LOS ANGELES (AP) – The judge in the Michael Jackson child molestation case kept sealed an audio tape that apparently contains defense interviews with Jackson’s accuser and his family, but allowed prosecutors to see videotapes he called “innocuous.”

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville said Thursday that the audiotape could identify areas of defense strategy and should remain secret. He said the tape was of an interview conducted early last year by an investigator for defense attorney Mark Geragos.

The judge said the tape would identify areas of interest to the defense, and that the defense’s investigative work should not be turned over to the prosecution. He added that “the persons interviewed are equally available to the prosecution.”

Geragos did not return a call seeking comment.

Jackson has pleaded innocent to seven counts of performing lewd or lascivious acts on a child under 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent, reportedly wine. He is free on $3 million bail pending trial.

In his motion opposing release of the tape, Geragos had said a key issue in the case will be “the veracity and credibility of the alleged minor victim and his family.”

“Given that the minor victim and his family are potential witnesses, the defense has endeavored to make a record that would either establish or undermine the veracity and credibility of these individuals,” Geragos said.

The audiotape and numerous videotapes were seized from the office of investigator Bradley Miller through a prosecution search warrant.

Melville’s ruling gave no hints of the videotapes’ contents, other than to say they referred to “locations or circumstances that may since have changed.”

Melville said the videotapes were “largely innocuous” and “unrevealing of defense strategy,” and ordered them turned over to the Sheriff’s Department.

AP-ES-03-11-04 2255EST

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