Michael Jackson Case: The Witnesses
FEBRUARY 17--While the sexual molestation case against Michael Jackson relies heavily on the lurid and highly detailed accounts provided by the alleged teenage victim and his younger brother, a Santa Barbara grand jury last year heard testimony from other witnesses--several of whom worked closely with the embattled singer--that appears to corroborate many key aspects of the children's accounts of their troubling relationship with Jackson.
However, in what would be considered a plus for the defense camp, no witness--with the exception of the accuser and his brother--testified to ever seeing Jackson act inappropriately toward children. And since some of these 41 witnesses were close to the performer--including his round-the-clock bodyguard and Neverland's longtime house manager--this lack of independent corroboration of the boys's molestation claims reflects a key weakness in the prosecution case.
In addition to testimony from Jackson aides and business associates, the 19 grand jurors were also presented with surveillance videos and a tape of a secretly recorded telephone conversation, powerful evidence that could support prosecution claims that Jackson and his cohorts conspired to threaten and falsely imprison the accuser and his family (see "Search. And Destroy?" sidebar at right). The Smoking Gun has reviewed sealed police and court records--including the 1903-page transcript from last year's grand jury proceeding--that detail how District Attorney Tom Sneddon and fellow prosecutors methodically sought to buttress testimony from the boys, their sister, and mother.
While the brothers are the only witnesses to the four acts of molestation charged in the Jackson indictment, grand jurors heard damaging testimony from Jackson insiders, most of which served to flesh out details of the alleged conspiracy to silence, extort, and falsely imprison the accuser, then 13, and his family. Highlights of the grand jury presentment included:
* A California cop who moonlighted as a Neverland Ranch security guard told of seeing a written directive ordering that the accuser not be allowed to leave the 2800-acre property. The directive, posted in the estate's security office, came during the period in which investigators allege the boy and his family were imprisoned at Jackson's estate.
* An ex-bodyguard who testified that his job was to shadow Jackson 24 hours a day, said that one afternoon he discovered the teenage accuser drunk. When he confronted the boy and told him he should not be imbibing, the child replied, "Well, I can handle it. Michael said if I can handle it, it's okay. It's part of being a man." Jackson has been charged with four felony counts of providing booze to the accuser, a cancer survivor who lost his spleen and a kidney to the disease.
* Jackson's former house manager testified that the accuser and his family were held against their will at Neverland and that two of the singer's top aides told him that the boy's mother "wasn't allowed to leave the property." He also noted that the alleged victim and his brother, then 11, slept almost every night with Jackson in the singer's bedroom.
* A public relations expert hired to handle crisis management chores for Jackson testified that one of the singer's lawyers was "absolutely gleeful" when he told of plans to smear the accuser's mother as a "crack whore."
* A corporate flight attendant testified that Jackson was "secretive about his drinking" and rejected spirits she delivered in a "fluted crystal stem." Instead, the singer wanted his wine served in a Diet Coke can, which the woman emptied and refilled in the privacy of a Gulfstream bathroom. The alleged victim has testified that Jackson provided him wine concealed in a Diet Coke can on several occasions, including one cross-country trip staffed by the flight attendant.
* A second attendant, who worked 18 Jackson flights, also told of the entertainer's principal travel request: "The first one is--the white wine in the Diet Coke can."
* Corroborating accounts from the accuser's family, a school administrator testified that he chased away a man videotaping the alleged victim outside his Los Angeles middle school. Investigators determined that the thuggish surveillance agent--who tailed the accuser and his family after they left Neverland for the final time--was working for a private investigator hired by the Jackson camp.
What follows are recaps of significant grand jury testimony given by witnesses likely to appear during the prosecution case against Jackson (the individual questioning of prospective jurors, the voir dire process, began yesterday).
Of the 16 law enforcement officers to testify before the Jackson grand jury, 15 were part of the Santa Barbara investigative team targeting the pop star. But Brian Barron (pictured at left) surely had the most intimate knowledge of Neverland Ranch. That's because Barron, a patrol officer and K-9 handler with the nearby Guadalupe Police Department, has worked as a part-time security guard at the estate since 1997, when he was a police academy trainee.
After providing an overview of the property's security setup during his April 2004 testimony, Barron was asked by prosecutor Gordon Auchincloss about a directive posted in the Neverland security office in early-2003. Barron testified that a message on a whiteboard notified guards that "[the accuser] is not allowed off property." Asked if that was the first time a Neverland guest "was not allowed to leave," Barron answered, "Yes." He added that, during the week or so that the directive was posted, had the child tried to leave the property, "we would not have opened the gate" without first getting permission from a security supervisor or the ranch manager.
Barron, who testified that he never saw Jackson act inappropriately with young boys, was not asked whether he ever questioned the directive (though as a cop he might have been expected to wonder what right Neverland brass had to issue such a detention order).
After meeting Jackson at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, Christopher Carter left the Strip in August 2002 for a temporary security gig with the King of Pop. After a trial run, he was hired full-time and would eventually, according to his grand jury testimony, "pretty much stay with [Jackson] 24 hours a day" until he quit Neverland in August 2003.
During that year's employment, Carter testified, he observed Jackson entertaining the accuser, his brother, and three minor siblings of aide Frank Cascio in his office. Carter said the group watched movies as they sat around a table filled with glasses of wine (though Carter testified that he did not see the children drinking). But Jackson, he testified, would tell kids that he called wine "Jesus Juice," explaining that, "Jesus drank wine, so we shall be more like Jesus."
Carter also recalled an encounter with the tipsy teenage accuser, who was planning to drunkenly pilot a golf cart around the Neverland property. "I was like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa,'" Carter recalled, adding that when he told the child the should not drink, the boy claimed that Jackson told him if he could handle the booze, it was okay to drink. In police interviews and grand jury testimony, the child said that, despite his illness, Jackson encouraged him to drink, saying that the alcohol would relax him.
In addition to his booze recollections, Carter reported that Jackson secretly monitored telephone calls placed by Neverland visitors. "He has a machine inside his room, and pretty much he can pick up his phone any time he wants and listen on any call inside the ranch," Carter testified, noting that Jackson "showed me a tape of when he had did it." Carter added that he once walked into the singer's bedroom when "one of the kids" was eavesdropping on a call.
This account dovetails with the accuser's grand jury testimony. The boy told the panel that Jackson demonstrated how the eavesdropping device worked and said that the entertainer "would like to listen to the security guards talking to their girlfriends and stuff." Both the accuser and his brother told sheriff's investigators that the listening device was used to monitor their mother's phone calls during the month-long period the family was held at Neverland in early-2003.
Like Barron, Carter testified that he never saw Jackson inappropriately touch anyone.