Utah legal experts said Tuesday they believe the Michael Jackson verdict won't have a chilling effect on future child sex abuse victims and prosecutions, but that's in sharp contrast to at least one national expert's view.
Dean Tong, author of the book "Elusive Innocence" and a consultant on child sex abuse cases, said he fears this high-profile verdict "sends a chilling message to future child complainants that you may not be believed, either."
Prosecutors lost the Jackson case through errors of omission and commission, Tong said in a telephone interview.
Prosecutors did not produce a "smoking gun" witness as far as prior bad acts by Jackson, and they did not use any experts testifying about delayed memory recall, he said. Tong also believes the accuser's mother in this case gave the impression she had motive, method and opportunity to get Jackson.
"This verdict could have a negative effect on abuse victims and wounded innocents (those falsely accused of child sex abuse)," Tong said.
However, that view is not shared by some experts in Utah's legal community.
"I don't think that's true at all," responded veteran Salt Lake City defense attorney Ed Brass. "This case was an anomaly, it is a unique case."
Brass said child sex abuse victims come forward every day, despite what happens in a highly publicized case such as this. "I don't think what happened with Michael Jackson will have anything to do with anything that happens in the future."
Salt Lake County District Attorney David Yocom doesn't think the Jackson verdict will have a widespread effect, either.
"As with all well-publicized cases from O.J. Simpson on down, everybody looks at celebrity cases as not the run-of-the-mill prosecution that we see every day. I don't think there's going to be any dramatic effect on reporting or prosecution from the Jackson case," Yocom said. "I don't think O.J. getting acquitted stopped us from prosecuting homicides."
Michael Jackson's trial was unusual from several perspectives: It involved a big-name celebrity with tremendous wealth, massive media coverage, a parade of celebrity witnesses and a possibly unsympathetic victim.
It also took place in a state known for long-running, media-magnet criminal prosecutions.
What happens in California is unlike what happens elsewhere, Yocom said.
"The rest of the nation kind of looks and says, 'What, a seven-month trial?' It's just unheard of in this jurisdiction. To have a two-week trial (in Utah) is unusual."
The Jackson case was simply "an abnormal situation," Yocom said.
As depicted by defense attorneys, the accuser in the Jackson case could be seen as greedy or at least coached by his mother to shake Jackson down for a settlement. Yocom said that is unusual, too.
In cases of child sex abuse that are tried here, the young victims are viewed positively by juries, he said.
"They're usually very sympathetic and generate emotions from the jury in the cases that we see," Yocom said.
Susanne Mitchell, director of the Salt Lake County Children's Justice Center, also doesn't think the Jackson verdict will influence future victims.
Among other things, child sex abuse cases are treated differently now than in the past.
"There are organizations set up right now that are victim advocate-focused and they're looking out for what's best for the victim, and sometimes that means not pursuing a case because you're not going to win," she said. "It's all based on witnesses and evidence and corroboration and your ability to convince a jury, not a judge."
The courts also have changed, she said."The system has really improved over the last 10 years. We have many more successes than we used to," Mitchell said. "I feel good about the justice process. It's just complicated."
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