Dispatches From the Michael Jackson Trial

The Inscrutable Jurors and the Pudgy Superfan
Notes from different corners of the world.
March 25 2005 12:31 AM

Dispatches From the Michael Jackson Trial

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7:35 a.m.: BJ the pudgy superfan is here in front of the courthouse again, standing on his ladder and yelling. He waves around a DVD copy of Captain EO as he chants, "We love Captain EO! Captain EO is innocent!"

BJ's become a real fixture here. Everybody knows his name. And his story: He moved here from Tennessee during jury selection just so he could hang around the trial and offer his undying support to Michael. Sadly, yesterday—during one of the breaks—BJ got kicked out of the courthouse. The rule is that fans can't talk to Michael inside the building but can respond if Michael initiates a conversation. According to BJ, Michael said, "I love you," so BJ of course responded, "I love you more!" The guards felt that Michael had not actually invited this outpouring from BJ, so BJ got the boot. He's permanently barred from the courthouse now. But he can still stand out here on the sidewalk and scream his lungs out.

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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I'm poised to ask BJ about his Sony conspiracy theory (he has a placard that says "SONY IS BEHIND ALL OF THIS! DO THE RESEARCH!") when a couple of cops from the sheriff's department walk over and do the job for me. "So, tell us about the Sony thing you've done all this 'research' on," goads one of the cops, grinning from behind cop sunglasses.

BJ takes the bait and explains that "THEY" found checks from Sony that were made out to the accuser's family. "Sony wants Michael to go bankrupt so he'll sell them the other half of the Beatles catalog," says BJ matter-of-factly. The cops don't look convinced.

8:26 a.m.: Michael arrives in court. Armband: a sumptuous cardinal red, matching both his shirt and his lipstick.

8:37 a.m.: Dr. Cantu, the Secret Service fingerprint scientist, remains on the stand. Defense attorney Robert Sanger is handling the cross, and it's my first real glimpse of him in action.

Frankly, I wish he'd remained a silent partner. The Mez is so much smoother and more entertaining. While Mez (his gray mane flowing) will reel off question after question without a misstep, Sanger (who is balding and fat) peppers his phrases with uhhhhhhs and often stops to reconsider his words in the midst of a sentence. He condescends to witnesses—when he's not arguing with them. He's just awful at all the performance aspects of lawyering.

It now occurs to me that The Mez is by far the most charismatic person in the room—he has more star power, within this context, than Michael Jackson.

9:23 a.m.: The prosecution calls Lisa Hemman, who works as a fingerprint specialist in the sheriff's department. She analyzed the porn-filled briefcase that was seized from Neverland. The prosecution shows a picture of this notorious briefcase, photographed with its lid open. Inside we can see the stack of girlie mags, with a Barely Legal on top and, peeking out from just beneath it, something called Double Dicking Caroline.

Hemman is here to link these magazines, through fingerprint analysis, to both MJ and the accuser (or at least the accuser's little brother). If she can, it will corroborate the kids' claims that Michael showed them porn.

Of course, the defense is having none of it. Sanger's bringing in the Madrid bombing case, in which FBI fingerprint analysts totally screwed the pooch (they linked a print to some blameless shmoe from Oregon, who was taken into custody). Sanger gets Hemman to admit that fingerprint analysis is "subjective" (though she says she prefers to call it "applied science").

As best I can tell, the Santa Barbara County cops are competent professionals who used standard procedure. Yet Sanger wants the jury to doubt that their results have any value at all. Not because the cops deliberately skewed the evidence, but because fingerprint science is too inexact.

I realize that fingerprint identification is an imperfect art. I agree that we shouldn't accept every fingerprint match as the gospel truth. But we need to have this fight at a national level. I mean, one of the jurors is a horse trainer. Another lists his job as assistant head cashier. It makes zero sense to me that we're asking these people to assess the validity and accuracy of modern fingerprint techniques. It's flat-out crazy.

As for the jurors: I've been trying to get a bead on them, but they're inscrutable. Even yesterday's big-screen beaver shots didn't provoke much reaction.

I was on a jury once (it was a murder trial, in fact), so I know just how surreal the experience can be. For weeks on end, you listen to the testimony. Much of it is stimulating and edifying. And you start to develop lighthearted, collegial relationships with your fellow jurors. Until the testimony ends. Then suddenly, the defendant's life is placed squarely in your hands. You're expected to argue over his fate—and not stop arguing until one position wins out. Everything gets deadly serious. You doubt your own judgment at every turn. Trust me, it's not worth the $50-a-day stipend.

12:49 p.m.: The prosecution calls Heriberto Martinez, Jr. He testifies that he took Michael Jackson's fingerprints at a Santa Barbara county jail.

12:54 p.m.: Sanger cross examines Martinez. All this dude said is that he took Michael's fingerprints. That's it! It's not a new or complicated process, and the prints were taken in the controlled conditions of the county facility. Yet Sanger is questioning Martinez's training and credentials.

This is what happens when a phalanx of top-flight defense attorneys spends 24 hours a day on a single case. Nothing goes unchallenged. And the trial lasts forever.

2:36 p.m.: Michael leaves the courthouse and pauses to make a statement: "I'd like to say hello to the people of Santa Maria—my friends and neighbors."

Awww. I'd also like to say hello to the people of Santa Maria. Hello, little punks at the cineplex Tuesday night who kept talking and giggling all through The Ring Two. Hello, woman at the courthouse snack bar who wildly overcharges me for bananas and soft drinks (I know you've upped your prices since the MJ thing began, you gouger).

Tomorrow looks like a full day of testimony from fingerprint technicians. I'm prepared for this to redefine my concept of "boredom." Wish me luck.

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