SANTA MARIA, Calif., April 27 -- She is a big-boned blond woman in a black pantsuit, and when she strode to the witness stand and took the oath, she gave her name as Deborah Rowe Jackson, former wife of Michael Jackson and the mother of two of his three children.
Ms. Rowe, as she told prosecutors she preferred to be called (she actually suggested Debbie, but this is a formal court proceeding), was not in court Wednesday in the Jackson molestation trial to discuss the couple's love life or the still-mysterious details of their courtship and estrangement, but Rowe did provide a glimpse into their private world.
Rowe was reportedly pregnant with Jackson's first child when the couple attended a play in California in April 1996. They wed that November.
(Chris Pizzello -- AP)
Rowe came to the witness stand late in the day and was only beginning to testify when court adjourned, but in those 40 minutes she admitted that she lied in a 2003 documentary orchestrated by the Jackson camp when she was discussing his parenting skills. Until Wednesday in court, the couple had not seen each other since their divorce six years ago.
At times Rowe appeared to look with moony affection toward Jackson, who had his back to the courtroom audience.
Rowe, who was married to the pop star for three years (reason for divorce: "irreconcilable differences"), said she was granted limited visitation rights to see her two children, Prince Michael and Paris (now 8 and 7 years old, respectively) -- for eight hours every 45 days. She gave up those rights after about 1 1/2 years, Rowe told jurors.
Why? asked prosecutor Ron Zonen. "The visitations were not comfortable," Rowe said. They met at hotels. The children, without Jackson, were accompanied by nannies who, for example, didn't want them to finger-paint with their mother because they might get dirty. "It wasn't a quality relationship," Rowe said.
During their marriage, Rowe said, "we never shared a home. We never shared an apartment."
The couple was married in 1996 in a hush-hush wedding at a hotel in Sydney, Australia, when Rowe was six months pregnant. Before they married, she lived in a rented apartment; she now resides, with her six dogs, in a $2 million home in Beverly Hills after receiving a $10 million divorce settlement from Jackson. The Jackson camp and Rowe have denied that the marriage was a sham and that she was essentially a surrogate mother, though she has said she had the children for Jackson as a gift.
Rowe reentered Jackson's orbit in February 2003, when she was contacted by her former boss, Beverly Hills plastic surgeon to the stars Arnold Klein, who was one of Jackson's dermatologists. She testified that Klein told her, "Michael needs your help."
Rowe was a nurse and assistant to Klein for two decades, and it was through Klein that she met Jackson. Rowe said Klein instructed her to contact Jackson business associate Marc Schaffel, a former producer of gay porn, who arranged a brief telephone conversation with Jackson.
Rowe said Jackson "told me there was a video coming out and it was full of lies and would I help, and I said yes, always."
That video was the television documentary by British journalist Martin Bashir, a production deemed a disaster by the Jackson camp because it featured the King of Pop admitting that he shared his bed with other people's children and contending that there was nothing wrong or sexual about it. The Bashir documentary first aired in England and then on ABC in the United States. To blunt its negative portrayal, the Jackson team scrambled to produce the so-called rebuttal documentary, which aired on Fox and which included an interview segment with Rowe praising Jackson as a husband, father and humanitarian.
Prosecutors contend that Jackson used his children "as pawns" to entice Rowe to participate in the rebuttal project. Rowe is currently engaged in a legal struggle to regain custody of her children.
During her brief phone conversation with Jackson before the taping, Rowe said she asked him: " 'Are you okay? Are the children okay?' " and " 'Can I see you and the children when everything is over,' and he said yes."