8:22 a.m.: Michael’s looking much better this morning. For one thing, he’s walking unaided. Which is always a plus. Also, his armband today is especially pretty—silver with a rich red stripe.
8:37 a.m.: The prosecution questions “comedian” Louise Palanker. I’d never heard of Louise Palanker until she was called to the stand yesterday afternoon, which suggests she’s not a wildly successful comedian. Nonetheless, I’m hoping she will sprinkle her testimony with racy zingers. Perhaps a punchline or two about what’s underneath Judge Melville’s robe?
Sadly, all humor potential is snuffed as Palanker describes her relationship with the accuser. She first met the boy at a comedy camp for underprivileged kids. Later, she visited his home—a one-room apartment with mattresses thrown on the floor, shared by the five members of his family. After the kid got cancer, Palanker generously gave his parents $10,000 to help with living expenses.
And this is where the story turns scuzzy. Two weeks after the dad received that generous check, Palanker says, he asked her for more money. She gave him another check for $10,000, stressing that this second gift would have to be the end of it. Yet he just kept asking her for money. All the time.
Palanker, on the surface, would seem to be a defense witness: She describes a pattern wherein the accuser’s family harasses celebrities for money (she says George Lopez was enraged by them, and Jay Leno demanded they stop calling him). So, why is she testifying for the prosecution?
The key is her careful distinction between the kid’s mom and dad. In Palanker’s view, the mom is a “loving, caring person” who doesn’t ask people for money. Meanwhile, she maintains, the dad is a scumbag who beat his wife, exploited his kid’s cancer for personal gain, and shakes down celebrities for cash at every turn.
This is a crucial point, because the father was out of the picture for good before the kid ever went to the Neverland Ranch. The defense wants to paint the mom, who accompanied the kid to the ranch, as a vicious gold-digger who latches onto famous people. But Palanker suggests that these previous sketchy incidents were entirely the dad’s doing, not the mom’s.
9:32 a.m.: Cross begins with a bang, as defense attorney Thomas Mesereau asks this bombastic question (the quote is approximate, as recording devices aren’t allowed in the courtroom): “Ms. Palanker, did you know that [the accuser and his mom] sued J.C. Penney stores, and that [the mom] said that J.C. Penney security guards pulled her breasts out of her blouse, and squeezed her nipples 20 to 25 times?”
Yow! That’s a whole lot of nipple squeezing. The prosecution objects (I forget on what grounds—maybe excessive nipple imagery?), and the judge disallows the question.
9:45 a.m.: Morning break. As I’m strolling back to the courthouse, I hear screams emanating from within. A woman shouts, “Michael! Michael!” at the top of her raspy lungs, over and over for minutes on end. A bystander says he saw her collapse to the ground and then shriek when guards touched her. According to local columnist Steve Corbett, of the Santa Maria Times, this woman is a fan whom he previously wrote about in his column. He quoted her claiming that she has maintained “total chastity” for the last eight years as she awaits her (in her view, inevitable) marriage to Michael Jackson. Whom she has never met.
Why don’t women ever feel this way about me? What does MJ have that I don’t? Is it the stylish armband? The 27-inch waist? The private petting zoo? Tell it to me straight, ladies, I can take it.
These fans who show up day after day are fascinating. How can people be so profoundly moved by a pop star—a man they’ve never even spoken to? Yes, Michael Jackson is among the most famous people on earth. But he is not the Messiah. He’s not even particularly charismatic. The buzz of sitting in the same room with him—less than 20 feet away from him, in fact—wears off almost immediately. I sometimes forget he’s there, until I catch a glimpse of him blowing his nose or something, and think, “Hey, that’s Michael Jackson blowing his nose!” and then in the very next moment think, “Um, so what?”
10:03 a.m.: Mesereau resumes his cross examination. He’s impressive to watch. I’m not sure I’ve heard him stutter once in the past two days. This morning, he’s really giving it to Palanker. My favorite Mesereau move is when he starts with the “Surely you’re not telling the jury X!” and “Certainly you wouldn’t have us believe that Y!”
After Palanker says she didn’t know she was being tape recorded during a police interview, Mesereau begins pretty much every subsequent question with “In this conversation, which you weren’t aware was being tape recorded …” In one sense, he’s reminding the jury that, because she didn’t know she was being taped, her comments might be considered more candid and truthful than her current testimony. In another sense, this is pure theater. He says it so many times that courtroom observers are grinning at each instance.
Were I under cross from Mesereau, I’d be afraid to answer anything. Yet as terrifying as The Mez is (“Certainly, Mr. Stevenson, you’re not telling the jury that you’ve nicknamed me ‘The Mez’!”), I’d be even more scared of Robert Sanger—the defense attorney who sits at Mesereau’s right elbow.
Sanger never says a word (at least he hasn’t since I’ve been here). He just dreams up twisted, evil mousetraps for the witnesses. Each time he devises a new one, he scribbles a few words on a Post-it note and then silently sticks the note to the edge of the podium where Mesereau is standing, right in his line of vision. Mesereau will glance down at the Post-it for a moment before asking his next diabolical question.
I like to think there was one note that simply read: “Nipple Squeezing?”
11:30 a.m.: Court ends. Apparently, Judge Melville has an afternoon obligation.
Michael walks out of the courthouse into a gray and rainy day. He disappears into his black SUV, off to the comforts of Neverland.