First money, now clash of faiths clouds pop sex case
Prosecutor Tom Sneddon knows all about rich people, presiding as he does over the opulent California coastal town of Santa Barbara – a sort of Beverly-Hills-on-Sea.
Yet not even he foresaw the clash between the powerful forces of money, media, race and now religion that would erupt after seven charges of sexually molesting a boy of 13 were brought against the world’s most famous entertainer.
Michael Jackson‘s multi-millions, his telegenic lawyer, the struggle for public sympathy and now the intervention of a militant black Muslim group have grossly distorted what is a legally straightforward case.
Money’s corrosive role came to the fore last week over the $1m that CBS television network allegedly paid Jackson to deny publicly the allegations. It was an extraordinary development for a man accused of paedophilia to appear on US television’s top-rated show.
Race and religion were added to the mix with the resignation of his PR spokesman over the involvement of the Nation of Islam – the black-separatist group providing bodyguards for Jackson. In a carefully worded statement, the sect denies an ‘official’ connection to the singer, but its anti-Semitism – leader Louis Farrakhan has called Judaism a ‘gutter religion’ – has upset Jews in Jackson’s entourage, including two financial advisers.
It was a Jackson financial adviser who told the New York Times last week that the singer received a $1m payment from CBS.
The station denied giving Jackson an extra $1m for a special show televised on Friday – the earlier denial interview on the network’s current affairs programme 60 Minutes was a condition of the screening.
Religion is not yet at the forefront of the story, but a clash of faiths between key participants is becoming clear.
Jackson’s legal team has accused Sneddon of harbouring malice over a failed prosecution of Jackson in another child abuse case 10 years ago. He denies this, but does have strong religious morals; he was educated at the Catholic stronghold of Notre Dame University in Indiana and has nine children.
Jackson’s religious affiliations remain mysterious. He was and perhaps still is a Jehovah’s Witness. Firpo Carr, who wrote A History of the Jehovah’s Witnesses From a Black Perspective, defending the church’s much-criticised history of racism, claims to be his spiritual adviser.
Another Jackson supporter is black civil rights advocate, Najee Ali, an orthodox Muslim, as is Jackson’s older brother, Jermaine.
Both have demanded an investigation into Jackson’s claim that Santa Barbara police dislocated his shoulder while he was in custody, but sheriff Jim Anderson had in any case demanded one himself. The attorney general agreed and, if police are cleared, Anderson says he will charge Jackson with false reporting of an officer.
Jackson’s accusations of police brutality have brought relief to Sneddon, who had for weeks endured a campaign by Geragos and the Jacksons to discredit him.
In the end Jackson blew apart his own claims. In the 60 Minutes interview he said he could not raise his arms above the shoulder, but minutes later he was scratching his head. A tape of Jackson in custody recorded him saying he felt ‘wonderful’ and he exited the police station waving to fans, both arms above his head.
Sneddon may also have a further advantage from the molestation case abandoned in 1993 when Jackson gave a Beverly Hills family a reported $20m legal settlement. The prosecution would dearly love to hear the testimony of the boy – now 23 – who was gagged by the settlement.
But there exists a 1993 deposition by the boy that depicts similarities in Jackson’s behaviour as described to TV journalist Martin Bashir by the boy in the present case. He alleged that, when he declined to sleep in Jackson’s bed, the singer accused him of not loving him – the same allegation made by the boy in 1993.
The damage to his credibility by the apparent falsity of his police brutality charges makes him a risky witness in his own defence. The prosecution could raise doubts about his honesty – vital to a successful not guilty plea, which he is expected to make formally at his first court appearance on 16 January.
Without his evidence, closed testimony from the boy and no cameras, it might make a strange ‘trial of the century.’