wife, and spent a day filming her. When her answers weren't good enough, Provencio claims, they made her do them over. When she cried and it wasn't a strong enough performance, they asked her cry again on cue.

Prosecutor Zonen shows a blow-up of a still picture taken during Rowe's taping session. He hands Provencio a laser pointer. Provencio immediately begins to play with the pointer, aiming its red dot all over the wall. Zonen directs him to identify certain people in the picture, and Provencio squiggles the dot in wild circles. "A simple point will be adequate," says Zonen.

In the picture, there are some papers sitting in front of the video's producer, Marc Schaffel. Provencio claims these papers were the script for Debbie Rowe's interview—both questions and answers. (Rowe said on the stand last week that her interview was not scripted.)

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If Schaffel were on trial, he might be in trouble. He's been made to look like an utter sleazeball. According to Provencio, Schaffel—who happens to be a former gay porn producer—called the accuser's family "stupid Mexicans" and also stole lots of money from a Japanese woman. But unfortunately for the prosecution, it's Michael Jackson who's on trial here. He hasn't really been linked to much, in terms of hard evidence. If anything, Provencio strengthens the case that it was Schaffel doing the conspiring and masterminding. That's just my take, though. You never know how things will play in the eyes of the jury.

10:25 a.m.: Mesereau starts his cross-examination. I have been waiting for this since the moment Provencio took the stand.

Provencio is a loosy-goosy bubblehead. His manner is not unlike that of PeeWee Herman. When asked if he's ever had a conversation with Michael Jackson, he says, "You mean like hey, how are you doing, you wanna go see a car show or something?" He's precisely the sort of witness you would expect to be torn limb from limb under cross-examination. I'm certain The Mez has been licking his chops all morning.

As he steps to the podium, buttoning his broad-shouldered, double-breasted jacket, The Mez has the look of a lion eager to eviscerate a tiny lamb. Within minutes, he's puncturing Provencio's testimony. Provencio's key claim is that he heard Marc Schaffel say the accuser's family had "escaped" from Neverland Ranch and that Schaffel needed to do something about it. Immediately upon hearing this, Provencio called a different MJ crony to confirm. This other guy also used the term "escaped." Which would suggest, of course, that the accuser and his family were held at Neverland against their will.

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The Mez, leaning in to the podium microphone, just hammers away at this. If Provencio was so worried about the family's well-being, why did he not call the police? If Schaffel was doing such awful stuff, why did Provencio continue working with him, and even help him out with some yard work several months later?

It culminates in a fury of incredulous questions. "On the day you think the family 'escaped' from Neverland"—here Mesereau chomps on the word "escaped" with a dripping helping of sarcasm—"were you aware that [the accuser's mom] got a body wax?"

Gasps and groans from the gallery.

"Were you aware that when they 'escaped' they were driven out of Neverland by one of Michael Jackson's employees? Were you aware that after they 'escaped' they went back?"

The prosecution jumps to object at each of these questions. Their objections are sustained. But the jury's heard exactly what Mesereau wanted them to.

11:50 a.m.: Back from the lunch break, Provencio's still on the stand, and still taking on water. When asked about his recollection, he says, "It's like riding a bicycle—either you remember or you don't remember. Like I remember people's shoes, if they smell, stuff like that."

This may be, start to finish, my favorite quote of the trial.

2:13 p.m.: Provencio steps down. Prosecutor Sneddon admits some more items of evidence, and asks for provisions about admitting some other evidence, but basically ...

2:15 p.m.: THE PROSECUTION RESTS!

After 45 days, 87 witnesses, and at least 600 pieces of evidence, they're done with their case. Only four of those witnesses actually talk about Michael molesting the accuser. And several more of those witnesses are total nutjobs. But what can you do? You argue the case you've got, not the case you wish you had.

Tomorrow morning the defense will move to acquit (here's the motion), on the grounds that the prosecution has presented insufficient evidence. I wouldn't bet on this happening, but some people in the know do seem to think there's at least a chance that the conspiracy-related charges are in trouble. Tomorrow morning we'll hear the arguments, before the jury is brought in to the courtroom. And then, if we still have a trial, the defense will begin its case. That could mean it's time for—the Mac attack! That's right, Macaulay Culkin is expected to be among the first defense witnesses. My mouth is wide open and my palms are pressed to my cheeks.

2:51 p.m.: Michael walks out to his SUV, as a lackey holds an umbrella over his head to shield him from the sun. "It Is Over! It Is Over!" comes the chant from the fans outside. We'll see about that tomorrow.