Previous similar allegations against Michael Jackson and doubts about the credibility of the accuser and his family will be key in closing arguments in the "King of Pop's" molestation trial, legal analysts say.
After slightly more than two months of testimony, closing arguments are expected to begin today in the trial of Jackson, whose defense rested Friday. Jackson, 46, is accused of molesting a now-15-year-old boy, who spent time at Neverland ranch and appeared with him in the 2003 British documentary "Living With Michael Jackson."
Jackson has pleaded not guilty to 10 charges that include felony conspiracy with 28 overt acts involving child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. His defense has argued that the alleged victim and his family made up the allegations in an attempt to get money.
The prosecution ended its rebuttal by showing jurors a 2003 videotaped interview with the alleged victim -- the first interview he had with law enforcement officials -- where he tells investigators that Jackson molested him. The singer's attorneys then surprised courtroom observers by resting -- they had indicated they would recall the accuser and his mother.
Both sides have been unable to gain a decisive edge and have left lingering questions about their cases, making final arguments even more critical, analysts said.
"The challenge in final arguments will be for each side to pull the jury to their bedrock themes," said ABC New legal analyst Royal Oakes. "For the prosecution, personal eyewitness testimony that Michael Jackson molested a young cancer patient. For the defense, the mountain of credibility problems surrounding the accuser, his family and Jackson's ex-employees."
Linking an Alleged Bad Past Pattern to the Present
Santa Barbara County Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen will be giving closing arguments instead of head district attorney Tom Sneddon, who the defense has said has a vendetta against Jackson because of Sneddon's involvement in the 1993 molestation investigation on the singer. Experts say prosecutors will have to emphasize the testimony that Jackson molested or behaved inappropriately with five other boys, including two youngsters who reached multimillion-dollar settlements with the singer in the 1990s. Jackson was never criminally charged for those allegations and has always denied any wrongdoing.
Prosecutors have argued that Jackson has demonstrated a pattern of bad behavior. The prosecution has suggested that Jackson won the trust of his current accuser, who was 13 at the time of the alleged molestation, by showering him with lavish gifts and accommodations. The singer then took advantage of the boy after showing him adult magazines and Web sites and serving him wine, which he referred to as "Jesus juice," prosecutors allege.
Experts said the prosecution's closing arguments should focus primarily on past allegations and the similarities in stories told by the current accuser and past accusers or witnesses to alleged misconduct by Jackson.
"In closing arguments, it will be up to the prosecution to tie everything together -- the past allegations [against Jackson], the prior bad acts, everything -- to the current case," said California-based defense attorney Steve Cron.
Rehabbing the Accuser's Credibility
Prosecutors may have attempted to rehabilitate the current accuser's credibility when they showed the video during their rebuttal. Some courtroom observers described the video as emotional; others said it was not necessarily devastating to Jackson's defense, which could explain the decision to rest after the prosecution's rebuttal case.
"What the defense did was [it] basically said, dismiss it. I'm not going to dignify it with a response," said former prosecutor Susan Filan. "It's so menial. It's so nothing. It's so coded, so scripted, so unbelievable. I've already so impeached this boy through my cross-exam and through my defense witnesses, I don't even need to go there."
During the prosecution's case, various former Neverland employees testified that they saw Jackson behave inappropriately with other boys. The defense pointed to inconsistencies in their accounts, and suggested that some of them -- former maid Adrian McManus and former bodyguards Ralph Chacon and Kassim Abdool -- had motive to lie because they were part of a failed civil suit against Jackson and were ordered to pay him more than $1 million for costs and legal fees. McManus, Chacon and Abdool all acknowledged they sold their stories to a supermarket tabloid and that the proceeds were used to help pay their legal fees.
In closing arguments, Jackson's defense is expected to once again cast doubt on the credibility of these witnesses. However, experts said, they will focus especially on the credibility of the accuser and his family, particularly his mother.
The accuser testified that Jackson masturbated him on two occasions. However, during cross-examination, attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. pointed out various inconsistencies in his account of the alleged molestation. The alleged victim also admitted that he told a school official after the documentary aired that "nothing happened" between him and the singer.
Mesereau accused the boy and and his family of making up the allegations after they met with attorney Larry Feldman, who represented the 1993 accuser. The boy denied telling Feldman about his claims against Jackson.
Defense Dissects Credibility of the Family
Mesereau also cast doubt on the credibility of the accuser's siblings.
The boy's sister testified that Jackson served her and her brothers alcohol and held her and her family virtual hostages of Neverland after "Living With Michael Jackson" aired. But the defense showed a video made after the British documentary -- and the alleged abuse -- that shows family members praising Jackson. The sister said the praise was coerced.
The brother -- the only claimed eyewitness to alleged molestation -- told jurors he saw Jackson fondle his brother. But the cross-examination showed inconsistencies in the boy's accounts. The brother also admitted that he lied in a deposition for a civil lawsuit against J.C. Penney and Tower Records in which the family received a settlement of $152,000.
No witness' character was challenged more by the defense than the accuser's mother. She testified about Jackson's alleged conspiracy to hold her and her family hostage so they could make a rebuttal video. Court observers described her behavior and testimony as sometimes bizarre, often erratic, rambling and combative.
