1. LESSONS FROM THE MICHAEL JACKSON TRIAL
by Anne Melani Bremner
"Any case properly prepared and tried can be won."
Hon. Jack P. Schofield, Ret., from our firm's "Schofield and Stafford" era.
The Michael Jackson case was won by excellent preparation and lawyering by Thomas
Mesereau (who was nothing short of "mesmerizing"). The trial ultimately became a three-
ring circus-the circus outside of court, a circus inside the court and a circus in the mind of
the accuser's mother, who ultimately became the fulcrum of the trial and the downfall of the
prosecution. The netherworld of the Neverland trial can be instructive to trial attorneys
PART 1: WHY THE PROSECUTION LOST
Finding Ne ve ria nd- The Beginning of the End and the End of the Beginning
"I can't help it if I wanted to" Michael Jackson Off the Wall.
The Prosecutor Was Too Personally Involved - Finding Neverland.
The overzealous prosecution of the Michael Jackson case can be compared to that of the
prosecutor in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables- Thomas Sneddon's near obsession with Michael
Jackson invoked images of Inspector Javert's pursuit of Jean Valjean. Like Javert, Sneddon
seemed willing to chase Michael Jackson to the ends of the earth, regardless of the
substantive bases for criminal charges. For example, Thomas Sneddon executed over 100
search warrants at the Neverland Ranch in Los Olivos, California. Compare that with a
handful of search warrants that were executed at the Parker Ranch in connection with
Charles Manson's multiple and horrific homicide charges. During the course of the trial,
Thomas Sneddon displayed several hundred images of legal pornography depicting women
that had no bearing on the pedophilia charges. Sneddon also tried to make Michael Jackson
out to be an evil monster when in fact, at worst, he was a troubled pedophile (if one were to
believe the prosecution charges). Finally, Sneddon laughed and scoffed and gloated during
public statements about Jackson. Everyone in Santa Barbara County and the Valley knew
that Thomas Sneddon had been pursuing Michael Jackson for well over a decade without
success prior to this prosecution.
Michael Jackson actually wrote a song about Tom Sneddon that translated to "Tom Sneddon
is a Cold Man." Fans sang it every day outside of court, and displayed pictures of a devil-
horned Tom Sneddon and pictures of Michael Jackson as the Messiah.
Despite attacks on Sneddon's personal involvement by the defense and motions that he
actually try the case (apparently so they could attack him further), Sneddon stayed front
and center in the prosecution of the case.
2. The Opening Statement - Nightmare in Neverland.
"You gotta be starting something." Michael Jackson, Thriller
It has been stated that 800/0 of all jurors make up their mind in opening statement and do
not change their minds, regardless of the evidence produced at trial with respect to their
initial conclusions. Thomas Sneddon's opening statement was disorganized and weak. It
contained personal attacks, and had virtually no visual aids. The prosecution did not get a
pretrial ruling from the Court on 1108 pedophilia pattern evidence such that they could
make sense of that evidence prior to the introduction of evidence. My colleague at CNN,
Jeffrey Toobin, opined that Thomas Sneddon's opening statement was the worst that he had
ever heard. Many publicly agreed.
The "Mother of All Mothers - the Attempted Extortion of Peter Pan by a
Family of Actors and Con-Artists"
"You'd do anything for money. "
Money, Money, lie for it, spy for it, kill for it, die for it." Michael Jackson, "Money" from
The defense successfully argued that if you cannot believe this family beyond a reasonable
doubt, you must acquit. And the reason that the jury acquitted, for the most part, was
because they did not believe the accuser's mother, nor did they believe her family. The
mother was only called to testify to support the conspiracy counts (which were
demonstrably weak). Had she not been called to testify, the resulting acquittal might well
not have ensued. The mother took the Fifth Amendment before the jury on Perjury and
Welfare Fraud. On direct examination, she snapped her fingers at jurors, asking them to
pay attention to her, and accusing them of not doing so. (Remember Juror Number 5
paraphrased the reactions of the jurors in the now infamous sound bite: "Don't snap your
fingers at me, Lady"). When asked about how she would have escaped from Neverland,
and whether that would be via a hot-air balloon, she snapped, "That's just one of the ways."
