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Jay Leno Brings Levity Into Court

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Times Staff Writer

Comedians Jay Leno and Chris Tucker cranked up the celebrity factor, but the most significant testimony in the Michael Jackson trial Tuesday came from a paralegal who said the mother of Jackson’s accuser had threatened to kill her if the paralegal exposed her lies.

Defense lawyers also disclosed that they intend to rest their case today without calling Jackson as a witness.

The paralegal, Mary Holzer, said the accuser’s mother once confided that she had lied under oath in a 1998 deposition, alleging that JCPenney security guards had beaten her during a shoplifting arrest. The injuries actually were inflicted by her abusive ex-husband, the woman told Holzer.

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“When a client commits fraud, that’s kind of scary. I told her that was wrong and she needed to retract that,” Holzer testified.

The mother, whom The Times is not naming to protect her son’s identity, implored her to keep quiet about her false allegations, saying she knew where Holzer lived and that her husband’s brother, a gang member, would kill Holzer and her 9-year-old daughter if the paralegal revealed her secret, the witness said.

“She just said she was concerned for me and my daughter, and she didn’t want to see anything bad happen to me because she considered me her dear friend,” Holzer said.

Holzer’s testimony was significant for Jackson’s defense, which has accused the mother of fabricating the allegations against the pop star in order to win money in a possible civil lawsuit that would be filed after the criminal trial.

Jackson, 46, is accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy at his Neverland ranch 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.

Holzer said there was other evidence of fraud in the civil lawsuit. She said the accuser’s mother once told her that she put her children in acting classes because “she wanted them to be good actors, so she could tell them what to say and how to behave.”

The mother told Holzer she insisted on accompanying her sons while they met with a psychologist to discuss the impact of the JCPenney shoplifting arrest, the witness testified. The mother was particularly concerned about her younger son and said, “I’m not sure [he] will remember what we practiced.”

In a heated cross-examination, Santa Barbara County Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Zonen pressed the woman about why she had kept in contact with the mother long after J.C. Penney Co. paid $152,000 to resolve the family’s lawsuit.

Holzer acknowledged that after the settlement, she accompanied the mother to meet with a family law attorney. Holzer said she encouraged the lawyer to file a temporary restraining order against the mother’s abusive ex-husband.

Why, the skeptical prosecutor asked, would she maintain a relationship with someone who was “instrumental in the potential assassination of you and your child?”

Holzer said she was not afraid of the mother, only of her husband and the husband’s brother.

“You were no longer worried you and your child would be assassinated?” the prosecutor asked.

Then the prosecutor inquired about the law firm’s share of the legal settlement with J.C. Penney.

“Ma’am, have you returned the money yet to J.C. Penney?” he inquired.

She said she hadn’t.

The tone was much lighter when Leno, host of “The Tonight Show” took the stand, the first of 12 witnesses to testify Tuesday. Leno spoke about telephone conversations he had with Jackson’s teenage accuser after the boy was diagnosed with cancer.

Leno said he was not surprised that the boy had his telephone number.

“I’m pretty accessible. I pick up the phone. I go, ‘Hi, this is Jay.’ And they go, ‘No, it’s not.’ And I go, ‘Yes, it is.’ And then I spend 10 minutes convincing them it is me,” Leno said.

Then he smiled, telling defense attorney Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., “My phone will be ringing tomorrow. Thank you for that.”

Although amusing, Leno’s testimony was not as powerful as Mesereau had said it would be in his opening statement to jurors. The defense lawyer told jurors that Leno was one of several celebrities that the accuser’s mother had approached for money before the family found Jackson.

Leno said he had called the boy after learning he had cancer, but the youth never asked for money. He did say the boy’s words seemed to have been scripted and that he was overly complimentary on the phone, telling the comedian, “You’re the greatest,” and, “You’re wonderful. You’re my hero.”

“This type of thing seemed a little odd to me at the time, for someone so young. Why a comedian in his mid-50s would be [a hero], you know, I’m not Batman. You know what I mean?” Leno said. “It just seemed a little unusual.”

The boy left so many voicemail messages for the comedian that Leno asked another comedian, who knew the boy’s family, to ask them to stop calling.

Although Leno did not provide the financial link defense lawyers were seeking, he did contradict earlier testimony from Jackson’s accuser, who insisted that he had never spoken with Leno.

“Maybe he was a little groggy,” when he reached him in the hospital, Leno said.

Before ending his 30 minutes of testimony, Leno took the opportunity to plug Tuesday’s show.

“We have Renee Zellweger on the show tonight,” he said as jurors and the courtroom audience erupted in laughter.

Actor Chris Tucker, who met Jackson’s accuser at a fundraiser at a West Hollywood comedy club, was on the witness stand for about 20 minutes before court recessed Tuesday. He is the last defense witness and is expected to conclude his testimony this morning.


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