Parent Tells of Neverland Threats
The mother of Michael Jackson’s teenage accuser testified Monday that the pop star’s staffers repeatedly threatened her, even alluding to the possibility that her two sons could vanish from the singer’s Neverland ranch in a hot-air balloon.
The woman also told jurors that the aides spoke of having her boyfriend and elderly parents killed if she failed to participate in a video rebutting a TV documentary that was damaging to Jackson.
During laborious cross-examination, defense attorney Thomas A. Mesereau Jr. continued to assail the woman as a con artist who coached her son to make false molestation accusations against Jackson for financial gain. The defense lawyer also set up testimony from future witnesses who could further erode the woman’s credibility.
But as the mother’s fourth day on the witness stand ended, Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Zonen took over, presenting a set of photos that could help salvage the prosecution witness’ believability. Her name is being withheld to protect her son, who was 13 at the time of the alleged abuse in 2003.
Mesereau, in earlier questioning, had challenged a $152,000 legal settlement the mother and her family received after a 1998 fracas with JC Penney security guards, suggesting it was part of the woman’s pattern of scams. Before taking the stand, she announced her refusal to answer questions about allegedly failing to disclose the settlement while collecting welfare.
Beamed onto the courtroom wall, photos taken just after the melee showed the woman with dark bruises on her legs, midsection and face. It also showed her older son, the boy who is accusing Jackson of molesting him, with a doleful look and his arm in a sling.
The woman is a key witness against Jackson, who, in addition to molestation, is charged with conspiring to keep the family on his Santa Ynez Valley ranch against their will. If convicted of all charges, the 46-year-old singer could face more than 20 years in prison.
She never witnessed any of the four alleged molestation incidents, but has testified at length about Jackson’s aides allegedly isolating her in a guest cottage, spying on her when she “escaped” to her Los Angeles home and plotting to get rid of her, her two sons and her daughter with a forced move to Brazil.
In Santa Barbara County Superior Court on Monday, the 37-year-old woman was more subdued than during previous appearances, but her testimony continued in an emotional vein, wavering between prickliness and pathos. At several points, she turned toward the jurors and told them how stupid she was for believing Jackson’s “lovey-dovey” insistence that she and her children were his family.
She said she once filed a disability claim because of depression. The condition stemmed not from her many years as an abused wife but from a lifetime as a nonentity, she told Mesereau.
“I was just sad at being a nobody,” she said. “I’m still a nobody.”
She repeated that lament three times over the next few minutes.
Poking holes in her claim of the Brazilian plot, Mesereau produced an itinerary showing that round-trip tickets had been purchased for just a one-week jaunt from Los Angeles to Sao Paulo. But the woman scoffed, saying Jackson’s plan for her family was far more sinister.
“That don’t matter,” she said of the itinerary. “I know that they choreograph everything.”
Throughout her testimony, the woman has cast Jackson as a master manipulator who was eager to control her family. On Friday, she testified that his aides put her through 10 grueling rehearsals daily of the glowing remarks she and her children made in the so-called rebuttal video, which was meant to counter a TV documentary in which Jackson admitted to nonsexual sleepovers with young boys.
But in a tape-recorded interview four days earlier, the woman and her children had made similar glowing statements about Jackson, in the same mawkish way, Mesereau pointed out in court Monday.
The taped interview with Bradley Miller, an investigator for former Jackson attorney Mark Geragos, was “from the heart,” she said Monday.
Under repeated questioning, she said the boy’s medical bills were fully covered by his insurance and denied asking anyone for money to help pay family bills when he was diagnosed with cancer at age 10.
She denied complaining to a local newspaper in El Monte that an article about the boy omitted mention of a bank account she had set up in his behalf. She also denied telling newspaper staffers who showed up at her house with a holiday turkey that she needed money, not turkey.
She said she didn’t know how much money was collected from various fundraising efforts, including benefits at the Laugh Factory, a Sunset Strip comedy club.
But she acknowledged that it was in the thousands of dollars, and she remembered telling a friend that her then-husband had used the money to support a drug habit. The friend was comedian Chris Tucker’s fiancee, Aja Pryor.
After meeting the family through a summer camp at the Laugh Factory, Tucker and his girlfriend took them under their wing, inviting them on trips and to family celebrations. When Tucker gave Pryor a Mercedes-Benz one Christmas, the couple gave the struggling mother the old car.
The mother, however, said she never took possession of the car, just of the keys.
They disappeared, she said, along with some clothes that she had tucked into a garbage bag for a trip to Miami with her children and Jackson to stage a news conference denouncing the documentary.
That event never took place.
The woman is to continue her testimony this morning and the prosecution’s case is expected to wrap up within three weeks.