Culkin Shared Jackson's Bed But Says He Wasn't Molested
Thursday, May 12, 2005
SANTA MARIA, Calif., May 11 -- Taking the witness stand Wednesday with cool aplomb, actor Macaulay Culkin acknowledged sleeping in the same bed with Michael Jackson many times as a young boy but insisted that he remained fully clothed and was never molested by the pop star.
The first celebrity witness in Jackson's child abuse trial spent 67 minutes defending a friendship that he described as still close, a bond forged when Jackson called him "kinda out of the blue" after Culkin shot to overnight stardom at the age of 10 with his role in the movie "Home Alone."
" 'Hey, it's Michael Jackson. I think I kinda understand,' " Culkin, now 24, recalled Jackson saying during that first phone call.
Over the years, Culkin said, his "unique" relationship with Jackson included after-hours shopping sprees at toy stores, games of tag, "hundreds" of phone calls and a week-long vacation to Bermuda minus Culkin's parents.
Culkin said his parents were usually present during his visits to Jackson's rural Neverland ranch and were aware that he was sharing Jackson's bed, but they never discussed it.
"They never really saw it as an issue," he said, noting that his father, Kit, had even come into Jackson's bedroom on occasion to wake his son up.
Prosecution suggestions that Jackson engaged in inappropriate behavior with his famous young friend were "absolutely ridiculous," Culkin insisted. "I've never seen him do anything improper with anybody." Culkin's face was still boyish and his occasional grin still impish as he answered questions with polite nonchalance. "Sure," he said when prosecutor Ron Zonen demanded to know whether Jackson ever hugged him.
"Any reason to suspect Mr. Jackson was manipulating you with his gifts and generosity so at the right moment he could strike and molest you?" Zonen pressed.
"No, never," came the reply.
Finding a kindred spirit in Michael Jackson, he said, "was a comforting thing."
Culkin's testimony came during Week 11 of the trial; the defense is expected to continue for four to six weeks.
Culkin's assertions were at odds with testimony earlier in the trial by former Jackson employees who claimed they saw Jackson touch Culkin inappropriately when the boy was at Neverland. One of the prosecution witnesses, a former maid, said Jackson had touched Culkin's "rear end," and the other witness described improper contact by Jackson while the child actor played a "Thriller" video game in the ranch's arcade in the wee hours of the morning.
Asked during cross-examination whether Jackson might have molested him as he slept, Culkin's eyebrows shot up in apparent surprise.
"I find that unlikely," he said, adding, "I think I'd realize if something like that was happening."
Jurors also saw nearly three hours of footage edited out of a British documentary that had triggered the current criminal case after Jackson acknowledged platonically sharing a bed with children, among them a 13-year-old boy who appeared at his side. That same teenager, a cancer survivor, now accuses him of molesting him in February and March of 2003 and conspiring to hold his family captive to make a rebuttal video. If convicted of all charges, which include serving alcohol to a minor, Jackson, 46, faces as much as 20 years in prison. Outtakes from the British documentary showed Jackson, too, speaking of the isolation that fame wrought.
He described himself as a man so achingly lonely that he approached strangers on the street in a futile search for simple friendship, at times turning to chimpanzees and mannequins for comfort.
"I used to be very lonely, painfully lonely," Jackson said on the video to British journalist Martin Bashir.
"I used to walk the streets looking for someone to talk to. I'd walk up to someone, say, 'Will you be my friend?' They'd be, 'Oh, my God, you're Michael Jackson!' Cars would be bumper to bumper . . . people jumping out. It was not what I wanted." Jackson said he instead took comfort in the Peter Pan-inspired mannequins of children in his bedroom and in his pet chimps. The chimps, he said, used his bathroom and flushed the toilet, sat down for meals using knives and forks, and helped him clean his room.
"They would dust," Jackson said.
The portrait of domestic simian tranquillity contrasted wildly with testimony earlier in the trial by a former Jackson maid who recalled cleaning chimp feces off the walls of Jackson's bedroom.
Culkin told jurors how as a child at Neverland ranch he was awestruck by the bright lights, beauty and nonstop fun at the private amusement park, where he cavorted with Jackson along with other visiting children, including his younger brother, Kieran Culkin.
There were no rules at Neverland, Culkin recalled, no bedtime or admonishments to eat vegetables.
"He was very childlike. He liked doing the things we did," Culkin said of Jackson. "He played with us." Culkin said he would plop down and sleep wherever he was when exhaustion overtook him at Neverland, be it alongside Jackson in his bed or on the floor of the arcade where he was playing video games.
"We didn't share a bed on a regular basis," he said under cross-examination. "It was a casual thing. There were no rigid rules about when or where you should fall asleep." Culkin said he routinely slept in his clothes -- "jeans, T-shirt and socks" -- until he switched to pajamas around the age of 17. That was the same year he married actress Rachel Miner, also 17, only to divorce two years later.
Culkin was the third young man to testify for the defense about sharing a bed with Jackson as a prepubescent boy with nothing untoward happening. Culkin came under sharpest questioning about the trip to Bermuda he took with an old neighborhood playmate named Brock Goldstein and his family shortly after befriending Jackson.
Mentioning the impending trip to Jackson during a phone call, Culkin said, "He said, 'Is it all right if I tag along?' and I said yes." Culkin said he didn't remember whether he told his hosts in advance or whether Jackson's presence caused any friction.
He acknowledged that the singer gave him a gold Rolex watch engraved "From Michael Jackson" on the trip, but said he "didn't remember" the Goldsteins saying the gift was inappropriate. Asked whether his friend's parents complained about Jackson dominating his time or forbade the 11-year-old Culkin to go on side trips with Jackson without their supervision, Culkin repeatedly said the trip happened too long ago.
"Gosh, I don't remember those kind of details," he said.
Dressed in a dark suit with an open-collar white shirt and no tie, Culkin made no obvious attempt from the witness stand to exchange any smile or look with Jackson, who sat at the defense table in his customary motionless pose, his back to courtroom spectators, a curtain of black hair hiding any expression, even in profile.
Culkin's trips to Neverland fell off after the age of 14, he testified, noting that he wasn't on the West Coast as often.
"I didn't come back till 17," he said, and by then, he would choose to stay in one of the ranch's guest units.
"I enjoyed my privacy a little bit more," he explained.