A California judge on Thursday rejected a bid by Michael Jackson’s lawyers to remove the district attorney from the pop star’s child-molestation case, saying that there was no proof the prosecutor had acted improperly or overzealously.
Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville ruled during a pretrial hearing in the central California city of Santa Maria that Jackson’s lawyers had failed to prove a conflict of interest or bias on the part of District Attorney Tom Sneddon.
“If he appears excessively zealous during the trial, I will see that it is taken care of,” Melville said in rejecting the motion, which legal experts had seen as a long shot. Jackson and his famous family skipped the hearing.
Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau argued that Sneddon had become so determined to convict Jackson that he had “lost his sense of justice” and bore a grudge against the singer that stretched back to 1993.
That year Jackson reached an out-of-court settlement with the family of a boy who had accused him of molestation.
Mesereau said Sneddon had improperly inserted himself in the current case by meeting one-on-one with the mother of Jackson’s young accuser and conducting surveillance on a private investigator working for the defense.
By doing so, Mesereau said, “He interjected himself into this case as a witness and he will be one (at trial).”
He added that Sneddon’s had exhausted more resources on prosecuting the case than those typically employed against serial killers, pointing out that more than 70 sheriff’s deputies participated in a search of Jackson’s Neverland Valley Ranch.
With Sneddon sitting quietly in court, Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen defended his boss, saying that the veteran prosecutor had been fair. He also rejected defense claims that the case against Jackson was prompted by a controversial British documentary in which the singer defends his practice of sleeping with children.
“It began because a 13-year-old child revealed to a therapist in Los Angeles that he had been molested by Michael Jackson,” Zonen said, adding that those claims were subsequently confirmed by the alleged victim’s brother.
Zonen also defended the number of sheriffs used during the 18-hour search of Jackson’s ranch, saying there were “thousands of objects of interest” on the 2,800 acre property.