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Jackson trial focus questioned

Use of magazines may backfire, analysts say

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- Michael Jackson's child molestation trial has started to look like an X-rated show, complete with lurid magazine covers of topless women projected on a large screen in the courtroom.

The prosecution intended from the outset to haul Jackson's reading materials before jurors, implying that he used the magazines to arouse boys.

But Jackson is on trial for allegedly molesting a teenage boy, not for his taste in magazines.

''They want the jury to get the sense of Michael Jackson as a pervert who doesn't live by the rules and is obsessed with sex," said Laurie Levenson, a former prosecutor and professor at Loyola University Law School. ''But this could backfire."

Jackson's lawyer, Thomas Mesereau Jr., might cast it as a desperate ploy to distract from sometimes contradictory testimony by the accuser, Levenson said. And jurors might question why a battalion of deputies had to scour Jackson's enormous library for books that his accuser might never have seen.

The exhibits that have been splashed on the screen in recent days include commercially available magazines such as ''Barely Legal" and ''Penthouse."

The boy and his brother said they saw this type of magazine when they were in Jackson's bedroom. In one case, they said, they found the publications on their own while poking through Jackson's belongings.

Now, the prosecution is having a hard time showing that Jackson and the boy handled the magazine together -- an important premise of the case.

On Friday, the defense noted that only one magazine submitted in court has a single fingerprint each from Jackson and his accuser. And that magazine was shown to the boy on the witness stand during grand jury hearings and was not tested for prints until after the grand jury returned an indictment.

Prosecutors insist the boy did not put his fingerprint on it at the grand jury. But fans of the television show ''CSI" -- and there are some on the jury -- might wonder why the tests were not done earlier.

Meanwhile, the pile of pornographic material grows larger. Sheriff's deputies who raided Jackson's estate in November 2003 have paraded into court, each identifying some item they found -- a magazine, a videotape, a DVD, an art book -- and describing where they were found.

Some legal specialists question whether the focus on Jackson's magazines can bolster the narrative the prosecution had been telling -- that the boy, a young cancer survivor, sought the company of the pop star he idolized, only to have that trust shattered by a pedophile.

''It sounds like a distraction, but as a trial strategy you can't keep the jury distracted forever," said Los Angeles attorney Steve Cron, who has tried molestation cases.

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