The adult son of Michael Jackson’s former housekeeper fought back tears Monday as he testified in intimate detail that the pop star sexually fondled him three times when he was a child -- the first evidence presented to jurors of what prosecutors call a long pattern of predatory behavior.
Speaking in a hushed courtroom, the 24-year-old man said the first incident began when he was about 7 years old, when he was sitting on Jackson’s lap watching cartoons. The pop singer started tickling him, and the two playfully fell to the floor of Jackson’s Century City condo, where Jackson moved his hand “to my little private region” and fondled him for several minutes, the man said.
Afterward, Jackson gave him a $100 bill, the man said. He said Jackson paid him the same amount the second time as well.
The riveting testimony was part of the prosecution’s strategy of showing that Jackson, 46, had molested his current accuser, a 13-year-old cancer survivor, in 2003 after years of abusing other children. If convicted on all charges, the pop star faces more than 20 years in prison.
Santa Barbara County Dist. Atty. Tom Sneddon said he planned to call nine witnesses to testify that Jackson had molested or acted inappropriately with five boys before the alleged 2003 incident. Monday’s witness is expected to be the only one of those five alleged victims to testify for the prosecution.
Thin, handsome and dark-complexioned, the man shares several physical characteristics with Jackson’s current accuser.
The first two incidents recounted Monday allegedly occurred when the witness was about 7 or 8 years old. The third incident occurred 14 years ago in the arcade at Jackson’s Neverland ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Each time, the man said, he had accompanied his mother to work and had been left alone with Jackson.
Monday’s witness appeared confident and happy during early stages of the testimony, before the subject turned to the alleged molestation. A former youth minister who now works as an auto parts salesman, the man smiled as he identified Jackson in the courtroom.
“Yes, he’s right there. He’s the light-complected gentleman,” he said.
But while describing the third incident, the man, now married, appeared to become emotional.
He said he was lying with Jackson on a couch and playing videogames on a big-screen television, when Jackson started tickling him again. He was about 10 years old at the time.
“This took a lot of counseling to get over, just so you know,” he said, his voice quivering.
The man asked Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville for a break, took a drink of water and wiped his face with a tissue. Jackson sat still and occasionally leaned forward to take notes.
After a moment, the man said, “OK, I’m ready,” and resumed his testimony.
After playfully tickling him, he said, Jackson then slipped his hand inside his shorts and fondled his testicles for two or three minutes. It was the only time Jackson fondled him under his clothing, the man said.
“You’re a little kid. It’s supposed to be innocent. It’s not right,” the man said.
It wasn’t until 1993, about three years after the last incident, that he spoke about the alleged molestation, after he was contacted by two Santa Barbara County sheriff’s detectives. At first, he denied Jackson had done anything wrong.
He said he initially did not tell the truth to the detectives because it was a difficult subject to discuss.
“It’s embarrassing now, and I’m 24 years old,” he said. “It was difficult for me.”
After meeting with the detectives, he spoke to two attorneys who helped the family obtain a monetary settlement from Jackson, the man said. Melville previously ruled that prosecutors could not ask the amount of the settlement, which was reportedly more than $2 million.
The witness said he spent five years in counseling, starting at about age 13, when he first told detectives about the molestation. No criminal charges were filed. At the time, prosecutors were focused on allegations involving another boy, who stopped cooperating with authorities in 1994 after receiving a settlement that reportedly exceeded $20 million.
Jurors will also hear evidence about that boy during the trial, though he is not expected to testify.
Before the man testified Monday, Melville walked from the bench to the witness stand, close to the jury box, and instructed the jurors about the evidence that was to come. He told them they would hear about past alleged sexual abuse by Jackson and, if they believe the allegations to be true, they could use that to help them determine whether Jackson had committed the 2003 offense.
It wasn’t until 1995, when state legislators adopted a law, that prosecutors were allowed to introduce such evidence. The change was needed, legislators said, because sex crimes are often committed without witnesses and are often part of a pattern of abuse.
As legal analyst and former San Francisco prosecutor Jim Hammer said: “If they believe this, they can look at Michael Jackson and say, ‘There’s a man that’s likely to molest children.’ ”
Defense attorney Thomas A. Mesereau Jr. spent an hour on cross-examination and is scheduled to resume questioning this morning. He focused most of his questions on the man’s initial denials to sheriff’s detectives that he had been sexually abused by Jackson.
“I’ll just say this flat out: I don’t remember anything except the tickling,” the witness told sheriff’s detectives during the 1993 interview.
Asked about that statement by Mesereau, the man replied: “I didn’t want to be embarrassed at school. I didn’t want to be embarrassed anywhere. I was 13.”
Mesereau suggested that the detectives had pressured him into talking about the allegations.
“What I remember is them saying, ‘If he did something, tell us.’ And I said, ‘No, I’m not gay,’ ” the man said.
As the cross-examination continued, the man grew confrontational with Mesereau and told the attorney he was asking questions that had already been answered. The judge stepped in, saying: “You don’t get to object to his questions.”
Mesereau hinted in a hearing last week that he plans to attack the testimony on at least two fronts. First, as he pointed out repeatedly in cross-examination, the man had initially denied to sheriff’s investigators that Jackson molested him. Second, Mesereau said that the man’s mother sold her story to the tabloid-television program “Hard Copy” for $20,000. Mesereau has said that the mother of the current accuser, motivated by financial gain, has urged her son to falsely accuse Jackson.
Hammer, the former San Francisco prosecutor, said the witness appeared sincere. “In terms of demeanor, he was the most powerful witness for me,” in the trial, said Hammer, who has attended most of the proceedings.
Hammer said he also found it noteworthy that the man attended counseling for at least four years after he won a financial settlement from Jackson. “If this is all about money, why did he keep going to counseling?”
Earlier in the day, jurors heard from Jesus Salas, who had worked at Neverland ranch for 20 years before leaving in 2003.
The testimony from Salas, who directed Jackson’s household staff, was meant by prosecutors to bolster their claim that Jackson had conspired to hold the current accuser and his family against their will at Neverland. However, Salas acknowledged on cross-examination that he told a defense investigator that he had never believed the mother or her children were being forcibly kept at the ranch.
Salas testified that the boy’s mother was agitated during a family stay at the ranch in January 2003 and asked him to immediately take her and her children to her parents’ home in El Monte. He said the mother told him that other Jackson employees were trying to keep them from leaving.
That night, Salas loaded the family into Jackson’s Rolls-Royce and drove them off. About a week or two later, he said, they returned.
Asked by Mesereau whether he saw the family members “restricted in any way” during their stays at Neverland, Salas said he hadn’t. He also testified under cross-examination that the mother wandered freely about the grounds and was staying in a room so luxurious that Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor requested it when they visited the ranch.