As Michael Jackson sat at the defense table Thursday, disheveled and wearing blue pajama-style bottoms, his 15-year-old accuser told jurors for the first time about two alleged sexual episodes with the entertainer.
Earlier, Jackson had raced to court from an emergency room to avoid being thrown in jail for a late appearance.
The day's drama started when Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville issued an arrest warrant for Jackson after he failed to show up for the start of the proceedings at 8:30 a.m. It ended seven hours later, with Jackson's lead attorney, Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., subjecting the star's accuser to a barrage of questions suggesting the boy was out for a quick buck.
The arrest warrant was an inauspicious beginning to a court session that was to showcase the most important witness in the case: the alleged victim, who had taken the stand late Wednesday.
Thursday, under questioning from Santa Barbara County Dist. Atty. Tom Sneddon, he told of allegedly going to Jackson's bedroom one night in February 2003 after drinking wine with him in the singer's sprawling Neverland ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Snuggling under the covers, he said, he turned down Jackson's offer to teach him masturbation. He said Jackson told him it was an important skill and that the singer claimed he once saw a boy who didn't masturbate having sex with a dog.
In his testimony, he did not indicate that he had resisted when Jackson allegedly slid his hand into the boy's pajamas and stroked him to orgasm. Although he said he felt "weird" afterward, he described the same thing happening a day or two later.
In the second alleged incident, he said Jackson grabbed his hand and tried to guide it to Jackson's crotch.
"I said I didn't want to," the boy told the jury, and, he said, Jackson did not force the issue. He said he could remember no other incidents of inappropriate touching.
The boy spoke rapidly when talking about the sexual episodes, sometimes so fast that Sneddon had to ask him to slow down. He appeared comfortable with Sneddon, even asking at one point, "Tom, can I have some water?"
It was a different story with Mesereau, Jackson's attorney.
Cross-examining the boy for about 30 minutes, Mesereau was aggressive and skeptical from the outset.
Mesereau ripped into the boy's assertion that Jackson had not done much for him and his family during his struggle with near-terminal cancer when he was 10. In rapid succession, the lawyer asked whether Jackson had allowed the family to stay at his ranch for weeks, sponsored a blood drive for the sick boy, given them a computer and an SUV, given the boy an expensive watch and had them ushered around town in limousines and a Rolls-Royce.
When the boy answered that his family's Rolls-Royce ride to his grandparents' apartment in El Monte was really an escape from captivity in Neverland, Mesereau turned sardonic.
"Oh, when you escaped from Neverland, you went back a few days later, didn't you?" he asked. "And then you escaped from Neverland a second time. There were three escapes in all, right?"
Prosecutors contend the family returned to Neverland because Jackson's aides had convinced them that death threats had been made against them and they could be protected at the ranch.
In addition to child molestation, Jackson is charged with conspiring to hold the family members against their will in order to secure their appearance on a video tribute to him. The rebuttal video was meant to counter a 2003 British TV documentary in which Jackson admitted sharing his bed with young boys in a nonsexual way. If convicted on 10 felony counts, Jackson, 46, could face more than 20 years in prison.
In court, his accuser, who had appeared in the documentary holding Jackson's hand, claimed the first molestation occurred after the taping of the rebuttal video.
Seemingly incredulous, Mesereau insisted the molestation complaint arose only after the family's visit with attorney William Dickerman, who referred them to attorney Larry Feldman, who had secured a reported multimillion-dollar settlement for a family that accused Jackson of child molestation in 1993.
"You went to two lawyers and a psychologist before you went to the police, right?" Mesereau asked.
With a non-jury hearing on various motions set for Friday, Mesereau will resume his cross-examination next week. Jurors will have a three-day weekend to weigh the alleged victim's testimony so far.
Under Sneddon's gentler questioning earlier in the day, the boy confirmed much of what his younger brother, now 14, had already told the jury. He said Jackson made the boys his drinking companions in the wine cellar beneath Neverland's video arcade. When the accuser worried that alcohol would hurt him because he had lost a kidney to cancer, he said Jackson encouraged him to drink. "He told me it was OK, nothing was going to happen," the boy said.
For much of their relationship, the boy said he viewed Jackson as his "best friend in the whole world." He said he held hands with Jackson for the British documentary because Jackson wanted him to. Resting his head on Jackson's shoulder was his own idea, the boy said.
The boy said he had fun at Neverland and didn't want to leave. He and his family were first invited to the ranch in 2000 after a family friend introduced them to Jackson.
But the boy said his mother told him she was afraid of Jackson's aides.
"She told me she was afraid they were going to kill us," the boy said. "She wanted to leave."
In some respects, the boy's testimony differed from his brother's -- discrepancies that Jackson's attorney may try to exploit.
On Monday, the brother had said Jackson appeared before the boys naked and sexually aroused as they were watching a movie in his two-story bedroom suite. Jackson assured the boys that "it's OK -- it's natural," the brother said.
But on Thursday, the accuser left out Jackson's comment when relating the incident, recalling it only after Sneddon showed him a page of his grand jury testimony. He did not mention Jackson's alleged erection.
During the boy's testimony about the alleged sexual incidents, Jackson grew animated and slipped notes to his attorneys.
One of his attorneys, Brian Oxman, told reporters that Jackson had tripped and fallen while getting dressed for his court appearance. He said the singer, who shuffled out of court in slippers, had been in "terrible discomfort" all day.
Jackson was treated at a Solvang hospital emergency room for severe back pain, his attorneys said. But his late arrival at court clearly upset the judge, who just last month had halted jury selection when Jackson had the flu.
At 8:35 a.m., Melville issued the warrant, threatening Jackson with jail if he couldn't make it to court within an hour and saying he could order forfeiture of the singer's $3-million bail bond.
At about 9:40 a.m., Jackson hobbled in from his chauffeured SUV, supported by his parents and his security personnel and shaded by an assistant holding an umbrella. For more than an hour, Mesereau had been anxiously pacing with his cellphone plastered to his ear.
At the end of the day, the judge revoked the arrest warrant and allowed Jackson to reinstate the bond.
Whether the episode will affect the jury is unknown. Melville told the panel that Jackson was late because of a medical problem and that he had ordered the singer to leave the hospital to come to court.
"It has nothing to do with guilt or innocence," the judge said.