Accuser’s Mother Ends Testimony
Sparring with a defense lawyer to the end, the mother of Michael Jackson’s teenage accuser left the witness stand Tuesday after five days of contentious and at times bizarre testimony.
The woman may prove the most memorable witness of the trial, if not the most significant. She confronted Jackson directly from the witness chair, bickered with defense lawyer Thomas A. Mesereau Jr. and repeatedly spoke of hired killers out to get her family.
The mother is the key witness to help prove the prosecution’s allegation that Jackson had conspired to hold the family against its will at his Neverland ranch.
Santa Barbara County Dist. Atty. Tom Sneddon said Tuesday he planned to rest his case by the end of next week.
Jackson, 46, is accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy at Neverland in 2003. He is also charged with giving minors alcohol to aid in the commission of a felony and of conspiring to keep the accuser and his family from leaving the Santa Ynez Valley ranch. If convicted on all charges, he could face more than 20 years in prison.
Jackson’s defense contends the 37-year-old mother of four persuaded her son, now 15, to falsely accuse the pop star of molesting him in an effort to win an eventual legal judgment or settlement. She did not witness any of the alleged acts of abuse.
During more than 15 hours of testimony, the mother helped prosecutors score a few points. She testified that Jackson’s aides would not let her leave the ranch without permission and forced her to appear in a video praising Jackson. That video, which never aired, was intended to rebut a British documentary in which Jackson admitted to nonsexual sleepovers with children.
The woman, whom The Times is not naming to protect her son’s identity, also testified that Jackson’s staff followed and videotaped her and her family. Prosecutors played surveillance videotapes of the family -- which the mother authenticated -- taken by a private investigator employed by the pop star.
One showed the woman’s elderly mother taking out the garbage. Another showed her daughter walking to school.
But she was on the defensive from the beginning of testimony last week. Her first act in her five days on the stand was to say she would not answer questions about alleged welfare fraud or perjury, invoking her 5th Amendment rights.
Mesereau contends she concealed a $152,000 settlement that she won from J.C. Penney Co. after a fracas with security guards, in order to keep receiving welfare checks.
Before answering many questions, she turned to address jurors directly. Last week, she tearfully asked jurors not to judge her while testifying that she saw Jackson lick her son’s head during a flight from Miami to Santa Barbara and didn’t intervene.
On Tuesday, as in two prior days of cross-examination, the woman struggled to explain discrepancies in her testimony, this time about the J.C. Penney scuffle. Prosecutors had shown the jury pictures of the woman marked by bruises, and suggested the injuries resulted from the melee.
Asked why photographs taken after the incident didn’t show bruising, the woman said the marks were covered by makeup. But she also testified that her former husband didn’t allow her to wear makeup.
Mesereau suggested that the injuries visible in the prosecution photographs were actually caused by her former husband, who she said beat her almost daily for 17 years. She insisted the security guards, not her former husband, caused the injuries.
At one point Tuesday, the mother looked into the jury box and said of Mesereau: “He takes things out of context and mixes words around.”
Throughout her five days on the stand, the woman’s testimony was hard to follow. She rambled, she raged, she broke down, and she interrupted lawyers for both sides before they could finish their questions.
At times, she appeared paranoid, telling jurors that she was afraid that Jackson’s staffers would fly her children away in a hot-air balloon.
A heavy-set woman with a pale, wide face, she had three children by the time she was 21 and a fourth last year. Her marriage ended in 2001 after her husband was arrested on charges of domestic violence.
When she tried to argue in court with Mesereau, a white-maned, Harvard-educated defense lawyer with a machine-gun style of questioning, she was sadly mismatched, several legal analysts said.
Of her allegation that Jackson’s aides plotted to spirit the woman and her family to Brazil, the defense lawyer noted that the airline tickets for the journey were round-trip, with a return flight scheduled a week later.
“That don’t matter. I know they choreograph everything,” she said.
Confronted about a trip to a day spa at the time that Jackson was allegedly holding her against her will at Neverland, she argued that it wasn’t for a body wax. It was a leg wax, she insisted.
The mother also bickered about the amount of money that was spent and implied that Jackson could have created a phony receipt.
Shown her lengthy, fawning statements about Jackson in the rebuttal video, she said the entire thing was scripted and rehearsed 10 times a day with Jackson aides. But her children did not mention any rehearsals or word-for-word scripts when they testified.
“The biggest problem is the defense has raised serious questions about her credibility and her mental state,” said Jim Hammer, a former San Francisco prosecutor who is following the trial as a television analyst. “There’s no question that she came off as paranoid and possibly even delusional.”
Mesereau has cast the woman as a cunning predator who saw Jackson as an easy mark. She trained her children to cozy up to celebrities, Mesereau alleged, suggesting that her older son’s cancer diagnosis made him lucrative bait.
The J.C. Penney lawsuit was just a rehearsal for her plans to take Jackson to court on trumped-up molestation charges, Mesereau suggested.
Under Mesereau’s questioning, the woman repeatedly said she asked no one for any financial help when her son was hospitalized. It was an assertion that rang hollow when the lawyer asked whether she had complained about an article in an El Monte newspaper omitting any mention of a bank account that she had set up in her son’s behalf.
She denied that she had. In fact, she said, she agreed to an interview with the paper about the “miracle” of her son’s full insurance coverage only because the reporter was an older woman struggling to start a new career as a journalist.
“So you were doing her a favor, right?” Mesereau asked sardonically.
Testimony is expected from staffers at the paper, as well as Neverland employees who were allegedly approached by the mother for money and favors. One clue about how prosecutors intend to deal with the woman’s testimony came in their statements to a grand jury last year.
“She’s uncontrollable,” prosecutor Ron Zonen told the panel. “She’s unpredictable. She has her own mind and her own opinion.”