The stepfather of Michael Jackson's accuser acknowledged in court on Thursday that he and the boy's mother had demanded payment for saying complimentary things about the beleaguered pop star.
The career Army officer, referred to in court only as "Mr. Doe," said the woman, who is now his wife, had been offered a house and a college education for her three children in return for appearing in a video rebutting allegations that Jackson had a fondness for young boys.
However, the offer by "a gentleman from Neverland" appeared to strike the couple as an empty gesture.
"I said that's all well and good, but you're making millions off this," the man said he told Jackson's representative, who was not identified in court. "What are you willing to do for this little family financially?"
The testimony provided ammunition for both sides. Jackson's lawyers have said that the child molestation charges stemmed from a shakedown orchestrated by the 12-year-old boy's mother.
On the other hand, the testimony added weight to the prosecution's theory that Jackson had applied unusual pressure to secure the family's participation in his so-called rebuttal video.
Under questioning from Jackson's lead attorney, Thomas Mesereau Jr., the man also recalled that he and the boy's mother had been disappointed over what they saw as skimpy offers from the media for their story. He said they turned down an offer of $15,000 from two British journalists.
On the witness stand at a weeklong pretrial hearing, the man painted a picture of a family enmeshed in a relationship with Jackson that shifted unpredictably between loving and loathing.
According to the man, whose name has been withheld by officials to protect his stepson's privacy, the mother and her children were Jackson's house guests at Neverland for months in 2003. At one point, however, he said he had called authorities in Santa Barbara after she had given him the impression that she was at the ranch "under duress."
About a week later she returned home to Los Angeles and he called off the police.
"I don't know the details of how or why she returned," he said. "She kept me in the dark about that."
Shortly afterward, she returned once again to Jackson's 2,700-acre estate, he said.
The testimony came out during an inquiry into the role played in the complex case by Bradley Miller, a Beverly Hills private investigator.
Police using a search warrant seized key evidence from Miller's office last November. Defense attorneys argue the evidence is inadmissible because prosecutors knew Miller worked at the time for Jackson's former attorney, Mark Geragos. Prosecutors said they did not know of the relationship and consequently did not violate laws governing lawyer-client confidentiality during their search.
The family of Jackson's alleged victim had a number of dealings with Miller, according to testimony.
The boy's stepfather said Miller came to their home in February 2003, shortly after the airing of a widely watched British documentary in which Jackson expressed an enthusiasm for nonsexual sleepovers with boys. In an apparent effort to quell the ensuing controversy, Miller taped the mother and her children discussing Jackson.
"They were very cordial," the man said, although he insisted that he did not know what was said, despite being in the apartment at the time.
On the audiotape, Miller introduced himself as a private investigator for Geragos, Mesereau said. However, the man said he had not heard that introduction.
He said he thought Miller was "a member of Jackson's security detail." When it turned out that Miller held the key to a storage locker to which his fiance's belongings had been moved without consent, he did not make further inquiry about Miller or whoever might have been his boss, he testified.
"I didn't care who he worked for," he told Mesereau. "You're asking the wrong person."
Earlier, Los Angeles attorney William Dickerman, who was a lawyer for the boy's mother, also testified that he did not know who employed Miller. Dickerman had corresponded with Geragos about the missing property but said he never made a connection between the two.
At one point, he said, Santa Barbara Dist. Atty. Tom Sneddon visited his office. But Dickerman said he could not remember the substance of their conversation.
In other matters Thursday, Judge Rodney S. Melville ruled that the Santa Barbara sheriff's office would not be violating his gag order in the case by releasing results of a state probe into Jackson's allegation that he had been manhandled during his arrest. The investigation cleared the department of any wrongdoing.
Jackson's attorneys continued their attempt to throw out some 120 items of possible evidence seized in a 15-hour police search of Neverland. To underscore their points on the alleged vagueness of the search warrant, they showed a small portion of a video that police had made during the search.
At the door of the estate, investigators were greeted by a man in a chef's uniform. During an initial sweep of the estate, the camera panned over a lavish array of furnishings, including ornate chandeliers, shelves of antique, leather-bound books, and a portrait of Jackson.
The defense effort to question the propriety of the search is expected to continue today and into next week.
Meanwhile, Jackson issued a statement on his website Thursday decrying the recent television movie "Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story" as another inaccurate and hurtful portrayal of him and his family.
"We have watched as we have been vilified and humiliated.... This is intolerable and must stop. All I can hope for is that one day, my family will be shown the same kindness and respect that we have, throughout our lives, shown to others."