‘Michael Jackson Conspiracy’ by Aphrodite Jones
Nebraska: Aphrodite Jones Books, XV – XIX, June 1st, 2007
By Thomas A Mesereau Jr.
When I first observed journalist Aphrodite Jones at the Santa Maria, California, Courthouse in the Michael Jackson case, I turned the other direction. I wanted nothing to do with Ms. Jones. The first time my eyes met those of Ms. Jones, I threw her a deep, cold stare. If looks could kill, she was buried.
I associated Aphrodite Jones with an international media juggernaut that was heavily invested in seeing Michael Jackson convicted and destroyed. Never in my life or career had I found myself in the middle of such a crazed, dishonest, and manipulative feeding frenzy. Despite the presence of many honorable journalists, the ghost of profit seemed to overshadow much that was truthful, accurate, and careful.
Approximately one year after Michael Jackson was acquitted, I unexpectedly met Ms. Jones at an art gallery in Beverly Hills to celebrate the publication of a series of sketches of high-profile trials. For the first time, I had a candid discussion with Ms. Jones. I told her that I had watched television during the Scott Peterson trial and observed her aggressively place her head on Defense Counsel Mark Geragos’ shoulder. This appeared on all of the evening newscasts about the Peterson trial and, in my opinion, looked terrible for the defense. Nothing like this was going to happen to me.
Ms. Jones told me she understood completely and greatly respected my style and approach in the Michael Jackson defense. She claimed she was having second thoughts about the way the media treated and reported on the Michael Jackson trial. She even indicated she felt some guilt for the way she had been caught up in the media frenzy to portray Michael Jackson in the worst light possible. Ms. Jones said she was considering writing a truthful book about the reality of the Michael Jackson trial and the distortion of much of the media reporting.
When Aphrodite Jones asked if she could interview me for this effort, I was skeptical. My law partner and co-counsel in the Jackson defense, Susan Yu, was adamant that I have no part of Ms. Jones’ literary efforts. Nevertheless, something told me that Ms. Jones was being truthful, courageous, and professional in her desire to set the record straight about the Michael Jackson defense.
I interviewed with Ms. Jones and reviewed some of the initial drafts of her proposed book. Surprised by her candor and effort to go against the media flow surrounding Michael Jackson and to tell the truth, I agreed to assist, as long the effort came from an honest place. I refused to tell her what to write or how to write it and have no financial or profit interest in this book or foreword. As someone who strongly believes in the power and values of ideas and disagreement, I appreciate views different from my own, as long as they come from a place of integrity, intelligence, and accurate information. In the Michael Jackson case, most media conclusions were shallow, misinformed, and self-serving. I know in my heart of hearts that Michael Jackson was not guilty of any of these grisly charges.
My purpose in writing this foreword is to underscore how important it is to truthfully report the workings of our justice system. For the last fifteen years, American society has been riveted by media treatment of high-profile trials. Television coverage, documentaries, reenactments, television series, movies, and books (both fiction and nonfiction) have found a massive audience when the subject is our justice system. The amount of revenue – literally billions of dollars – that has been generated around the world is staggering. It is critical that professional journalists maintain their values and ethics in the middle of this gargantuan explosion. I believe this did not happen, for the most part, in the trial coverage of Michael Jackson.
When over seventy Santa Barbara sheriffs raided Michael Jackson’s home at Neverland Ranch in November of 2003, I was returning to Los Angeles from a much-needed vacation. I was in the final stages of preparation for the defense of actor Robert Blake, who was charged with murdering his wife. Within minutes of activating my cell phone after a nine-day hiatus, it started ringing off the hook with calls from associates of Michael Jackson. They wanted me to immediately fly to Las Vegas and be his attorney.
I declined the offer because I did not feel I could ethically cover both the Blake and Jackson cases at once. The Blake murder trial was set for February of 2004 and would consume all of my time. I had managed to free Robert Blake from jail in a preliminary hearing, during which every American legal expert said obtaining bail would be impossible. I succeeded in having the conspiracy charge against him dismissed in a subsequent hearing and was able to shift public opinion in his favor after cross-examining the prosecution’s witnesses at the televised hearing. I was positive he would be acquitted.
Three months after being asked to be Michael Jackson’s lawyer, on the eve of the Blake trial, Robert and I had a serious falling out, which the trial judge could not resolve. I removed myself from his defense. Approximately five weeks later, Randy Jackson, Michael’s brother, called me and asked if I would reconsider. I had known Randy for many years, and we had gotten together socially from time to time. I told Randy that I was free and willing to meet Michael Jackson. Randy arranged for me to fly to Florida for this purpose and the rest is history. All of our lives were radically changed by Randy’s request.
Prior to my entrance into the Michael Jackson case, I was appalled by the theatrics surrounding the Jackson defense. His lawyers were traveling to Santa Maria by private jet and appeared to be having too good of a time. Michael was late for his first appearance, marched on top of an SUV for his fans, and hosted a party for the media at Neverland later that day. A meeting of Jackson’s legal and financial advisors, whom local newscasters referred to as Michael’s “Dream Team,” was held at the posh Beverly Hills Hotel. Michael Jackson and his counsel appeared on 60 Minutes with disastrous results, and Jackson’s Nation of Islam security detail was receiving dramatic publicity in the conservative Santa Maria community. I didn’t like any of this.
