Video: Jackson prosecutor reflects

updated 6/15/2005 3:55:57 PM ET 2005-06-15T19:55:57
TRANSCRIPT

Ron Zonen was one of the lead prosecutors for the Jackson case and delivered a powerful closing argument. He joined Dan Abrams on ‘The Abrams Report’ Tuesday to talk about the results of the Jackson trial.

DAN ABRAMS, HOST, ‘THE ABRAMS REPORT’: What happened?

RON ZONEN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY IN JACKSON CASE: Well, we knew going into this case that it was going to be a difficult case.  All child molest cases are problematic.  There are rarely witnesses who watch what’s going on.  It’s hardly ever videotaped, these events.  And it’s often the testimony of a child against an adult.  And in this case, the adult that he was against was not just a celebrity but an international superstar. 

ABRAMS:  So you think it was celebrity?  You think that was the issue?

ZONEN:  I think that was a good part of it, certainly. 

ABRAMS:  What, that the jurors were intimidated by him, that they were saying, “Oh, Michael Jackson, we can’t put him away”? 

ZONEN:  I don’t think that they were so much intimidated, but a little bit star-struck, possibly, certainly.  I mean, it’s been our experience that prosecuting people who are of great advantage, people who are celebrities, people who have a long way to fall, should they be convicted. Juries are reluctant to do that unless the case is very, very solid.  And there seems to be a higher level of commitment required on the part of the prosecution. 

ABRAMS:  Does that mean this case wasn’t that solid? 

ZONEN:  I don’t know that it wasn’t that solid.  It’s like all child molest cases come in.  You have a child who makes an accusation against a person.  In this case, it was an accusation that was consistent with accusations that had been made against him previously. 

ABRAMS:  You must have known beyond just this being a child molest case that this was a family with problems.  This is a mother who, you had to know, was going to cause some problems. 

ZONEN:  We rarely, rarely have children who are coming from families of great pedigree on cases like this.  That just doesn’t happen that often.  We have children who come from families often where their families are not able to protect them, and that’s what makes kids vulnerable to this kind of assault.  So this was not unusual for us at all.  Not at all.

ABRAMS:  By the end of this case, I think many, including me, were getting the sense that many in your camp, many even in the Jackson camp, were thinking that he really might get convicted of one of the most serious charges. 

ZONEN:  I went into this trial hoping he would be convicted of at least one of the most serious charges and believed that that was a possibility, up until the time that they read the verdict. 

ABRAMS:  So you were surprised? 

ZONEN:  I was somewhat surprised, yes.  I believe that we had proven the case. 

ABRAMS:  Let me play a piece of sound from Tom Mesereau. This was him speaking on the “Today” show today, summarizing the case in his view:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM MESEREAU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL JACKSON:  They put on witnesses who were lacking in credibility.  They did everything they could to try and hold them up in ways that just didn’t make any sense.  A lot of their theories and arguments made no sense.  And they didn’t have a case.  And Michael Jackson’s innocent. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Pretty simple.  What's your reaction? 

ZONEN:  Well, I’m not going to criticize Thomas Mesereau.  I thought he did an effective job in this case.  He’s a good lawyer.  He’s very talented, and he got the result that he wanted for his client.  He should be commended for his efforts. 

We felt that we had a credible case.  We certainly believed the accusations of this child had a ring of truth to it when he came forward,

and it was entirely consistent with statements of other kids who had made the same accusation against Mr. Jackson.  I think it would have been irresponsible of us not to have brought this trial. 

ABRAMS:  I’m going to play a piece of sound from a couple of the jurors who are talking about the mother in this case.  And then I want to ask you a question about a strategic move you made in the closing argument with regard to the mother. Here are the jurors talking about the mother of the accuser.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAULINE COCCOZ, JACKSON JUROR #10:  What mother in her right mind would allow that to happen?  You know, just freely volunteer your child, you know, to sleep with someone, and not just so much Michael Jackson, but any person for that matter? 

MARY KENNEDY, JACKSON JUROR #5:  I disliked it intensely when she snapped her fingers at us.  That’s what I thought, “Don’t snap your fingers at me, lady.”

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)  

ABRAMS:  I mean, we could go on and on with the pieces of sound about the mother.  They didn’t like this mother at all. 

And I remember saying, as you were delivering your closing argument, I don’t know why Ron Zonen is defending this mother’s credibility so much, meaning I thought that you should have just basically said—and I know there must have been a debate within your office to a certain degree as to how to deal with this—but I thought maybe you should just say, “You know what?  All right, she may have some problems.  We are not going to sit here and justify everything she has done in her past.”  But instead what you did was, you did try and justify, and say, “Look, we’re not going to concede that this is a problematic mother.”

ZONEN:  There have been a number of mothers whose children have spent enormous amounts of time in Michael Jackson’s bedroom.  Of all of them, this particular mother was the one who got her kids out of there the fastest.  She had her kids out of there within 36 hours after learning that Michael Jackson had been administering alcohol to her son. 

I thought that was to her credit.  She is poorly educated.  She is a woman who has gone through many, many years of abuse by a very abusive husband.  She shows all the manifestations of that kind of treatment in her, and yet she intuitively understood that she had to get her kids out of Neverland. 

