During pretrial hearings that resume Monday, the defense has been waging a campaign to suppress evidence from two searches, claiming one sweep of Jackson’s Neverland estate was overbroad and unjustified and another at a private investigator’s office invaded the attorney-client privilege of confidentiality.
Meanwhile, defense lawyers have shrewdly used the inquiry to discover information through questioning of key witnesses, including the stepfather of Jackson’s accuser, who admitted demanding money for the boy’s family to appear on a video tribute to Jackson’s kindness.
The testimony had little to do with either search but did appear to bolster a key defense contention likely to be raised at Jackson’s upcoming trial – that he could have been the target of a shakedown for money.
Loyola University Law School Professor Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor, said the defense brilliantly manipulated the hearings into “a preview of coming attractions.”
“Even if they were to lose the motion to keep out evidence, they have gained a great deal,” she said. “They put the prosecution on the defensive, and they’ve raised the idea of police incompetency and conspiracy which has worked so well in other cases.”
Ironically, amid all the accusations of misconduct, including a difficult day on the stand for Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon, the public still doesn’t know exactly what items the two sides are arguing about.
In a case fraught with secrecy, search warrant affidavits are sealed and witnesses speak only in vague terms about videotapes and other data seized in searches at the private investigator’s office and at Jackson’s massive ranch.
“It’s a bit of a question just how important the evidence is,” said Levenson. “But given the fight that’s going on,it must be important. This is a major battleground.”
Jackson, 45, is charged with committing a lewd act upon a child, administering an intoxicating agent and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.
He has pleaded not guilty and is free on $3 million bail. Trial is set for Jan. 31.
Steve Cron, a defense attorney and adjunct professor of law at Pepperdine University, wondered if the material being debated is worth all the trouble.
“I doubt there will be a smoking gun anywhere,” he said, noting that Jackson had been represented by attorney Mark Geragos before authorities swept in and searched his Santa Ynez Valley estate.
Geragos should have suspected that a search warrant might be issued and would have told Jackson to be prepared, Cron said.
He believes that if there is something significant, the defense will have a hard time excluding it. “My experience has always been that the more important the evidence is, the more judges will try to justify the search,” Cron said.
Members of Jackson’s staff who were on the property testified that they tried to stop deputies from entering buildings not specified in the warrant but the search went forward anyway.
The defense will argue that violated the law and whatever was seized should be thrown out.