Various defense witnesses portrayed the mother as a welfare cheat who exploited her son's illness to contact celebrities and live lavishly off Jackson. A welfare worker testified that the mother did not reveal that her family had received the six-figure settlement before she filled out an application for public assistance.
In the J.C. Penney lawsuit, the family accused store guards of roughing them up after the boy left a store with clothes that had not been paid for. But a paralegal at the law firm that handled the lawsuit said the mother told her the injuries she claimed to have received were inflicted by her then-husband. An accountant told jurors that Jackson paid $7,000 in shopping, dining and other expenses for the family during the time they said he allegedly held them hostage.
Just before the mother took the stand, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville told jurors that she had invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination on perjury and welfare fraud allegations. Sneddon had said in opening statements that the mother would admit she took welfare payments to which she was not entitled.
"The defense is going to say that the family of the accuser has a history of fraud, of deception, of lying under oath in both prior lawsuits, on welfare applications and then trying to target other celebrities to try to get money," said ABC News legal consultant Dana Cole.
Lingering Potential Problems
Still, both sides face lingering questions that they may have to address.
Former child star Macaulay Culkin and Wade Robson and Brett Barnes -- two other young men who were friends with Jackson in their youth -- were among the five boys the prosecution alleged Jackson had molested or behaved inappropriately with in the past. But all three denied that anything inappropriate happened.
"I'm not sure how prosecutors can address that in closing arguments," said Ronald Carlson, a professor at the University of Georgia School of Law. "I could see them saying that anyone who may have been molested may have difficulty admitting to something like that, that they would feel humiliated. But the $64,000 question may be how do they explain what happened with Debbie Rowe?"
In his opening statements, Sneddon told jurors that Rowe, Jackson's ex-wife and mother of two of his children, would testify that her praise of the singer as a father and humanitarian in a video was "completely scripted."
"Debbie Rowe will tell you her interview also was completely scripted," he said on Feb. 28. "They scripted that interview just like they scripted the [accuser's mother's] interview."
But Rowe told jurors her videotaped statements were not rehearsed. Rowe did concede she had not been completely truthful, including in her praise of the singer's parenting skills. But she called Jackson "a great person and a great father" and said some of his associates were "vultures" who were trying to exploit him.
Rowe was not the only witness whose testimony did not follow what prosecutors may have expected. Former videographer Hamid Moslehi, who made the rebuttal video, said he did not see the accuser and his family work from a script, memorize lines or see anyone tell them what to say. Flight attendant Cynthia Bell testified the accuser -- to the surprise of some courtroom observers -- was disruptive, unruly and ill-mannered, and said that it been her idea, not Jackson's, to serve wine in soda cans. Other witnesses have contradicted Bell, however.
"They've [prosecutors] clearly shown that Michael Jackson likes sleeping [in the same bed] with young boys," said Cole. "But these unusual pajama parties may not be enough proof. It really becomes a question of, did he really molest this particular kid?"
Some Jackson Witnesses Fall Short
Not all of Jackson's witnesses lived up to defense expectations, either, experts said.
Jackson's attorneys wanted "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno to illustrate their argument that the alleged victim and his relatives are grifters who have approached celebrities to get donations and to live lavishly. In his opening statement, Mesereau indicated that Leno would testify that the boy and his mother asked him for money in what he believed was a scam.
Leno testified that he received several phone messages from the alleged victim and was suspicious because the boy's admiration of him seemed "overly effusive" and scripted. But he also said the boy and his mother never asked him for money and he never sent them a donation. Comedians George Lopez and Louise Palanker also denied that the boy and his family tried to get money from them.
Some experts believe that jurors still may be uncomfortable with the idea that Jackson had sleepovers and spent so much time with young boys. Robson and Barnes helped Jackson but some legal experts say jurors may be bothered by the number of times they said they slept in the singer's bed.
The defense, some experts said, did not effectively refute emotional testimony given by his 1990 accuser, who received a reported $2.4 million settlement in 1994; his mother; and the mother of the 1993 accuser. (The 1993 accuser, who reportedly received more than $20 million from Jackson, did not testify. The judge ruled that jurors would not hear the monetary amounts of the settlements.)
The defense argued these accusers and their families all benefited financially from the molestation allegations and that they were all out for Jackson's money. But some analysts said that argument does not really explain the monetary settlements.
"From the defense's standpoint, they may feel they have disproved three out of the five prior [molestation] allegations, four if you count the current boy," said Carlson said. "But statistics have shown that the rate of convictions in cases like this go up once testimony of prior similar allegations is admitted. You don't need all five allegations to win a conviction. Oftentimes, you just need one."
Ultimately, the issue for jurors in Jackson's case will be credibility -- which side's witnesses are most believable. And it will not be an easy task for jurors, experts said, given the twists and turns in the case.
"Witness after witness has flipped us and flopped us," said Filan. "Now each side needs to put their total case together and let the jury step back and see it and have them be persuaded that their version of the story is the one to believe."
ABC News Radio contributed to this report.