Michael Jackson abused a 13-year-old boy who suffered from cancer and exposed the teenager to "strange sexual behaviour" during visits to his Neverland ranch. The star was then involved in a desperate bid to salvage his career from claims that threatened to destroy him, a jury heard yesterday.
On the first day of evidence, the prosecution claimed Jackson manipulated the boy, and that one of his employees told the child his mother could be killed.
Opening the prosecution's case, Santa Barbara district attorney Tom Sneddon described how the 46-year-old's world was "rocked" by the broadcast in the UK in 2003 of Martin Bashir's documentary, Living with Michael Jackson.
Saying how one Jackson adviser had described the documentary as "a train wreck", Mr Sneddon said: "In February 2003, Michael Jackson's world was rocked, not in a musical sense but in a real life sense, and it was rocked by the broadcast of the Bashir documentary."
In the documentary the star is seen holding hands with the boy and saying he allows children to sleep in his bed.
The singer faces charges that he sexually molested the 13-year-old boy. He also faces charges of administering alcohol to a child, and of entering into a conspiracy to hold him and his family. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
Mr Sneddon portrayed the entertainer as a resourceful predator who abused his position of trust to molest a minor: "The private world of Michael Jackson was quite different to what he said in that video."
The intention, he alleged, was "to desensitise the boy, to convince him that what was being done was alright in an adult world."
The world portrayed by Mr Sneddon was one in which children were regularly given alcohol by Michael Jackson and regularly shared his bed.
"What is there about Neverland that creates a no-rules, no-manners environment?" he asked. "What is there about Neverland that can do that to somebody?"
The climate at Neverland, he suggested, was conducive to the eventual sexual molestation that allegedly occurred.
Outlining the evidence from the alleged victim and his younger brother, Mr Sneddon said on two occasions the younger brother, then aged nine, discovered a partially clothed Jackson lying on his bed in his private suite in Neverland masturbating the 13-year-old boy. At the same time, alleged the lead prosecutor, Jackson had his hand inside his underpants and was masturbating himself.
On another occasion, Mr Sneddon said, both brothers were in Jackson's private quarters when the star entered the room naked and with an erection. When the younger brother said he was "grossed-out", Jackson allegedly said "It's OK, it's natural, why don't you do the same thing."
The two also allegedly saw Jackson simulating sex with a female mannequin the singer kept by his bed.
Mr Sneddon, who tried unsuccessfully to bring a child molestation case against Jackson in 1993, also revealed that prosecutors had found stashes of sexually explicit material in his private bedroom and round the Jacuzzi in the private bathroom. They also found alcohol.
He said the court would hear evidence from flight attendants who were told to serve Jackson alcohol in soft-drink cans.
He said another assistant would tell the court that on one occasion she had been told to bring a bottle of wine, a bottle of vodka and four glasses to Jackson's quarters. When she entered, said Mr Sneddon, Jackson was alone with three children. The next morning when she went to tidy the room, the two bottles were empty.
Mr Sneddon also said Jackson had showed the boy adult material on the internet from the first time he stayed at Neverland in 2000, when the boy was 10 years old. He is now 15.
Jackson wore a dark suit with a red armband to yesterday's proceedings. He waved to a few supporters from beneath an umbrella held by one of his entourage.
A small gaggle of fans were waiting to greet Jackson and to claim seats in the public gallery of the small courthouse in this town three hours north of Los Angeles. All the members of the public waiting outside the court were given seats. Whether the star's support is waning, whether public interest in the case is falling even as it starts, or whether the wet weather had dictated that people stay at home, the turnout - and the media clamour over the event - was smaller than anticipated. A four-day rally by Jackson's fan club also failed to materialise.
Inside the courtroom, Judge Rodney Melville read the entire multiple count indictment to the jury. Although the details had been widely leaked, this was the first time the document had been officially presented. It included a list of counts including administering alcohol to a minor, false imprisonment and child molestation.
As the judge read the indictment, Jackson looked straight ahead, occasionally talking with his attorney.
The indictment revealed that, among other counts, Jackson's advisers had procured passports and Brazilian visas for the alleged victim and his family.
The judge gave both defence and prosecution just two hours each yesterday to make their opening statements.
The statements from the defence were expected to focus on the boy's mother. Observers anticipated Thomas Mesereau, Jackson's attorney, would try to portray the mother as a money-grabber.
The prosecution's case consistently came back to the Bashir documentary. Mr Sneddon quoted Jackson's words from the programme and suggested the alleged abuse occurred when Jackson and his advisers decided to use the testimony of a 13-year-old cancer survivor to rebut the claims and salvage his career.
"It was a landslide that threatened to destroy everything in its path," Mr Sneddon quoted one Jackson adviser as saying.