Ex-Wife Says Jackson Is a Good Man With Bad Friends

By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 29, 2005

SANTA MARIA, Calif., April 28 -- Whatever prosecutors hoped to achieve by calling Michael Jackson's former wife to the witness stand, it was the defense lawyers who left happy at the end of the day Thursday.

Deborah Rowe, mother of two of Jackson's children, testified that her former husband was "generous to a fault, a good father, great with kids, puts other people ahead of him" but had surrounded himself with lying, greedy business associates who were "opportunistic vultures" seeking to profit from his talent and fame (and perhaps even his infamy).

Furthermore, Rowe said that when she gave an interview to repair damage to the pop idol's image after a devastating Martin Bashir TV documentary about him (in which he said there was nothing wrong in sleeping with children), she was not coached or pressured or scripted in any way.

"She was just devastating for the prosecution," said Andrew Cohen, an attorney and one of the TV legal analysts in court Thursday. "It was stunning," Cohen said. Rowe made Jackson appear to be "the victim," he said.

Although Jackson stands accused of child molestation, nary a word was heard about that on Thursday. Instead, prosecutors focused on bolstering their conspiracy charge against Jackson, namely that he imprisoned his teenage accuser and his family at Neverland ranch to keep them from the media after the Bashir documentary aired, and to compel them to assist in his own "rebuttal documentary" that would put Jackson in a more positive light.

Earlier, prosecutors told the court that Rowe would show how Jackson used their children "as pawns" to force her to do the rebuttal interview (which eventually aired on Fox) and that her performance was "scripted" and false.

Instead, Rowe, who was married to Jackson for three years, said she still considered herself to be part of the Jackson "family" -- even though Jackson won full custody of the children, had Rowe surrender all parental rights, and the couple has not seen each other since their divorce in 1999.

Asked by defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. how she felt toward Jackson now, Rowe answered, "I've always considered him my friend."

"And you still do?" asked Mesereau.

Rowe said yes, then added, "If he'd talk to me."

Instead of bashing Jackson, Rowe turned her ire on his business associates, especially Marc Schaffel, a former porn producer, whom Rowe described as one of Jackson's three main managers in early 2003, the time the alleged molestation is to have occurred.

Rowe said that Schaffel often bragged about how much money he was making from Jackson and how he was going to fix all the entertainer's problems "and save his career" after the public relations disaster of the Bashir documentary. Rowe also charged that Schaffel had "a plant" at one of the tabloid magazines and had once even "set me up" at a luncheon when he alerted the paparazzi to her presence.

Since their divorce, Rowe testified, she had only spoken to Jackson once on the telephone, for just a few minutes, when he told her the Bashir documentary was full of lies and he needed her help. During that conversation, Rowe said, she asked Jackson to allow her to visit with her children again (they haven't seen each other since 2001) and Jackson told her she could.

But in court, Rowe mostly blamed Schaffel for her failure to reunite with the children (they still haven't visited).

Rowe shed tears when she spoke of Jackson.

"There's different Michaels," she said. "There's, like, my Michael and the Michael that everyone else sees."

The day in court began with the defense team arguing that the judge should throw out all of Rowe's testimony from Wednesday and that she should not return to the stand. The judge delayed a ruling. After Mesereau finished his cross-examination of Rowe, he said, "We have no further questions and we withdraw our motion." Mesereau was beaming like the cat that ate the canary.

On redirect, prosecutor Ron Zonen tried to salvage something from Rowe and questioned her with more hostility. "Who do you think is keeping you from seeing your children," Zonen asked with exasperation. Rowe conceded that Jackson is "the father, so ultimately it's his decision," but she said she wanted to believe it was the people around him who kept them apart.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company