She quibbled about whether she was allowed during the time that she was allegedly falsely
imprisoned to have a "full body wax," or whether it was a partial body wax. She admitted
that she had access to the police during the time of false imprisonment, and left the ranch
on many occasions. She wanted to go to Rio De Janeiro with Michael Jackson, traveled with
him, accepted his gifts, and used his credit cards. She saw no evidence whatsoever that
her son was being molested by Michael Jackson. She filed a false claim against J.C.
Penney, alleging that she had been sexually assaulted by them and beaten, and was paid
$165,000.00 by them. She failed to report this money to the welfare authorities while she
was receiving full welfare. She lied on welfare forms under penalty of perjury. She lied
under oath during the course of the J.e. Penney case, saying that her husband never beat
her, and then during the course of her dissolution alleged under oath that her husband had
beat her. She caused her children to lie, saying that at least one was molested by their
father, and told a paralegal in the firm that assisted her that she lied and had her children
lie. She told the paralegal that if the paralegal were to repeat that to anyone, she "would
be killed by the Mexican mafia." She said she wanted her children to be actors and
actresses, and that she needed to help get them money through Michael Jackson. She also
made newspaper appeals for money for her son's cancer treatment, when in fact that
treatment was covered by insurance. The newspaper editor testified that she believed the
mother was a con artist. She also got money from celebrities such as Masada, George
Lopez and Louise Palanker, purportedly for cancer treatment, and spent it on herself. She
even took money from charitable sources meant to benefit her cancer-stricken son, and
3. spent it on a breast augmentation and a tummy-tuck for herself. To gain sympathy and
money, she claimed to many that she lived in a barn with chickens. Michael Jackson
arguably was just the next extortion target in a series of many from a woman who "had
always relied upon the kindness of strangers," not unlike Blanche Dubois in Tennessee
Williams' Play, "A Streetcar Named Desire."
A videotape was played six times during the course of the trial, during the mother's
testimony and the testimony of her children and of other witnesses, that was created during
the time of the alleged false imprisonment. In it, the mother and children waxed eloquent
and rhapsodic about Michael Jackson: "He is our father-we lived as a family off of a box of
cereal and he rescued us." "Jackson is God." This family would have had to be Academy
Award-winning actors to have falsely praised Jackson in this manner. This video was made
at the same time the child welfare authorities interviewed the entire family, when the entire
family denied any molestation whatsoever.
A Trail of Tainted Witnesses
"I don't trust anyone except for my mother, and I don't trust her half the time." Michael
Never has there been such a parade of tainted witnesses (save for potentially disorganized
crime cases). The prosecution called witness after witness against Michael Jackson who:
(i) had sued Michael Jackson, (ii) owed Michael Jackson millions of dollars from jury
counterclaim verdicts against these witnesses who had been found guilty of stealing from
Michael Jackson, (iii) had sold their stories to the tabloids, and (iv) had been fired by
Michael Jackson. It was an incredible parade of tainted witnesses.
Three witnesses for the prosecution took the Fifth, including a travel agent who was accused
in a federal investigation of unlawful surveillance and profiting of Jackson, and a former
employee of Jackson who robbed a Jack-in-the-Box during the course of the trial and ended
up in custody in Las Vegas.
1108 Pedophilia Pattern Evidence Was Mishandled and Mispresented-
"Make or Break 1108."
"Once a Pedophile, Always a Pedophile"
Of the five alleged other victims, the one "victim" who did testify for the prosecution was
not believed by the jury. His mother had sold her story to the tabloids. He had not
disclosed the molestation until the time of trial. The jurors were overheard laughing
purportedly after hearing his testimony, "He tickled me, Michael Jackson tickled me, boo
Very little evidence was presented during the course of the trial, other than that the legal
pornography (which the defense successfully argued could not be called "pornography").
There was little evidence pertaining to other victims (again, the defense was able to
successfully argue that the word "victim" could not be used during the course of the trial).
McCauley Caulkin, like other alleged victims, sang Michael Jackson's praises, and denied
4. The Prosecution Did Not Their Witnesses:
"There was blood on the Dance Floor." Michael Jackson "Blood on the Dance Floor" from
the CD History in the Mix.