That was against all of the other mothers who have fed their children to Michael Jackson in exchange for the riches that that’s awarded them.  I thought that this particular mother earned some credit by at least understanding intuitively that there was a problem there. 

ABRAMS:  You spoke with the family last night.  What’s their reaction? 

ZONEN:  They are disappointed, particularly this young man.  But you know, he’s very squared away today.  He’s doing quite well, something Mr. Mesereau would never concede.  He’s an honor student in high school.  He plays on the football team.  This is a child with only one kidney, and that kidney only functions at about 60 percent.  And he’s playing football today.  He’s in scouting.  He’s been in scouting for three years.  He’s graduated from military leadership academy.  He’s doing quite well, quite well.

ABRAMS:  Any tears, any tears when you were talking to him? 

ZONEN:  No, no tears, certainly disappointment. 

ABRAMS:  Are they angry at Michael Jackson? 

ZONEN:  No, no, they are not angry, either.  They are not angry, either.  This is a young man who demonstrated tremendous courage.  He came forward.  He knew he was facing an international superstar.  He knew that there were going to be a lot of people who wouldn’t believe him.  He knew his mother was going to be attacked viciously.  He knew he was going to be attacked viciously.  And he felt he need to do this. 

ABRAMS:  The mother said repeatedly she doesn’t want Michael Jackson’s money.  Any chance she’s going to sue now? 

ZONEN:  I don’t think so.  I don’t think there’s any indication.  I’ve never heard word one from anybody in that family that they were interested in...

(CROSSTALK)  

ABRAMS:  So she’s not going to say, “Look, if we can’t get justice in the criminal system, we’re going to go to the civil system”?

ZONEN:  I would be surprised if she said that.  I think that they want to get on with their lives.  And I know the boys certainly do.  What they want to do is play football.  They don’t want to be back in court anymore.  They’ve had enough of that.

ABRAMS:  What do you say to those who say that this entire case was a vendetta on the part of Tom Sneddon, that the D.A. here had always had it out for Michael Jackson, and this was going to be his ticket to get him? 

ZONEN:  You know, you have to be nuts to file a case like this on a motive like that.  These types of cases are very difficult.  They are very challenging, particularly for a small county like ours.  They are quite expensive.  They’re quite cumbersome.  They can take away the top talent for the office for long periods of time.  Nobody wanted to do that. 

We have plenty of occasions where people are found not guilty or we’re not able to file charges.  We don’t keep them in the back of our minds for long periods of time, years on end, waiting for the opportunity to go after them again.  That never happened here.

Ten years ago, there were credible accusations from two young boys.  Mr. Jackson paid them enormous amounts of money to make them go away.  Ten years later, another child comes along saying exactly the same thing.  What are we supposed to do, not file a case like that because somebody might be critical of us?  They’d be more critical of us if we didn’t pursue that type of case. 

ABRAMS:  Do you think Michael Jackson is a danger to this community? 

ZONEN:  Well, I don’t know at this moment if he is.  He certainly was a danger to children who were in his room over the period of years that he was inviting young boys into his room.  Whether he is at this moment, I don’t know.  We’ll see.

ABRAMS:  But you wouldn’t recommend anyone going to Neverland with a child? 

ZONEN:  I wouldn’t recommend leaving a child in his custody, no.  And nor would those jurors, I think. 

ABRAMS:  Did you ever feel like you were walking into a visiting stadium, even though this is effectively your home court?  Everyday there are fans out there yelling, “Michael, we love you, Michael, Michael, Michael.”  And I know you guys didn’t walk in the front all that often.  But did you feel like you were sort of the visiting team? 

ZONEN:  Not so much the visiting team.  I mean, the fans were a bit of a distraction, but nothing much more than that.  But walking into a courtroom and looking out in the audience, and seeing an audience filled with faces that I recognize from television, that was a little startling at first.  And that took a while to get used to.

ABRAMS:  Last question, any regrets? 

ZONEN:  No.  No, not at all. 

ABRAMS:  None?  Nothing about how you went about prosecuting it? 

ZONEN:  Well, there’s rarely a case that, at the end, we don’t sit back and say, “I would’ve done something differently.”  And there are

probably quite a few things I would have done differently if I had to do it over again on this one, too. 

ABRAMS:  But you would charge this case again and you’d move forward again? 

ZONEN:  Oh, absolutely.  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  I mean, we—it would be much more difficult for me to live with myself if we had not done this.  If we had believed that there was a man who had molested not one, but a number of different boys, and we decided not to pursue this prosecution simply because he was an international superstar, that would be the difficult for me to live with forever, not a not guilty.  I can deal with that.  I’ve had not guilty verdicts before. 

ABRAMS:  Ron Zonen, you argued a very good case. 

ZONEN:  Thank you very much.

ABRAMS:  And you gave it your best shot.  And I think we saw some very good lawyering on both sides of the case. 

ZONEN:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Thanks very much for taking the time.  We appreciate it. 

ZONEN:  My pleasure.  My pleasure.

Stay tuned to "Abrams Report" for more analysis and interviews, 6 p.m. ET weeknights on MSNBC TV.

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