February 28, 2005 08:00 AM

The Michael Jackson child-molestation trial begins in earnest Monday, as both the defense and the prosecution are set to offer their opening statements to the jury.

After more than a year of accusations, searches, and the arrest of an international pop star, both sides will have a chance to outline their cases in open court, the Associated Press reports. Jackson, 46, is charged with administering alcohol to and molesting a 13-year-old cancer patient who was a guest at the singer’s Neverland Ranch near Santa Maria, Calif. He has pleaded not guilty.

The opening statements will define the direction each side’s case is expected to take, experts say, though there is already a good idea where the respective teams are headed. “The prosecution’s case (is) against Michael Jackson and the defense case (is) against the boy’s mother,” Laurie Levenson, a Loyola University law professor, tells AP.

The prosecution is expected to tell the tale of a family with a sick son, whose wish to meet Jackson turned nightmarish as the boy was abused and the family was held at the ranch against their wishes.

The defense, on the other hand, will likely depict the boy’s mother as a greedy manipulator who urged her son to lie in order to milk funds from Jackson.

Both sides are headed by men with singular visions: on the prosecution, Tom Sneddon, Santa Barbara County’s D.A., who tried to bring Jackson up on molestation charges more than a decade earlier, and Thomas Mesereau Jr., a defense attorney who specializes in winning seemingly unwinnable cases.

So far, a strict gag order imposed by Judge Rodney Melville has prevented either side from making many statements about its intentions.

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