The mother's testimony was a disaster for the prosecution. Thomas Sneddon sat in the
front row of the courtroom with his head in his hands while she testified.
The most ill-prepared witness was Deborah Rowe, the former wife of Michael Jackson. She
testified that Michael was a wonderful father, that there was no conspiracy in the case save
for one against Michael Jackson where he was the victim: a conspiracy of opportunistic
vultures who make money off of making him look bad and taking advantage of his naivete
and childlike trust. She also testified that the prosecution was overreaching, that Michael
Jackson was wonderful with children, and that he was a child at heart. Even after she went
to dinner with the prosecutors, the next day her testimony was even worse for the
prosecution, and she slammed their case every chance she got. She characterized all of the
prosecution's co-conspirators of Jackson people who made millions and millions of dollars off
this case by pointing a finger at Jackson.
The accuser and his siblings were not prepared to testify. In fact, the accuser was caught in
many demonstrable lies while on the stand, and forgot important facts that had been
outlined in opening statement. In California, the jury is instructed, "If you find that is
witness had willfully lied before you, you are entitled to disregard all of their testimony." At
the end of the day, the jurors requested a read-back of the accuser's testimony, and found
that he had lied willfully before them, so they disregarded all of his testimony. Once the
case was gutted thusly and by the mother's lack of credibility (wherein the jury found that
she was a liar who caused the children to lie on multiple occasions, including in the
accusations against Michael Jackson), the game was over.
The prosecution introduced the Martin Bashir documentary. This allowed the defense to
introduce the outtakes, thereby putting forth sympathetic "testimony" of Michael Jackson,
where Michael Jackson did not have to take the stand and face the rigors of cross-
examination. At the outset of the trial, the prosecution introduced Martin Bashir's
documentary wherein Michael Jackson said that he shared his bed with children, and it was
not sexual, and it was ignorant to believe that he had sexual interest in children. In this
documentary, Jackson is shown holding hands with the accuser in this case. However, on
balance, the documentary had more to offer the defense than the prosecution. First, it
contained footage of Michael Jackson singing everything from Thriller to his hits from his
childhood Jackson Five days. Michael Jackson was not only tapping his foot, the jurors were
tapping as well. And, it allowed the defense to put outtakes of Michael Jackson before the
jury, where he explained his view of the world and this case. He stated that he was the
patron saint of children, that he loved children, that it hurts to be him, that he is
misunderstood, that he is taken advantage of, that he loves only animals and children
because they understand him, etc., etc. This "testimony" was not cross-examined.
The prosecution did not fi out enough in the course jury selection
"Michael Jackson is just like us." - Juror Number 5
In any high-profile case, the prosecution should find out the jurors' attitudes about the
instant case. The prosecution can simply give the jurors a sheet of paper and ask them to
record everything they have ever heard about the case. If this is done, the prosecution can
glean from the answers whether those jurors have any kind of attitude for or against the
5. prosecution in the underlying case. In addition, in this case, the prosecution did not find
out enough information about whether these jurors intended to write books about the case.
We now know that five jurors wanted to write books, and one was working on a book deal
during jury selection. This of course will influence the way jurors vote in a case. Wanting
to write a book it generally means they are siding on the side of the celebrity.
The Prosecution did not Combat the "Hopeless but not Serious" Factor-the
Neverland Celebrity Animal Party and Pajama Day.
"Life doesn't imitate art, it imitates bad TV." Anonymous
The trial throughout was in many ways was just plain funny. Starting with the parade of
comedians who testified for the prosecution on Jay Leno- George Lopez, Jaimie Masada,
and Louise Palanker - and ending with Michael Jackson's description of wanting to have a
"celebrity animal party" for his chimp Bubbles and for Cheeta, Lassie and Benji the dog.
The judge himself was funny, and kept the jury in stitches throughout the trial. The
problem is when the entire trial is truly funny, the seriousness of the charge can be lost.
Many opined that Michael Jackson showing up in his pajamas one day was devastating for
the defense. I always said on the air that I thought it was brilliant, and great for the
defense. This is because he looked cute. These were not Hugh Hefner pajamas with
slippers, these were little kid pajamas with little-where one could imagine bunny-slippers.
