15 June 2005

Jackson trial: CyberShrink comments

A jury has cleared pop star Michael Jackson of child sex abuse and other charges. Health24 asked CyberShrink to take a peek into the mind of 'a deeply weird person'.

Many people have asked me to comment on this bizarre series of events. But it's difficult to comment on cases such as these. We're urged not to discuss details of guilt or innocence while the case is still in the court, and as soon as it's over, public interest wanes quite quickly.

But the episode illustrated many different points of general interest and significance.

That Michael Jackson has become a deeply weird person, nobody seems to doubt. I believe it's actually rather dangerous to become so rich and "famous". You are able to buy a lifestyle where nobody is ever able to say to you "Hang on a minute! That's daft!" or "Why on earth would you do X?"

When you can surround yourself with people who say, "Yes" and "You're marvellous", whatever you say or do, rather few of us would have the strength to remain levelheaded and sensible.

According to some reports, Jackson may be running into bankruptcy from buying any kind of junk he fancied, without anyone able to say to him: "Are you sure you can afford that? And do you really need that?" Unless you have strong internal guidelines and principles, you need some input from others that isn't automatically accepting and unchallenging.

Being weird not a crime
Being hugely weird isn't a crime. But he has the continuing problem that he has been seen on film, almost boasting of sleeping with little boys in his bedroom, and insisting that it's "sweet". This is something any normal adult will continue to remember. And we'll fail to find anything at all "sweet" about it.

His ownership of adult porno magazines suggests that he is not devoid of sexuality and sexual interests (so much for the self-serving claims that he's a latter-day sexless "Peter Pan"). It's really hard to imagine that he has deliberately chosen – even after several previous episodes of problems arising from this bad habit – to spend so many nights sleeping with little boys for entirely non-sexual reasons. And there was no evidence to suggest any other credible motivation for this odd compulsion, or for his unpleasant habit of licking little boys' head hair.

From the reports we saw of the testimony, the allegations by the boys seemed credible, and not the sort of elaborate, over-the-top exaggerations one might expect if the complaints were being invented to extort money, as the defence seems to be claiming.

And the mother of the main accusers, who almost single-handedly wrecked the case for the prosecution, seemed so comprehensively cuckoo, disorganised and unable to give straight answers, that it is hardly possible to imagine her concocting the allegations and enabling her children to deliver reasonably consistent and coherent versions of any story she fabricated.

Dubious claims of ill health
What astonished me is that there seems to have been no disciplinary measures taken over the very dubious claims of ill health on the part of Jackson. In my experience, it's extraordinarily rare for a judge to accept the claims of a defence lawyer of what he says his client said (mere hearsay) when a person is claiming to have been significantly ill – without insisting on live testimony or at least a formal written report from the doctor(s) concerned.

With the first major episode, I noticed that the doctor seemed to have been extremely cautious, not diagnosing flu, or anything else, but merely saying that Jackson had complained of "flu-like symptoms". In my experience, such a medical report implies strong scepticism or disbelief on the part of the doctor. And in the later, pyjama episode, there also seemed to have been no formal medical report at all. This certainly isn't proper evidence. Were these mainly attempts to gain sympathy?

It seems impossible to believe that any small hospital would keep anyone waiting four to seven hours or more in casualty, especially not someone like Michael Jackson who is famous and rich and known to be due in court. And isn't it strange that Jackson doesn't have a private doctor who deals with such matters, rather than repeatedly waiting in line at a local cottage hospital?

There were several odd incidents, such as a report that he was suffering from dehydration; and the repeated complaints of excruciating back pains, though he didn't move like a person with severe backache. He moved more like a heavily sedated zombie, not showing the sort of posture and precautions familiar to those who have had bad backaches. He explained that he fell out of the shower, injuring his ribs, which really isn't the same thing.

Also, after his arrest, when he was hand-cuffed, he insisted that he had dislocated his shoulder and couldn't lift his arm at all – a claim that was promptly contradicted when he effortlessly and painlessly lifted his hand to brush back his hair.

No expert witnesses called in
The judge also allowed the jury to be given psychological evidence by proxy by the defence lawyers, without having any expert witnesses called in to explain and defend the far from accurate interpretations that were strongly pushed onto the jury. These were not issues that should have been accepted by a court on the basis of lawyer hearsay, but needed expert evidence on both sides.

There is some basis for courts to be sceptical of some of the psychobabble evidence that some psych "experts" offer in court, but this is at least open to challenge and cross-examination. Why reject such evidence, but allow psychobabble as long as lawyers, as an assertion, and without any basis or support, offer it?

For instance, the child complainants were criticised in two completely contradictory ways. The defence pilloried them for being "inconsistent" whenever their account of events given on one occasion differed at all from the version they gave on some other occasion. Yet at the same time, they suggested that the children's evidence should be disregarded for having been created and coached by their scatty mother as if it has been prepared, rehearsed and memorised. So we were supposed to ignore them when they were either consistent or inconsistent!

In fact, I would expect a reasonable amount of inconsistency, and would consider it significantly suspicious if their stories were exactly the same each time they spoke of these events.

Court not curious enough?
The court was also much less curious than I was. For instance, one witness's evidence was challenged on the grounds that Michael Jackson apparently has a special alarm system set up in his home, so that a bell rings in his bedroom when anyone approaches it. I didn't hear anyone ask why such an extraordinary precaution was considered necessary.

As the room is within grounds heavily protected and guarded, it's hardly just a simple safety precaution. And it didn't seem to have been a precaution supplied in other areas of the house. But it would be highly convenient if, for instance, one planned to carry out any acts, such as child molestation, which one would not want to be observed by people blundering into the room without warning. Of course, there could be other, better explanations, but I don't recall hearing any.

There were so many dotty details. I heard his spokeswoman (the one apparently fired at the end of the case) asked why he insists on the absurd ritual of having someone hold an umbrella above his head, as if he is an ancient oriental potentate. To my amazement, she explained that it's there for security reasons, to protect him from attack by snipers and she couldn't give details for security reasons. Yet they felt it was safe for him to climb on the roof of the vehicle to dance for his supporters?

One had to wonder, too, about the lack of wisdom in a man who, having found that there were threats of prosecution for molestation, apparently paid off one kid's family with millions of dollars – and still continued to sleep with kids.

We heard romantic slush about how his persistent and determined childish behaviour, and his obsession with children, was because "he never had a childhood". This peculiar behaviour was never formally presented with proper psych evidence, and is nonsense. This is not how people behave who in some way or other lacked a normal childhood.

Bizarre bunch of 'fans'
The last aspect that was apparent – and tragic – was the small, noisy, bizarre bunch of "fans" that clustered outside the court, squeaking and chirruping. If there ever was a group who deserved the popular cry "Go get a life!" this was it.

These rich kids (ordinary kids couldn't possibly afford to travel across the world, let alone across America, to spend months outside a court-house) were obsessing about a peculiar man who hasn't produced a worthwhile record in over 20 years. They were far more fanatic than fans – more like nutty members of a religious cult.

And one was shown after the verdict, practically glowing in the dark, announcing that this was the very happiest day of her life. How very sad. Not the birth of her child, not her marriage, not falling in love with her partner - but the acquittal of a fading star she has never met, on the grounds of insufficient evidence.

- (M.A. Simpson)


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