The mother of Michael Jackson’s teen accuser sobbed Wednesday as she told how she had watched silently as the singer licked the head of her sleeping son “over and over” during a private plane flight.
“Please don’t judge me, please don’t judge me,” she pleaded, turning to face the jury as she recalled the incident on a late night flight from Miami to Jackson’s Neverland Valley Ranch in February 2003.
She said the other passengers were asleep when she got up and looked around the plane to where her 13 year-old son was sitting next to the entertainer.
“That’s when I saw Michael licking (his) head. I thought it was me, I thought I was seeing things. I thought it was me,” she said, breaking into tears. She told no-one at the time what she had seen.
Punctuated by weeping, flailing arms and finger-stabbing toward Jackson, the mother’s testimony was as dramatic as an earlier hearing Wednesday when it was doubtful whether she would ever take the stand at all.
She took the stand outside the jury’s presence Wednesday and immediately invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not testify about welfare payments she has received.
Issues with welfare paymentsJudge Rodney S. Melville said the mother could still testify and he would instruct jurors that she had invoked her right for protection from self-incrimination.
The ruling came after the woman took the stand outside the presence of the jury and said she would refuse to discuss “everything to do with the welfare application.”
Defense attorneys have raised questions about the woman’s credibility, accusing her of bilking celebrities and committing welfare fraud. District Attorney Thomas Sneddon said in opening statements that the woman would admit she took welfare payments to which she was not entitled.
The judge said he would tell jurors that attorneys could not have anticipated Wednesday’s development when they delivered opening statements. The statement was to add that jurors should not draw any negative conclusions about either side.
Wednesday’s hearing ended weeks of speculation about when prosecutors would call the woman to testify — and whether she would testify at all. Defense attorneys have tried to turn the focus of the case from Jackson to the boy’s mother, alleging that she orchestrated a scheme to have her son falsely accuse Jackson of molestation in order to get money from the singer.
'Can't allow a witness to pick and choose'Defense attorney Robert Sanger argued after the woman left the stand that it would be unfair to Jackson to allow the witness to refuse to testify on some issues, and not others.
“You can’t allow a witness to pick and choose what he or she is going to be subject to on cross-examination,” he said.
The judge, however, said the defense could raise questions about the mother’s credibility through other testimony.
“You wouldn’t be precluded from proving those items through other witnesses,” Melville said.
The alleged welfare fraud occurred in Los Angeles County, where the mother lived. Testifying that she took payments she wasn’t entitled to could open the possibility of a criminal investigation.
The mother is considered a crucial witness by both the prosecution and defense. She is key to the prosecution’s kidnap conspiracy charges against the singer and has been portrayed by the defense as a scam artist.
Jackson’s lawyers have portrayed the mother as a liar and a grifter who preyed on celebrities. But Wednesday’s ruling will limit the defense’s scope to undermine her credibility, and was seen as another setback for Jackson.
Past allegations allowedMelville ruled last month that evidence about past allegations of improper behavior between Jackson and adolescent boys could be heard by the jury.
The mother said Jackson and his aides flew her family to Neverland in February 2003 and pressured them to make a video extolling the singer’s virtues.
Jackson and two of his aides said repeatedly that the family was in danger and the subject of death threats after the broadcast days earlier of a TV documentary which showed the singer holding hands with the boy and defending his habit of sleeping with minors.
“Michael said he would protect us from these killers,” she testified.
Making the video “would appease the killers. I heard that so many times. And you know what, they ended up being the killers”, she declared, referring to Jackson and his associates.
Jackson is charged with four counts of molestation and with plying a 13-year-old boy with alcohol. He is also charged with conspiring to commit child abduction, extortion and false imprisonment and could face 20 years in jail if convicted.
In an unusual move, Jackson’s lawyers raised few objections during the woman’s emotional testimony.
However, they are likely on cross examination to focus on what they say is the woman’s history of making false claims, including one of sexual harassment.
Calls from NeverlandEarlier in the day, the stepfather of Jackson’s accuser denied under cross-examination that he once told police he did not believe the boy’s mother was in danger as she left the entertainer’s Neverland Ranch.
The stepfather testified that the boy’s mother seemed distressed when she called from Neverland several times in February 2003, when the two were dating.
He said that after one call, he told police the woman would be leaving Neverland and wanted to know if officers could intercept the car that was bringing her back to the Los Angeles area. Police told him they couldn’t do that, he said.
Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. noted that a police report said he told an officer he did not believe the mother was in any danger.
“I am denying saying that,” the stepfather testified.