There he sat before his mom and dad in front of the jury wearing his pajamas all day. Of
course, every night on Jay Leno there was something about Michael Jackson, including one
night when Leno showed up in his pajamas, his Sponge Bob T-shirt and slippers,
accompanied by an umbrella carrier.
Michael Jackson's personal magician, "Majestic," was in the courtroom, together with all
kinds of fans in funny outfits who voiced responses to the testimony. Outside of court,
there were Michael Jackson impersonators with umbrella holders and Michael Jackson
puppets. The Daily Show aired a spoof on the trial, as did Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel, on
an almost-nightly basis. On the day Jay Leno testified, he later joked in his monologue that
he had stolen the judge's gavel. The next morning, when the judge took the bench he
looked around the courtroom and queried "has anybody seen my gavel?" The jury erupted
into gales of laughter, evidencing the fact that they had watched Leno the night before (and
probably throughout the trial).
Michael Jackson's cause was helped by amusements ranging from his chimpanzees "chimps
- those chimps, you know they love snacks" to throwing popcorn and pop on Macaulay
Caulkin and riding go-carts with lO-year-olds, to entering on the red carpet every day with
an umbrella holder and an entourage and fancy costumes. Because of the mother of the
accuser's family had attempted on numerous occasions to bilk money from legions of
comedians who testified in the case, culminating with the testimony of George Lopez, where
each of the comedians basically did standup comedy on the stand in front of the jury.
A reporter from New York and I had just one gesture at each other during the course of the
trial, which was to throw our arms up and say "whee," because it was all about carnival
rides, comedians, celebrity animal parties and crazy happenings inside and outside of court.
Robert Musil had a wonderful line in "The Man Without Qualities": "It is hopeless but it is
not serious." That really describes the Michael Jackson trial: it was a circus. It wasn't
really a tragedy as it was presented to the jury, it was a comedy.
6. The Prosecution Had Too Many Misfires in the Twilight Zone of the Michael
"Let the circus begin." P.T. Barnum
nTake a look at yourself and then make a change." Michael Jackson "Man in the Mirror"
Watching the prosecution was like watching misfire after misfire as witness after witnesses
stated the opposite of what was anticipated by the prosecution. And, the prosecution did
not present a systematic case or consistent themes to the jury. It appeared that they just
decided to "throw it all up there and see what happens," and by virtue of their attitude of
indignation and arrogance, convince the jury of the facts about which they were convinced
that would lead to a conviction of Michael Jackson. The prosecution also failed to
understand that the burden of proof is far higher when one is prosecuting a celebrity, and
that the jury will want, in this day of CSI programs, some concrete evidence upon which to
hang their hat if they are to convict a celebrity. There was no such corroboration and
physical evidence, nor was there corroboration and believable testimony.
During my briefings as legal expert by the International Press during the course of the trial,
my most consistent quote was Dorothy Parker's "what fresh Hell is this," as each day
brought more misery for the prosecution during the presentation of their case in chief.
The Prosecution Bored the Jury
nGh Baby give me one more chance" Michael Jackson, "I want you Back" from "The
Trials should be theater, but they shouldn't be bad theater. In what only can be described
as reminiscent of the O.J. Simpson trial (the prosecution's presentation of DNA, other
evidence, and testimony from medical examiner), this prosecution team spent day after day
on minutia of telephone records and fingerprint evidence. They also bored the jury by
presentation of irrelevant pornography and other evidence. It was shocking that when the
prosecution did go through all the foundational requirements for the introduction of
evidence, they just continued it for day after day to where the foundation of the evidence
was completely undermined. And, when they would bring in bag after bag of evidence and
go through the "chain of custody" in front of the jury (instead of having that done pre-trial
or by stipulation), they never did open the bags to show the jury what was in them. I put in
my notes during those days "it's in the bag," and it never came out. Even male-based
"pornography" was not shown to the jury during the prosecution's case in chief. Lessons
were not learned from the O.J. Simpson trial by these Southern California Prosecutors.
Next - See Part 2: Why The Defense Won