Dispatches From the Michael Jackson Trial

The Fingerprints on the Girlie Mags
Notes from different corners of the world.
March 26 2005 2:36 AM

Dispatches From the Michael Jackson Trial

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8:30 a.m.: Michael arrives. Today's armband is a gorgeous silk brocade affair that really brings out the pea-green of his face. Speaking of which, there's a band-aid on the right side of his jaw. One reporter speculates that an implant has lost its moorings. Another says she saw a big pimple developing yesterday, under the skin—maybe he popped it too zealously this morning, and needed to stanch the bleeding? I'll try to get an official statement on this.

8:32 a.m. to 9:45 a.m.: The prosecution questions a series of Santa Barbara County employees, all of whom handled the fingerprint evidence (i.e., the porn mags). Basically nothing of interest happens. Lots of discussion about techniques like "superglue fuming" and "ninhydrin tests."

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.

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At one point, a witness says, in response to a technical question from defense attorney Robert Sanger: "I don't know what that means." Sanger replies: "That's a good point." This pretty much sums up the morning.

10:00 a.m.: After the break, I decide I'll check out the "media overflow room." It has a closed circuit feed from the courtroom. Lots of TV and radio people are watching the trial from in here (Court TV's Diane Dimond, for instance), because they need to file reports every 15 minutes. In the overflow room, you can leave and reenter any time you want, without disturbing anyone.

The atmosphere in the overflow room is sort of fantastic. Also, it confirms all of America's worst suspicions about journalists. The reporters are reading newspapers, gabbing, flirting, and only half paying attention to the trial proceedings. Most of their trial-related efforts are devoted to cracking wise. It's like Mystery Science Theater in here—everything said in the courtroom is countered with multiple witticisms from the overflow peanut gallery. Whenever Sanger goes to the podium, it occasions audible groans. (This can't be helped. The man is almost maliciously boring.) Each time a witness gets excused, the room cheers—ever optimistic that the next witness will say something interesting. Or be Jay Leno.

In addition to their gift for weary skepticism, these reporters have an uncanny ability to anticipate when actual, useful information is about to be disclosed. They immediately snap to attention, dissect the new facts to their core, compare notes to get the quotes right, and then sprint outside to call their editors. Some of these folks are actually trial specialists, hopping from one high-profile case to the next. "Hey, didn't we meet at Peterson? Where are you going next?" "Maybe Spector. You?" "Maybe BTK."

10:57 a.m.: The prosecution calls Sgt. Robert Spinner. And the overflow room is psyched. As each new witness was being called this morning, people in the room would say, "Spinner? Is it going to be Spinner now?" Spinner is the guy who'll finally talk about the fingerprints themselves (and which people left them), instead of discussing technique and chain of custody. Now, as the man is finally brought to the stand, reporters are actually yelling, "Spinner! Spinner!"

Things do not start well, as Spinner begins by explaining to the jury what a fingerprint is. "During the second trimester, a fetus will develop distinctive ridges on the tips of its fingers…."

Oy. Still, he's got to dish the real dirt sooner or later. At the next available break, I head back into the courtroom.

11:50 a.m.: And here we go. Spinner ticks off all the identifiable prints they found on the girlie mags. Michael's prints, of course, are all over the place—including on a Penthouse, a Club International, and Playboy Special Editions: Girlfriends. This is not big news, as the briefcase full of porn was seized from his bedroom.

The accuser's little brother left his prints on an issue of Finally Legal. And the accuser handled Al Goldstein's 100 Best Adult Videos.

Then, Spinner testifies that he found prints from both Michael Jackson and the accuser on the same issue of Hustler Barely Legal Hard Core. All the boring fingerprint testimony from the last couple of days has been leading up to this one revelation: MJ and the kid touched the same porn mag.

Well, so what? I'm betting the defense will rip this to shreds. Because fingerprints leave no time stamp. MJ and the accuser kid may well have touched the same magazine—but they also could have touched it months apart. In his opening statement, in fact, defense attorney Mesereau set up this alternate scenario: The two boys snuck into Michael's secret porn stash while Michael wasn't looking. Sounds mildly plausible—enough to plant some doubt within the jury, anyway.

2:15 p.m.: The judge dismisses court a tiny bit early.

Monday should be a blockbuster. First of all, George Lopez will be here. George Lopez! But even more important than the presence of a Latino megastar is the fight over whether to admit prior evidence—from that 1993 episode where a different kid accused Michael of molestation and MJ paid millions to settle a civil suit. If this stuff gets allowed, it could blow open the case.

To my great regret, I won't be here to see the decision. Or George Lopez. I'm leaving Santa Maria. Ta for now, People of the State of California v. Michael Joe Jackson. I must admit I'll miss you, you wacky trial. One can't help but form a sort of dysfunctional family here. The jaded press gaggle. The crazed fans. Leslie the kindhearted bailiff. No-nonsense Judge Melville. MJ and The Mez. Every day we all show up at court together, greet each other amiably, take our seats, and then look at a series of beaver shots. It's a real bonding experience. I wouldn't trade it for an issue of Plumpers.

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