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Toobin: Contrast striking in openings


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CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin
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The prosecution and Michael Jackson's defense team will each present their sides of the story on Monday.
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SANTA MARIA, California (CNN) -- Opening statements Monday in the child molestation case against Michael Jackson variously described the accuser as a victim of the pop star's attempts to corrupt him and as a pawn in an attempt to wring money from the celebrity.

Jackson is accused of molesting the 13-year-old former cancer patient, giving him alcohol and attempting to hold him and his family captive. The self-styled "king of pop" has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer discussed Monday's developments with CNN's senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, who was outside the courthouse in Santa Maria, California.

BLITZER: What did we learn today? How did it go, Jeff?

TOOBIN: To get to the bottom line, Wolf, this was, in a high-profile case, one of the worst opening statements I've ever heard by a prosecutor and one of the best opening statements I've ever heard by a defense lawyer. It was really a striking contrast.

BLITZER: What was so bad about what the prosecutor had to say?

TOOBIN: Well, it was disorganized. It was hard to follow. It was boring. And it didn't really address many of the key issues in the case that were raised immediately and very effectively by Tom Mesereau, the defense attorney.

BLITZER: So he was very good in his defense, in his opening statement. Based on what you learned today -- and you're a close observer of this kind of legal proceeding -- how strong of a case does the prosecution seem to have?

TOOBIN: Wolf, a lot less strong than I thought this morning. I mean, this case very much hangs and rises and falls with the testimony of the accuser and the accuser's family.

And, interestingly, all day long in the courtroom today, the accuser and family were identified by name, which was striking. We, of course, are not using it on the air. But their names were used, so there were no "John Does," none of that. It was all by name.

And what was the touchstone of the defense case was the attack on the accuser's mother, who is very much the instigator of these charges. And the procession of false statements, false allegations, abuse of Michael Jackson's hospitality was really striking and breathtaking.

BLITZER: So this goes right to the credibility of the accusers, the young boy and his mother? Is that what you're saying?

TOOBIN: Exactly. And there was a bombshell right at the beginning of Tom Mesereau's opening statement, where he previewed one of the key defense witnesses in this case, who will be, of all people, Jay Leno, because what Tom Mesereau said to the jury was that the accuser and his family were scouting. They were essentially grifters. They were latching on to celebrities trying to get money from them.

And Tom Mesereau said that Jay Leno spoke to the accuser in this case, and he got a bad feeling. He had a feeling he was being coached by his mother in the background. He didn't like what he was hearing. And he hung up the phone almost immediately. That I think will be a very dramatic piece of testimony.

And what happened, Mesereau pointed to several celebrities who had been approached -- Jay Leno, George Lopez, the comedian. Another comedian, an unfamiliar one to me, gave them $20,000. ... And what he said was, they were looking for a mark, and they finally found one in Michael Jackson.

BLITZER: What happens now? The opening statements, I guess, are completed. What happens tomorrow?

TOOBIN: Well, not yet. Tom Mesereau ... will finish his in the morning. And it appears that the first witness will be Martin Bashir, the British documentary host and broadcaster who was the anchorman and the interviewer in the infamous -- or famous --documentary that ran in February 2003.

Another very interesting fact that came out today was -- you know, the prosecution's theory of the case is that, when this interview ran, it created panic in the Jackson environment, for good reason. That's when the DA began its investigation. The media descended. The children's protective services in Los Angeles, they were investigating.

What the defense pointed out, which the prosecution tried to sort of get around, was that the abuse in this case was alleged to have taken place after all these investigations started, that the two allegations of abuse only took place after all these people were investigating -- which is peculiar, to say the least.

In fairness, a lot will depend on the word of the accuser, and we haven't heard from him yet. And if the jury believes him, it's a good case for the prosecution.


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