Michael Jackson's attorney turned up the heat Thursday on the teenage boy who has accused the pop star of molestation, suggesting in cross examination that the boy took advantage of Jackson's generosity and made up the abuse.
The legendarily oddball defendant, meanwhile, faced arrest on Thursday morning after showing up to court more than an hour late, in what appeared to be pajama bottoms.
Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville issued a warrant for Jackson's arrest and rescinded his $3 million bail at 8:35 a.m. because Jackson was five minutes late and the jury still had not been seated. Told that Jackson was experiencing "a back problem," Melville told Jackson's defense team that he was suspending the warrant for only one hour.
And so the race was on, with reporters and photographers scurrying breathlessly about the courthouse grounds and shouting into cell phones in a variety of languages, while cable television channels immediately put up "deadline clocks" to see if the singer, who was taken to a hospital 35 miles away in Solvang, would make it to court in time.
When Jackson's entourage arrived about 9:40, the singer emerged looking a bit feeble. He was wearing blue pajama bottoms and sandals, with a white T-shirt and dark sport coat. He turned around and acknowledged a few fans at the gate with his customary wave as he walked slowly inside. After a stop in the bathroom, Jackson sat down in the courtroom at 9:44. (Later, his attorney Brian Oxman said the singer had fallen at home Thursday morning. "He tripped this morning and fell in the early morning hours as he was getting dressed. His back is in terrible pain. He was in terrible discomfort throughout the proceedings.")
Melville summoned Jackson attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. to his chambers for a few minutes, and then testimony resumed from the previous day, with the prosecution continuing to walk the boy through his relationship with Jackson and his knowledge of activities at Neverland ranch.
The accuser contradicted a key piece of testimony given earlier by his younger brother: The brother testified that on one occasion, Jackson walked into the bedroom naked in front of both boys, with an erection, and expounded on the normalcy of masturbation.
On Thursday, the accuser said he recalled only that Jackson came up the stairs from the bathroom to the bedroom while unclothed, retrieved something and went downstairs. After being shown his own grand jury testimony by Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon, the accuser said, "Oh, yeah, he said something about it being normal." He didn't say what "it" was. "Me and my brother were kind of like 'Eww' because we never saw a grown man naked before."
Sneddon went back over incidents from 2002 and 2003 that the accuser's brother and sister have already testified about, including the apparently frenetic period in February 2003 when the accuser and his family were summoned by Jackson to a Miami resort hotel on the eve of a network broadcast of British journalist Martin Bashir's documentary about life at Neverland. In that special, Jackson and the boy, then 13, were seen holding hands and talking about how they platonically shared a bed.
But in the weeks after the Miami trip, the boy testified Thursday, his relationship with Michael changed. The singer gave him a watch (entered into evidence Thursday), which the boy said he was told was worth $75,000. The family was not able to leave Neverland, he said, except when they were being driven by Jackson's bodyguards. Preparations were made for the family to travel to Brazil, and the boy told the jury that he did not fill out the passport application with his name, picture and signature on it.
The boy, a cancer survivor, testified that he drank alcohol on many occasions with Jackson -- on the plane from Miami, but also in the wine cellar at Neverland, drinking "wine, vodka and Jim Bean, I think it's called," he said. ("Jim Beam?" Sneddon asked. "Jim Bean," the boy replied, spelling it out at the prosecutor's request: "B-E-A-N.")
"Did you ever tell Mr. Jackson you only had one kidney?" asked Sneddon. "Yes," the boy said. "I told him it was bad for me to drink alcohol and he said it was okay, nothing was going to happen."
The accuser said it was after the Miami trip that Jackson molested him twice while the two were in bed. It began, he said, when "Michael started talking about masturbation. . . . He told me males had to masturbate. . . . If I didn't know how, he would do it for me." After about five minutes of being touched by Jackson, the boy said, "I kind of felt weird and embarrassed about it, and he said it was natural."
A day later, after playing games in Jackson's arcade, the boy said, "The same thing happened again." As he gave his version of what happened in Jackson's bedroom, the boy's voice dropped almost to a mumble.
Jackson, 46, faces 10 felony charges including molestation. He has denied the charges.
Sneddon finished his questioning and Mesereau leapt into his cross-examination with fast and almost ferocious questions -- and only 30 minutes left in the afternoon's proceedings.
"You complained after the Bashir documentary that people were making fun of you," Mesereau said to the boy. Then in another question, almost faster than the boy could answer, "After you were interviewed by social workers . . . [but] right before you left Neverland for good . . . after you met with an attorney you come up with a story that you've been masturbated by Mr. Jackson."
"I didn't tell the attorney about anything like that," the boy said.
"Not long after your meeting with an attorney -- that's when the inappropriate touching starts?" Mesereau asked.
He continued: "You told the jury Michael Jackson didn't do much for your cancer, right? . . . He calls you. . . . He invites your family to his home. . . . He gives your family a car. . . . He gives you a computer, right? He flies your family to a resort in Florida. . . . Did you get a massage [at the resort]?"
"Chris Tucker paid for the massage," the boy said, referring to the comedian, another of his celebrity friends.
The judge asked both Mesereau and the accuser "to stop arguing with one another."
But Mesereau seemed unwilling to back down. "You went back to [Neverland] how long after you escaped?" he asked the boy, and then, "Have you ever talked with Mr. Sneddon about how many times you people went back to Neverland [after claiming to escape]?" And, Mesereau wanted to know, who paid for all the fun at Neverland?
Nobody, the boy said, ever has to pay to stay at Neverland.
"Well, who do you think pays the bills?" Mesereau scolded. He reminded the boy of Wednesday's testimony, when he told the jury that he thought sitcom star George Lopez had been more supportive of him while he had cancer than Jackson had been. "Did [Lopez] let your family move into his home? . . . Can you look this jury in the eye and tell them Michael Jackson did nothing for you?"
"See, Mr. Mesereau, you -- " the boy began, until the prosecution objected to the tone of the exchange.
By then, however, it was nearing 2:30 p.m., and according to Melville's strict courtroom schedule, that's quitting time. Melville asked the jury to leave but told everyone else to remain. Without punishing Jackson for being late, he removed the arrest warrant and asked that Jackson's bail be reinstated. Jackson had been previously admonished by the judge in January for showing up late. In February, he rushed to the hospital with flu-like symptoms, delaying jury selection for a week.
The singer left without needing the ambulance summoned by Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies, which was parked rather dramatically in front of the courthouse.
So ended the latest day in . . . well, don't call it a circus. Reporters around here get testy when you call it a circus.
"It could have been this trial's O.J. moment," said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor, referring to the freeway chase prior to the arrest of football star O.J. Simpson in 1994. Levenson, who sometimes attends the Jackson trial to offer analysis to reporters, said that if Jackson was her client, "I'd be pulling my hair out. He needs to grow up real fast."
Testimony has been delayed until Monday and Melville will spend Friday considering several motions in the trial, including whether "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno must be compelled to observe a gag order in the case. (And oh, the hay he could have made with all this.)
The Associated Press contributed to this report.