I chose to tone down everything. I opposed courtroom cameras and supported the trial judge’s gag order and sealing of salacious pleadings. I removed provocative individuals from the defense, either immediately or gradually. Certain people I did not trust were frozen out of key meetings or denied access to important information. My focus was on thirteen people – the judge and twelve jurors. I liked the Santa Maria community, who my instincts told me would be fair to Michael.
The Michael Jackson defense had to cope with three primary challenges: the prosecution, the media, and the legion of mediocre advisors surrounding the vulnerable, innocent Michael Jackson. I am happy to say that we successfully coped with all three hurdles.
The prosecution spent more money and time trying to convict Michael Jackson than any prosecution in history. In the early 1990s, District Attorney Tom Sneddon initiated the convening of two grand juries, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, to investigate and indict Michael Jackson. Both refused to charge Michael with any crime. In the mid- 1990s, Mr. Sneddon traveled personally to at least two countries looking for alleged victims of Michael. He couldn’t find any. Mr. Sneddon arranged for a Web site at the Santa Barbara sheriffs department for information on Michael Jackson and hired a PR firm. This was absurd.
In 2004, a third grand jury was assembled in this case, and Michael Jackson was indicted. The prosecution had nine fingerprint experts in this case – more than I have seen in any death penalty case. The fingerprint evidence went nowhere. They recklessly hired every conceivable expert in areas such as accident reconstruction, computer graphics, DNA, forensic accounting, finance, criminalistics, telephones, acoustics, security systems, child molestation, psychology, pathology, and jury consulting. They pulled out all the stops in an effort to bombard the jury with any conceivable fact that might help convict Michael. This included hiring a jury consultant who had successfully helped the prosecutors convict Timothy McVeigh, Martha Stewart, and Scott Peterson.
One will never really know how much money and how many employee hours were spent by the district attorney’s office. Numerous mock trials were conducted and law enforcement agencies around the world were contacted. Of course, all of this was at the expense of the taxpayers of Santa Barbara, California.
More accredited media from around the globe covered this trial than the total number of reporters who covered the O.J. Simpson and Scott Peterson trials combined. There has never been a trial covered to this extent, and there probably never will be again. Unfortunately, it was believed that enormous sums of money would be made in films, shows, reenactments, and books about the rise and fall of Michael Jackson. However, a conviction was necessary to successfully complete any of these projects. If Michael Jackson had been sent to prison, it would have generated more media coverage than any event in history. Billions of dollars hung in the balance.
Because he is the world’s best-known celebrity, Michael Jackson attracts an endless array of starstruck “wannabes.” These include lawyers and non-lawyers alike. He was constantly subjected to mediocre and shortsighted advice from self-anointed experts about how to defend himself. People were willing to say anything they thought would propel them into the event, and dealing with this sea of fools was distracting and dangerous.
As an illustration, consider the role of the accuser’s mother in the trial. I decided very early that she was going to be a main target of our attack. During my opening statement, I informed the jury that I would prove that the mother had orchestrated these false allegations. Having examined her for three hours in a pretrial hearing, I knew she would be a disaster for the prosecution on cross-examination. I informed everyone associated with the Jackson defense that no efforts were to be taken that might discourage her from testifying for the prosecution. I specifically forbade anyone from reporting her to the Los Angeles district attorney when I learned she had committed welfare fraud. Under California law, she could have refused to testify.
Despite my clear admonitions, certain lawyers, none of whom were going to examine a single witness in the trial, reported her to Los Angeles authorities. As I expected, she then refused to testify, and it took the prosecutors weeks to convince her to take the stand in their case. Had she hung firm, she could have refused any testimony under the United States and California constitutions. This would have dealt a serious blow to our defense.
I do not believe that the lawyers who reported her intended to hurt Michael Jackson. In my opinion, they simply lacked vision and insight. They wanted to be part of the event and tried to appear strong to a vulnerable client. In reality, they didn’t belong anywhere near this case.
Fortunately, I had two exceptional lawyers on my team: Susan Yu and Robert Sanger. Although we all had different backgrounds, styles, and perspectives, we made a good team. Ms. Yu and Mr. Sanger were always focused and driven to see Michael Jackson acquitted. They knew that a team effort was required. No matter what differences we ever had, we always resolved them in a manner which focused on victory. I also regularly consulted with my dear friend Jennifer Keller, a brilliant criminal defense lawyer in Southern California. These are the lawyers who won the case with me.
We also had very professional staffers and assistants. Investigators Jesus Castillo and Scott Ross were outstanding. We kept away from the media and never allowed the lure of stardom to interrupt our focused defense. This was a case where the potential for distraction was everywhere. I had watched lawyers in other cases get carried away with the camera and, in my opinion, they hurt their clients’ interests. Fortunately, that never happened with Ms. Yu, Mr. Sanger, or me.
I have reviewed Ms. Jones’ book and commend her for her efforts. To anyone who wants to learn what happened in the Michael Jackson courtroom, this is the book to read. It explains in clear and moving detail why an innocent, kindhearted musical genius was acquitted by a conservative jury in Santa Maria, California. Justice was done, and I am very proud to have been Michael Jackson’s lead counsel.
Copyright © 2007 Aphrodite Jones Books. Reprinted and/or posted with permission.