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Defense Grills Youth's Mother at Jackson Hearing

The woman appeared evasive at times during questioning about an investigator who worked for the pop star's former lawyer.

September 18, 2004|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

SANTA MARIA, Calif. — The mother of Michael Jackson's young accuser testified at the pop entertainer's pretrial hearing Friday amid defense suggestions that she is a greed-driven opportunist and chronic liar.

Although the woman known in court as Jane Doe was subpoenaed to testify only on a dry, evidentiary issue in the child-molestation case, her appearance in the packed courtroom made for high drama.

Twenty feet from the witness stand in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, Jackson sat at the defense table, staring at the 36-year-old woman in her black jacket and simple white blouse. He was clad in a resplendent ivory suit and decked with glittering watch chains. Six of his siblings, also dressed in shades of white, occupied the courtroom's first two rows.

Jackson and Doe said nothing to each other. It had been more than two years since she and her family had stayed at his palatial Neverland estate, where she now says they were held captive and her son was molested.

Doe made the sign of the cross before taking the stand. At each break, she propped her head on her hands and prayed.

If she sought guidance, she needed it to withstand a two-hour grilling by defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. At times, she appeared evasive, suspicious and forgetful.

Unable to recall the length of a recent meeting with a prosecutor at her home, she sighed deeply and explained to Mesereau: "I do a lot of staying up at night ... "

Asked other questions, she stroked her chin, wrinkled her brow, shut her eyes and craned her head before answering. Mesereau asked if it were true that she couldn't remember her age when she testified before the grand jury, but prosecutors successfully objected.

The defense has made Doe's credibility a crucial issue in the case. They contend Doe saw the chance to rake in a fortune by fabricating the accusations involving her son, a recovering cancer patient who was 12 at the time of the visit. Prosecutors say Jackson, who has pleaded not guilty, is a merciless predator.

At issue Friday was whether Doe told Santa Barbara County prosecutors that Bradley Miller, a Beverly Hills private investigator, worked for Jackson's former attorney, Mark Geragos. Police seized tapes and documents during a search of Miller's office in November. Jackson's attorneys contend that those items cannot be used in court, because doing so would violate attorney-client confidentiality.

Doe testified she knew of Miller only as a member of Jackson's security team, despite a taped interview she did with him in February 2003. Made shortly after the devastating British TV documentary on Jackson's life, the tape begins with Miller identifying himself as "a licensed private investigator working for Geragos & Geragos, specifically for Mark Geragos, who is a lawyer for Michael Jackson."

Doe seemed to deny the accuracy of the transcript. After further questioning, she backpedaled. "I don't remember," she said. "Now I know who Mark Geragos is. Then it didn't mean nothing to me."

Doe repeatedly asked Mesereau to rephrase his questions, saying they were confusing.

Asked if she knew the hearing's purpose, she replied: "Just to bring more torture on me and my children."

Clearly exasperated at times, Mesereau failed to get any admissions from Doe about the relationship between Geragos and Miller. Even so, he managed to make damaging points that strayed far from the hearing's ostensible purpose.

Although Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville cut him off, Mesereau asked Doe about previous litigation, including a lawsuit against J.C. Penney Co. alleging false imprisonment and an action accusing her ex-husband with abusing and falsely imprisoning one of her children.

Such calculated errors prompted a rebuke from Melville: "I'd like you to talk to me," he told Mesereau, "not to the press."

After Mesereau's examination, prosecutor Ron Zonen did not question Doe.

Later, outside the courtroom, Mesereau issued a statement for which he had secured permission from Melville. Reiterating his client's innocence, he took issue with recent reports of a $2-million settlement that Jackson is said to have paid in an alleged child-molestation incident involving a housekeeper's child.

As Jackson and his family clustered around him, Mesereau said the singer realizes he took bad advice in paying his way out of that situation and a 1993 case involving molestation allegations that were investigated by grand juries in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties.

"Greed begets greed," Mesereau said. Jackson "should have fought these actions to the bitter end and vindicated himself."

As the Jackson family emerged from the courthouse, waiting fans erupted in cheers. About 150 people showed up -- a small number compared with earlier hearings, even though a few came from as far as Finland.

At the same time, deputies escorted Doe through side entrances to avoid the crowd. Her movements are necessarily secret, prosectors said, objecting to a routine question in court about her county of residence.

"We went to great expense to move the family in a very surreptitious way," said prosecutor Gordon Auchincloss, adding they use different names now.

Doe's appearance was the culmination of a pretrial hearing that has lasted all summer on defense motions to bar evidence from the searches of Miller's office and of the Neverland ranch.

Melville said he'd rule later on the requests, setting the next hearing in the Jackson case for Oct. 14.

Times staff writer Catherine Saillant contributed to this report.

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