Jackson trial shows pitfalls in prosecuting molestation cases

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Set aside Michael Jackson's wealth and celebrity, and his trial could be a textbook lesson - a study in the pitfalls prosecutors face in trying to make child molestation charges stick.

The credibility of the accuser and his family came under withering attack. Some of the children's testimony was inconsistent and muddled. And there was no DNA evidence, no smoking gun.

"Some prosecutors don't want to touch these cases with a 10-foot pole because they are so difficult," said Victor Vieth, director of child abuse centers at the American Prosecutors Research Institute in Alexandria, Va.

It's unclear how many of the thousands of molestation cases filed each year nationally end with jurors returning guilty verdicts; rough estimates run between 50 and 75 percent. In California, more than 3,420 defendants were found guilty of various sex crimes against minors in 2003, a conviction rate above 74 percent, according to the state Department of Justice. However, the rate generally is lower in cases that depend heavily on the victim's word, Vieth said.

Jackson family, fans gather for party

SANTA YNEZ, Calif. - Michael Jackson's fans, some of his family, one of his lawyers and at least one of his jurors gathered at a casino near his home Friday night for what was billed as a celebration of thanks.

Among the crowd that arrived at the Chumash Indian Casino was Pauline Coccoz, a member of the jury that acquitted Jackson of child molestation charges. She called her jury service "the hardest thing I've ever done in my life."

When she walked into the casino and heard Jackson's music playing, Coccoz said, the enormity of what had transpired hit her.

"They were playing 'Beat It,' and I almost started to cry," she said as she waited to enter the showroom.

Jackson, who has not appeared in public since being acquitted Monday, was nowhere in sight.

Jackson's mother, Katherine, and one of his sisters, Janet, managed to avoid reporters as they entered the showroom. The crowd erupted in cheers as they arrived to the sounds of the song "I'll Be There."

Defense opens in civil rights slayings

PHILADELPHIA, Miss. - A brother of the man accused in the 1964 deaths of three civil rights workers took the stand Saturday in his defense, saying the defendant was at a Father's Day gathering that day and never indicated he was in the Ku Klux Klan.

"Until he tells me so, I won't believe it," said Oscar Kenneth Killen, 74.

His brother, Edgar Ray Killen, 80, a part -time preacher and sawmill operator, is being tried on the first -ever state murder charges in the killings of Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney. He faces life in prison if convicted in the case that helped spur passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The defense called four witnesses Saturday - including Oscar Killen and a sister, Dorothy Dearing, who both testified Killen attended a family Father's Day meal until late in the afternoon of June 21, 1964, the day the three civil rights workers were killed.

Church: Minister who officiated gay wedding broke ordination vows

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. - Leaders of the Reformed Church in America suspended a New Jersey minister Friday night, ruling that he violated the denomination's teachings by officiating at his lesbian daughter's wedding.

A majority of delegates voted to suspend the Rev. Norman Kansfield from the ministry until he changes his views to fall in line with church doctrine. They also stripped him of his standing as a professor of theology in the RCA.

Kansfield, 65, who has served in the church for 40 years, said the decision was "going to be very hard to deal with - my life has been the ministry.

"The church of Jesus Christ needs to be as inclusive as the arms of our Lord himself," he added.

Safety officials probe cause of two copter crashes

NEW YORK - Federal safety officials are faced with twin investigations in the crashes of two helicopters that plunged into the East River within minutes of taking off this past week.

A total of 14 people survived the two crashes. One remained in critical condition Saturday.

"We're casting a big net right now," National Transportation Safety Board air safety investigator Brian Rayner said Saturday at a news conference.

Judge in Aruba extends detention of three young men

ORANJESTAD, Aruba - A judge on Saturday ordered the teenage son of a prominent justice official and two of his friends to stay in jail for at least another week while investigators search for clues in the disappearance of a young Alabama woman.

A disc jockey on an Aruban tourist party boat who also has been detained in the case was to appear before a judge Monday, the attorney general's spokeswoman Mariaine Croes said as the search for 18 -year -old Natalee Holloway neared the end of three weeks without any sign of the honors student.

Threatened with retention, students score higher

NEW YORK - High-stakes achievement tests that determine if a child is promoted to the next grade or held back a year are becoming more commonplace, and a growing number of school systems have learned that the threat of retention can be a strong incentive.

However, the practice's effect on kids who are held back is still in dispute.

For New York City fifth-graders who took a key citywide test in April, it was the first time that their scores counted, and even better students felt the pressure.

"There were points when he was not sleeping very well," Kathleen Gomez said of her fifth-grade son, Diego, who spent months on test preparation even though he was in no danger of failing.

- From wire reports