Staring Directly Into Jacko's Famous Face

Dispatches From the Michael Jackson Trial

Staring Directly Into Jacko's Famous Face

Dispatches From the Michael Jackson Trial

Staring Directly Into Jacko's Famous Face
Notes from different corners of the world.
March 22 2005 12:38 AM

Dispatches From the Michael Jackson Trial

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6:30 a.m.: The sun's barely up and already a pudgy, floppy-limbed teenager named BJ waits outside the Santa Maria courthouse. His mesh-backed baseball cap says "MJ Innocent." He carries a placard ("SONY IS BEHIND ALL OF THIS! DO THE RESEARCH!"), and he's brought his own stepladder to shout from. There's a blue armband around his bicep.

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.

"Do you know why Michael wears an armband?" he asks the girl standing next to him, out of the blue. "Michael says he's going to wear the armband as long as there is even one hungry child left in the world."

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Fascinating. I had long wondered about this armband thing. Now I want to ask about Sony's nefarious role in the case, but BJ is busy chanting, "Fuck the press, Michael's the best! Fuck the press, Michael's the best!"

8:12 a.m.: Lead defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. arrives in court. Soon after, he takes a series of cell-phone calls and begins to look agitated. MJ's late again.

8:36 a.m.: A hush descends as the King of Pop enters the courtroom, six minutes late. He is not looking good. MJ shuffles up the aisle in a haze, moving as slowly as one can while still maintaining forward momentum. He's leaning against a security guard for support.

As he passes me (I'm seated on the aisle, so he's literally 6 inches away) two things happen: 1) He stops, teeters, lists heavily to the right, and seems on the verge of collapsing in a heap; 2) I look, for the first time, directly into that famous, refashioned face. From this close, I was sure I'd see jagged, splotchy grafts that didn't quite take. Perhaps some sort of concealed titanium support structure. But it turns out his face skin still looks reasonably coherent and unified. Disappointing.

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8:37 a.m.: After another near fall, Michael slooooooooowly settles into his chair at the defense table. Then he dabs at his face repeatedly with a large white cloth.

8:39 a.m.: Oops, the drama's not over yet. Michael is getting up again, this time with the aid of two people (one at each elbow). He stagger-shuffles back down the aisle and again pauses 6 inches from my shoulder.

"It's the left side that hurts," Michael whispers to his bodyguard. Michael is pointing at the right side of his abdomen. "The right side?" asks the bodyguard. "The right side, the right side," whispers Michael.

Let me explain just how strung out and godawful Michael looks:

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One evening, several years ago, I swallowed two Vicodin in the midst of getting deeply drunk. Then I woke up in my bathtub. I'd passed out while trying to pee, and my fall had snapped the soapdish clean off the shower wall. After staggering to my feet, I caught a wobbly glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror.

I looked better than Michael looks this morning.

9:13 a.m.: Michael's back, the jury is seated, the court is in session. A detective takes the stand to answer mostly boring questions about his search of the Neverland Ranch.

10:36 a.m.: The prosecution calls Dr. Anthony Urquiza, a psychology professor. Urquiza explains a theory called "Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome." It was first put forth in 1983, and it blew away common misperceptions about abuse. For instance: Contrary to popular belief (and popular films and books), children are rarely abused by strangers. It's far more often someone the child knows.

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Another misperception, highly relevant to this case, is that when abuse happens the child will run and tell someone right away. Urquiza says 75 percent of victims won't say anything for at least a year. When they do disclose, they often give a confused account. Kids will contradict themselves or change their stories. Not only are they not used to keeping track of dates and times, they also feel shame and embarrassment, which makes it hard to talk. For boys who are abused by men, Urquiza says, there's the added fear of being called a "homo."

The prosecution, wisely, has attorney Ronald Zonen conduct this line of questions. Zonen's voice is gentle, like an NPR host's. He's much better suited for this delicate topic than hard-charging lead attorney Tom Sneddon. But it's still a squirmy time for everyone in the courtroom. When you strip away the celebrity and the circus—which is what a lot of people are here for—this case is about a little boy who may or may not have been molested.

10:54 a.m.: Mesereau begins his cross. He immediately asks how much Urquiza is getting paid for his testimony ($175 an hour). Then he asks, again and again, about the phenomenon of false abuse allegations. Does it happen? Urquiza says yes, but adds that it is exceedingly rare. But does it happen? Yes, it happens.

Mesereau's favorite weapon is the long, hypothetical question that closely mirrors the case at hand. This way, he can suggest a story without needing to prove it. It goes something like:

Mesereau: "What if, hypothetically, a cancer-stricken child was given money by a world famous celebrity, and he started calling the celebrity 'daddy,' and then the celebrity wanted to break things off, but the mother was an evil harridan who urged the child to make up a story about sexual abuse? Could that happen?"

Urquiza: "I have not seen any studies on the specific phenomenon of false abuse allegations regarding world famous celebrities and cancer-stricken children. But yes, I suppose that scenario is possible."

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Urquiza is actually a very strong witness and never seems to fall into Mesereau's traps. He's always perfectly calm. Sometimes, he'll even get intrigued by a tough question and enjoy puzzling over it. By contrast, the detective earlier today was easily baited and kept getting thrown off his stride.

1:48 p.m.: The prosecution calls Lauren Wallace, a luxury-charter-jet stewardess, who tells us: 1) She hid mini liquor bottles in airplane lavatories, so Michael could sneak swigs from them; 2) she would empty Diet Coke cans and fill them with wine for Michael (possibly so he could drink without his children knowing); 3) MJ likes Kentucky Fried Chicken—for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. "Everybody has different likes," says the blond, busty Wallace. On her way out of court she makes a point to smile at Michael.

2:30 p.m.: The day ends. As Michael walks out, reporters shout questions at him. Are you on medication, Michael? "Yes. By way of the doctor." Are you in pain? "Very much in pain."

Michael shuffles 30 yards and is helped into a black SUV. He's joined in the car by his family and by a friend whose identity is unclear. The press gaggle speculates that he may be a magician named Majestic the Magnificent.

Just another day at the trial of the century.