Seeking to explain a key discrepancy in his testimony, Michael Jackson's 15-year-old accuser on Tuesday said he told a school official that the pop star never molested him because he was being teased by classmates and feared such an admission would make things worse.
The explanation came under questioning from Santa Barbara County Dist. Atty. Tom Sneddon, a day after the boy's surprise disclosure that he had denied Jackson had molested him when questioned by the dean of Burroughs Middle School in Los Angeles.
"I told him that it didn't happen," the boy said Tuesday. "All the kids were already making fun of me at school. I didn't want anybody to think it really happened."
The boy testified that after his family left Jackson's Neverland ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley in March 2003, he returned to school in Los Angeles, where he became a frequent target of schoolyard taunts. In February 2003, a documentary had been broadcast in which the boy and Jackson held hands, and the pop star said that he liked to sleep with children in a nonsexual manner.
Schoolmates would say things like "That's the kid that got raped by Michael Jackson," the boy said. Those taunts would often lead to fistfights, but only if "they hit me first," he said.
The boy's statements came near the end of his 14-hour testimony, which is considered central to the case against Jackson. The boy told Sneddon that although he once considered Jackson a loving man and a father figure, that opinion changed when the entertainer molested him in 2003.
"I don't really like him anymore. I don't think he's deserving of the respect I was giving him as the coolest guy in the world," the boy said.
Under cross-examination from defense attorney Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., the boy said he had not discussed filing a civil lawsuit against Jackson with his family and was unaware what effect a criminal conviction could have on a lawsuit.
"We don't want his money," the boy, now in the ninth grade, said.
Jackson, who according to a spokeswoman talks with the Rev. Jesse Jackson by telephone each morning before court, sat upright in his chair, watching the boy testify without any visible reaction. The 46-year-old singer, who could face 20 years in prison if he is convicted on all counts, told reporters as he left court that he continued to be bothered by a back injury that he said caused him to be late to court last Thursday and to sit through that day's proceedings in his pajamas.
Mesereau's cross-examination of Jackson's accuser exposed what the defense hopes are weaknesses in the boy's testimony, including his concession Monday that he was no longer certain of the dates when Jackson had allegedly molested him.
The boy also said under cross-examination that his grandmother had told him that men who do not masturbate enough can eventually rape women. He testified earlier that Jackson had said the same thing to him.
With the boy's key testimony concluded, Sneddon next called three Santa Barbara County sheriff's officials who talked about the events that led to the investigation and prosecution of Jackson.
The testimony was tedious at times, particularly when another of Jackson's defense lawyers, Robert M. Sanger, asked Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Sgt. Steve Robel, the lead investigator, to retrace the timeline in the case. Some jurors appeared to be sleeping or struggling to stay awake during that testimony.
Before the court recessed, Sanger accused Robel of failing to investigate the case with an open mind. He pointed to one statement Robel had made during an interview with the older sister of Jackson's accuser.
"We're going to try our best to make our case work.... I don't care how much money he has. He has done wrong," Robel said, according to a transcript.
The detective explained Tuesday that it was important for him to reassure the sister because the family was reluctant to come forward with accusations against Jackson -- in contrast to the defense's portrayal of the family as liars out to win a civil judgment against the pop star.
"They are the victims. They were terrified. It took us about two weeks to get them up here," Robel said.