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The Michael Jackson Trial

Ruling could limit celebrity testimony

Judge rejects character witnesses in Jackson case

Michael Jackson
Crime, Law and Justice

SANTA MARIA, California (CNN) -- The judge in Michael Jackson's child molestation trial issued a ruling Wednesday that could discourage the defense from bringing in the singer's famous friends to vouch for his character.

Saying "character is not an issue," Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville said prosecutors should be allowed to present witnesses countering testimonials to Jackson's good character if the defense offers them.

Prior to the trial, the defense offered a witness list with 366 names, including a number of celebrities with little apparent connection to the case other than the capacity to vouch for Jackson. Among the names were Elizabeth Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, Diana Ross, Barry Gibb and Deepak Chopra.

Defense attorney Robert Sanger Wednesday told the court the defense has "pared down its witness list," and he said the defense case would not last as long as anticipated. However, he did not give a time frame for when the defense would rest.

The prosecution -- arguing that the defense had already crossed the line into raising issues of character -- wanted Melville to allow them to offer rebuttal witnesses and evidence. Melville turned down that motion, saying the defense had not yet strayed into that territory.

However, the judge warned defense attorneys that the prosecution testimony might become admissible if they decide to offer character witnesses. He also said he would consider requests for character testimony on a case-by-case basis, and the defense would have to justify why each witness was necessary.

In its court motion, the prosecution said that in order to rebut testimony about Jackson's good character, it wanted to bring in testimony about other young boys purportedly molested by Jackson, which had been excluded earlier in the trial.

Prosecutors also wanted to let jurors hear about an incident where Jackson dangled his own son, Prince Michael II, from a hotel balcony in Germany in 2002, arguing that it showed he had been "reckless in his care and treatment of his own children."

Another piece of evidence the prosecution wanted to present was a television interview in which Jackson's sister, LaToya, said she saw a payment of $1 million made to the family of a boy "for purposes of buying silence," according to the motion.

LaToya Jackson has since recanted the public doubts she expressed about her brother and has been supporting him, even making an appearance at the Santa Maria courthouse during the trial.

Melville also ruled Wednesday that he would hold a hearing outside the presence of the jury before he allows testimony by CNN host Larry King, who has been called as a defense witness, in order to determine what areas of questioning would be permissible.

Sources have told CNN that King is expected to take the stand Thursday.

The defense wants to call King in an attempt to counter the testimony of Larry Feldman, a civil attorney who represented the family of Jackson's accuser prior to the criminal case.

Under cross-examination by the defense earlier in the trial, Feldman said he had never made statements to third parties about the credibility of the accuser's mother, or the veracity of their claims.

According to court documents in the case, the defense contends that Feldman made such comments during a breakfast meeting at which King and another man, Michael Viner, were present. Viner has also been called as a defense witness.

Also Wednesday, Melville made another ruling likely to cut down the length of the trial, refusing to allow the defense to call two J.C. Penney security guards involved in an altercation with the family of Jackson's accuser in 1998.

The family sued the retailer after that altercation, alleging that they had been assaulted, and they received $155,000 in a settlement, according to earlier trial testimony.

The defense, which contends that lawsuit was an effort to reap a financial reward with false allegations, wanted to present the guards' testimony to counter the version of events given by the accuser's mother earlier in the trial.

Sanger said it was "critical" testimony that went to the family's "modus operandi."

But the prosecution urged Melville not to go down the road of "relitigating" the civil case in the middle of Jackson's trial, and the judge agreed.

Jackson, 46, was indicted last year on 10 felony counts for incidents that include a lewd act on a child; conspiracy to commit abduction, false imprisonment and extortion; and the use of an intoxicant before the commission of a felony. Jackson pleaded not guilty to the charges.

CNN's Ted Rowlands and Producer Dree De Clamecy contributed to this report.

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