SANTA MARIA, Calif. (AP) – The judge in the Michael Jackson molestation case on Friday rejected a prosecution request to close the courtroom when the teenage accuser takes the stand at the pop star’s trial.

The defense and a coalition of media covering the case, including The Associated Press, had argued that the testimony should be open. Prosecutors wanted it closed to protect the child from the intense media coverage, proposing that reporters be allowed to hear testimony through an audio feed.

Judge Rodney Melville also ruled that dozens of adult-oriented books, magazines and DVDs seized at Jackson’s Neverland ranch – one with the fingerprints of Jackson and the accuser – can be used as evidence in the trial. Jury selection begins Monday.

The judge permitted most of the proposed evidence to be used at trial but said the prosecution could not refer to the material as pornography, obscenity or erotic. Instead, the words “adult” or “sexually explicit” can be used, he said.

Prosecutor Ron Zonen said the 50 print and video items that were seized in 2003 included graphic sexual material. The material also included nude photos of models who may have been 18 but looked much younger, he said.

The items will show Jackson had a “prurient interest” in boys or was intended for use to as “grooming material” to make children more accommodating to sexual advances, Zonen said.

Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. countered that all the materials seized were legal. In the case of the magazine with the prints, he said evidence will show Jackson took it away from his accuser and locked it up.

Melville ruled that several items could not be used as evidence, including three books seized in 1993 that allegedly show pictures of nude adolescents.

Jackson, 46, has pleaded not guilty to charges of molesting a 13-year-old boy and plying him with alcohol. The boy is now 15.

Jury selection could last as long as a month, with the judge and attorneys for both sides expected to screen as many as 750 prospective jurors.

On another matter, the judge ruled that jurors will be allowed to see a British documentary broadcast on ABC in 2003 that contains footage of Jackson and his accuser holding hands and Jackson defending his practice of sleeping in the same bed with children.

At one point during the hearing, Melville advised both sides to adhere to proper procedures during the trial.

“I expect and know that you will, all, on both sides, carry the burden of showing the world what a fine system we have – and that does not include name-calling or personal attacks,” Melville said.

AP-ES-01-28-05 1751EST



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