Man breaks down, says singer groped him
A 24-year-old man broke down in tears on Monday as he told jurors that Michael Jackson fondled him three times when he was young, twice paying him not to tell his mother.
The witness, the son of Mr Jackson's former maid, faltered as he related the incidents to a courtroom packed with reporters and Mr Jackson's fans. The 46-year-old pop star sat quietly at the defence table.
"This is so much harder than I thought," the man, now a youth counsellor and auto parts salesman who settled a civil case with Mr Jackson for about $2 million in the mid-1990s, said before asking for a break and dabbing his eyes with a tissue.
He told the hushed courtroom that each incident began as a game of tickling. After each incident, he said, Mr Jackson gave him a $100 bill that came with an admonition: "Don't tell your mum."
The young man was the first in a series of witnesses who are expected to testify about what prosecutors say is Mr Jackson's history of sexual abuse or misbehaviour towards adolescent boys.
The testimony is expected to focus on five boys whom Mr Jackson is accused of targeting, including Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin and a youth whose family settled a lawsuit with the entertainer for more than $20 million. Mr Jackson was never charged in connection with any of the past accusations.
In the current case, the self-styled King of Pop is charged with molesting a 13-year-old boy at his Neverland Valley Ranch in central California, plying the youth with alcohol in order to abuse him and conspiring to commit false imprisonment, child abduction and extortion.
Mr Jackson, who has pleaded innocent, faces more than 20 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
The 24-year-old said the first incident of abuse began as a tickling game when he was about seven years old and sitting in Mr Jackson's lap at a Los Angeles apartment he knew as the singer's "hideaway".
"I'm tickling and he's tickling, and it eventually moved down... You're seven. I didn't think it was wrong," he said under questioning from Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen.
The second incident was similar, he said, though this time he was about eight and the pair were lying on a sleeping bag on the floor of the apartment. Mr Jackson lay behind and against the boy, then began tickling him again before grabbing his genitals through his clothes, the accuser said.
On cross-examination, the young man conceded that he initially denied being molested by Mr Jackson when he was questioned by police at the age of 13. He was embarrassed into silence, he told the jury.
His testimony echoed that of Mr Jackson's current accuser, who is now 15 and told jurors earlier in the trial that he refused to admit being sexually abused by the singer when confronted by a school official.
Mr Jackson fans, who spent the weekend rallying support for their idol, turned up in court dressed in white and occasionally snickered as Dr Mesereau cross-examined the man - at one point earning a rebuke from Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville that they would be thrown out if laughter continued.