The Year in Infamous Criminal Cases

"We've heard many cases referred to as 'The Trial of the Century' every couple of years. Michael Jackson's trial just might be that," said Carlson. "The media coverage is going to be massive."

Jackson, 46, has denied molesting a now-14-year-old boy who spent time at his Neverland ranch.

Jackson has been dogged by controversy ever since he was first accused in a similar scandal in 1993. Jackson, who denied any wrongdoing, settled a civil suit brought by the boy's family, and criminal charges were never filed.

Observers will look to put many long-running questions to rest.

"Will a case where Michael Jackson is accused of child molestation actually make it all the way to trial? Will he finally be forced to face one of his accusers in a court of law?" said Bloom. "Will the prosecution's case stand up? These are all questions that will be answered."

Both prosecutors and Jackson's defense team appear ready for a very contentious trial. Santa Barbara County, Calif., prosecutors want jurors to hear evidence of Jackson's alleged past wrongdoing and argue that these alleged acts show a pattern of behavior. The presiding judge is expected to hear arguments and rule on that issue before opening statements.

Meanwhile, sources say Jackson's defense plans to attack the credibility of the alleged victim and his family, claiming that the boy's relatives are making false accusations to get a monetary settlement.

"Even though juveniles historically have been protected by the cloak of anonymity, even so they are going to be scrutinized closely when they come up against a celebrity defendant who is both rich and powerful," said Carlson. "Adult complainants may undergo more scrutiny, but even young alleged victims aren't immune."

Highly Anticipated 2005 Docket

Other cases that have generated national headlines will be closely watched in 2005.

The trial of former "Baretta" TV star Robert Blake in the 2001 shooting death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, has begun, and that case may finally be resolved in the early months of 2005. Former NBA star Jayson Williams is scheduled to be retried for reckless manslaughter in the 2002 slaying of a limousine driver. Last April, a jury acquitted Williams of the most serious charge, aggravated manslaughter, but deadlocked on reckless manslaughter.

Eric Rudolph, who is accused in the 1996 Olympics bombing in Atlanta and eluded authorities for five years before his capture in 2003, could face trial in May for the bombing of an Alabama abortion clinic. And producer Phil Spector could face trial for the shooting death of an actress who was found dead in his home in February 2003.

Other defendants tentatively scheduled to go on trial in highly publicized cases in 2005 include:

Alejandro Avila, accused in the 2002 abduction and killing of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion in California.

Mark Hacking, accused of murder in the July 2003 slaying of his wife, Lori, in a story that drew early comparisons to the Peterson case.

Gary Hirte, charged with first-degree murder in the alleged "thrill-killing" of a teacher in Wisconsin.

Brian David Mitchell, accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart from her Salt Lake City home. It has not yet been determined if he is mentally competent to stand trial.

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., accused in the kidnapping and slaying of University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin.

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