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Last Updated: Friday, 3 June, 2005, 19:50 GMT 20:50 UK
Jackson show is cut down to size
By Steven Shukor
BBC News website

Michael Jackson on the roof of his car after his arraignment in January 2004
Jackson's antics threatened to turn the case into an OJ-style circus
For the past 14 weeks, the world's media has been living with Michael Jackson - recording his every move at the Santa Maria court house.

Like some sort of TV reality show, every angle of the pop star's child abuse trial, from his poor health to his bombastic sartorial tastes, has been covered.

It is the sort of microscopic scrutiny of his personal affairs that Mr Jackson, a notorious recluse, has painstakingly tried to avoid.

He did not take the stand - sparing the 46-year-old the embarrassment of being probed about his personal life.

But throughout the trial, Mr Jackson revealed himself - intentionally or not - to be less confident, more frail and more vulnerable than ever.

His muted behaviour since the start of the trial on 28 February is a far cry from the razzmatazz he served up a year ago at his arraignment hearing.

Jackson show

Back then, he arrived at the court in an impressive motorcade of black SUVs, riding seemingly on a crest of support from his adoring fans. The Jackson show was in town.

It was a confident and beaming Michael Jackson, decked in a dark suit and aviator sunglasses, who climbed onto the roof of his people-carrier to flash victory signs and blow kisses to his supporters, even performing a few dance steps.

His walk to the courthouse became a catwalk where he regaled the cameras with a procession of frock coats, jackets, waistcoats, arm bands and regimental medals.

It would not look out of place if the jurors were clutching cartons of popcorn
Peter Bowes, BBC correspondent in Santa Maria

His clothes have been as carefully orchestrated as his defence. He was clad all in white on day one of the trial - a colour synonymous with purity and innocence.

The pair responsible for Mr Jackson's courtroom attire, designers Michael Bush and Dennis Tompkins, explained Jackson loves military details.

"Uniforms demand attention," Mr Bush, who drives to the singer's home at 0600 each day to dress him with the day's outfit - to be worn only once, told the Los Angeles Times.

"They have clean lines, and they fit almost like dance clothes. When we get together with Michael, it's show time."

But Judge Rodney Melville was not going to let the singer dictate his terms. He did not want this case becoming an OJ Simpson-style trial by media.

He banned TV cameras from the hearings and ticked off Mr Jackson for being 21 minutes late for his arraignment hearing.

Bad start

"You have started out on the wrong foot here," an unimpressed Judge Melville warned Mr Jackson.

The bailiff would later remind the press and public that the courtroom was not a "theatre".

But the language of the stage was never far away and the judge himself would refer to the public gallery as the "audience".

Jackson is escorted into the court by aides after injuring his back
The judge was unimpressed with Jackson's late arrivals
"It would not look out of place if the jurors were clutching cartons of popcorn," said the BBC's Peter Bowes at the trial. "A bell rings, the judge enters and the show gets under way."

However, since the beginning of the trial, Mr Jackson's behaviour has been more controlled and less ostentatious. He has given less away.

Commentators say his new legal team may have something to do with this.

But while the showmanship was toned down, Mr Jackson's health - "histrionics" say his critics - became the focus of attention.

The start of the trial was delayed a week after he was taken to hospital suffering from flu-like symptoms.

On another occasion, the judge was told Mr Jackson had been rushed to a local hospital "with a serious back problem".

Unmoved, he issued a warrant for Mr Jackson's arrest and gave him 60 minutes to appear or face jail and the loss of his $3m (1.6m) bail bond.

Ten minutes later, a frail-looking Mr Jackson turned up wearing slippers, a suit jacket over a T-shirt and a pair of blue hospital-issue pyjama bottoms.

'I'm fragile'

Speaking on Rev Jesse Jackson's radio show, the singer explained he fell coming out of the shower that morning.

"I'm pretty fragile - all my body weight fell against my rib cage," he said. "And I bruised my lung very badly."

Michael Jackson outside Santa Maria court house
There is quite a difference between Jackson today and the Jackson on top of his car on his arraignment
Prof Laurie Levenson

Nevertheless, Judge Melville's threat seemed to have had the intended effect.

"He learned to behave himself very quickly after the judge threatened to revoke his bail bond," said legal observer Professor Laurie Levenson, of Loyola Law School, who has attended the hearings.

In court, Mr Jackson was something of a creature of habit, entering the courtroom at precisely 0828 each day.

He would help himself to the bailiff's jar of sweets and kill time during short recesses doing stretching exercises.

During the hearings, he sat still and restricted his interaction to short exchanges with his lawyers.

On the day his accuser Gavin Arvizo took the stand, observers in court said Mr Jackson stared ahead, impassively.

But the emotional demands of the trial coupled with his back injury seem to have worn down the singer as he appeared skinny and pasty.

"He looks very thin," said Prof Levenson. "He looks like he's getting thinner. There is quite a difference between Jackson today and the Jackson on top of his car on his arraignment."

It seems this self-confessed Peter Pan has been forced out of his fantasy world.


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