Jackson Defense on Attack
Under tough questioning in court Monday, Michael Jackson’s 15-year-old accuser acknowledged telling a school administrator that the pop star had not molested him.
The surprise blow came after Jeffrey Alpert, the former dean of Burroughs Middle School in Los Angeles, surfaced with the potentially damaging information Saturday, meeting with lawyers from both sides for about an hour, according to his attorney, Thomas J. Forsyth.
Forsyth said his client came forward because “he felt an ethical obligation to tell this story.”
In court, Jackson’s lead attorney, Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., recounted the exchange that Alpert evidently remembered having with Jackson’s accuser, a boy who had regularly been in trouble with teachers for his disruptive behavior.
“Look at me, look at me,” the administrator said, according to Mesereau.
“I can’t help you unless you tell me the truth: Did anything bad happen to you at Neverland?”
In court, the boy acknowledged the conversation had occurred sometime after his family had returned to Los Angeles from Jackson’s Neverland ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley for the last time in 2003.
“I told him Michael didn’t do anything to me,” he testified.
Prosecutors, who plan to present expert testimony on the behavior of molested children, are likely to cast the statement as the kind of falsehood typically told by children who have suffered sexual trauma.
Dr. Nathan Szajnberg, a UC San Francisco psychiatrist, said in an interview that it is not unusual for teenagers to be evasive with adults about “anything that has guilt or shame connected with it.”
The boy also admitted to confusion on exactly when the alleged incidents of molestation took place, bolstering the defense contention that he and his mother had fabricated the allegations in an attempt to blackmail the pop star.
“To this day, I don’t remember exactly when everything happened,” he said as Mesereau pointed to differences in the accounts the boy had given to Santa Barbara County sheriff’s investigators and in court testimony.
Under questioning from Mesereau, the accuser also conceded that he had had disciplinary problems in middle school, where many teachers wrote him up for talking back, not doing homework, getting into fights and being generally defiant.
Describing one confrontation with a teacher, he said that other students “were cheering me on.”
Defense attorneys are expected to use that testimony against the boy, arguing that a tough, independent-minded teenager would have stood up to a molester.
“He was feisty with teachers, then all of a sudden with Michael Jackson he was passive,” said Michael Cardoza, a former Alameda County prosecutor attending the trial.
Also in court, Mesereau played a video in which the boy and his family said they considered Jackson a father figure who had helped the boy recover from cancer.
Last week, the boy testified that the video was made before the alleged molestations.
On Monday, Mesereau confronted him with statements the boy had made to Santa Barbara County sheriff’s detectives that the taping occurred after the alleged molestation.
As the videotape was stopped several times, the boy confirmed that many of the family’s laudatory statements were true and that Jackson was a loving man who had helped him recover from cancer.
He also testified that he didn’t remember “exactly when everything happened.”
Throughout the day, the boy answered questions in a mumbling monotone, with his clasped hands sometimes obscuring his mouth.
While he appeared composed under earlier questioning from prosecutors, the youth sometimes bristled under Mesereau’s grilling.
At one point, he denied ever speaking with Jay Leno, saying he had left a message for the comedian on an answering machine.
Mesereau, trying to prove that the boy and his family were seeking handouts from celebrities, has said that the boy had a telephone conversation with Leno, who told police that he heard the boy’s mother egging him on in the background.
Jackson, 46, clad in a cherry-red jacket, sat at the defense table in no apparent discomfort.
The jury most recently had seen him Thursday, disheveled and wearing blue pajama bottoms, after being rushed to court from a hospital where he had undergone emergency treatment for back pain.
Outside court, Jackson publicist Raymone Bain said the pop star has been encouraged by the testimony so far.
“Michael feels his defense is doing an excellent job,” she said. But “we’re not going out celebrating. This is a long, long trial.”
Bain offered new details about the reported back injury that caused the pop star to miss the start of court Thursday.
She said Jackson called her at 5:15 a.m. and said the back pain had virtually paralyzed him.
“He was not trying to come up with any excuses to not come to court,” she said. “He was looking forward to it.”
Jackson was given muscle relaxants at the hospital before his court appearance Thursday, Bain said. On Monday, he felt somewhat better, but the frigid air from the court’s air conditioning had caused his back to tighten by day’s end.
Times staff writer Duke Helfand contributed to this report.