Jackson late to trial and wearing pajamas

Lawyers say fall sent him to hospital

judge threatens to revoke bail

March 11, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Michael Jackson, dressed in purple paisley pajama bottoms and looking more spectral than ever, listened yesterday in obvious distress to more than four hours of damaging testimony from the boy who has accused Jackson of sexually molesting him.

In a dramatic start to a tense day, Jackson arrived in court more than an hour late, disheveled, limping and heavily medicated after what his lawyers said was a fall early yesterday morning that sent him to a local emergency room. His failure to appear for the 8:30 a.m. start of the court session provoked Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville to issue a warrant for his arrest and threaten to revoke his $3 million bail, raising the possibility that Jackson would be jailed for the rest of his trial.

When he did arrive, Jackson faced his 15-year-old accuser, who gave an explicit account of Jackson masturbating him twice and repeatedly serving him alcohol at his Neverland Ranch near Santa Maria. Jackson generally avoided eye contact with the boy, but he often squirmed at the defense table and held his head in his hands.

During the hour grace period the judge gave Jackson to appear, his lawyers paced nervously in the courthouse driveway, checking their watches and whispering into cell phones. CNN ran a countdown of the minutes Jackson had left before facing arrest and jail. He arrived four minutes after the deadline set by the judge, accompanied by motorcycle officers, family members and bodyguards. A white ambulance pulled into the courthouse parking lot not long after Jackson entered.

He shuffled slowly into the courtroom, supported by his father, Joe Jackson, and one of his bodyguards. Instead of the flashy suits, vests and jewelry he has been wearing to court, he was dressed in pajama bottoms, sandals, white socks, a T-shirt and a dark suit jacket.

At the end of the day, Melville rescinded his order without comment, and Jackson left the courthouse a free man. Melville is known as a stickler for decorum who will not tolerate tardiness. He reluctantly suspended jury selection last month when Jackson was hospitalized for the flu and harshly berated the entertainer for arriving late to a hearing last year.

One of Jackson's lawyers, Brian Oxman, said the singer was in pain from the fall and "in terrible discomfort during the entire proceedings." He said Jackson would spend the weekend recuperating and would be back in court Monday. No testimony is being taken today.

Jackson's pain could only have been compounded by the testimony from his accuser, who gave his account of the charges are at the heart of the case against Jackson. He said that Jackson reached into his pajamas and masturbated him twice.

The boy made no mention of two other molestation incidents purportedly witnessed by his younger brother, who testified this week that he had twice seen Jackson with his hand in his brother's pants as he slept or was passed out from alcohol.

Thomas W. Sneddon, the Santa Barbara County district attorney, ended his direct examination and turned over the witness to Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., the chief defense lawyer, with 25 minutes left in the court day.

Mesereau wasted no time in attacking the boy's veracity, consistency and chronology. His questioning was aggressive and at times harsh, drawing objections from Sneddon that the judge frequently sustained.

The boy became combative at times. At one point, he tried to lecture the defense counsel, beginning, "See, Mr. Mesereau ..." before Mesereau objected to his answer. Melville at one point interrupted the questioning to instruct the witness and the lawyer not to argue with each other.

Mesereau asked a number of questions about when the boy first gave his account of being sexually molested by Jackson. Mesereau noted sarcastically that such charges did not arise until after he had been taken to two prominent Los Angeles lawyers, including Larry Feldman, who negotiated a multimillion-dollar settlement from Jackson in 1993 on behalf of a young boy who accused the singer of sexually molesting him.

Mesereau also noted the gifts Jackson had given the boy and the favors bestowed upon his family when the boy was suffering from lymphatic cancer in 2000. He implied that the boy, who said the singer did little to ease his suffering from cancer, was an ingrate.

The boy said, "I never said Michael did nothing for me." But he said that on one occasion Jackson avoided him during a visit to Neverland when he was ill, and "It feels like my heart broke right there."

He also got the boy to acknowledge that he and his family came and went from Neverland on numerous occasions.

Much of Sneddon's questioning yesterday concerned Jackson's providing wine and hard liquor to the boy at Neverland. Four of the 10 felony counts that Jackson faces are for giving alcohol to a minor to further sexual abuse.

The boy, a recovering cancer patient who appeared hearty, said Jackson had given him wine in a Diet Coke can, suggesting that it would help him relax amid the publicity that followed the February 2003 broadcast of a documentary about the pop star in which Jackson said he saw nothing wrong with his sharing his bed with boys.

"He told me if I had ever heard of Jesus juice," the boy testified. "He told me, `Like you know how Jesus drank wine? We call it Jesus juice.' "

"I drank a little bit of it, and I told him it tasted ugly," the boy continued. "He said he knew I was stressed out from all the media stuff going on and the Jesus juice would relax me."

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