Reporter's Notebook: Mothers of Neverland


SANTA MARIA, Calif., April 15, 2005 — -- The testimony of the mother of Michael Jackson's current accuser in his molestation trial was the most highly anticipated of any witness besides the accuser himself.

Jackson is on trial for allegedly molesting a now-15-year-old boy who spent time at his Neverland ranch and appeared with him in the British documentary "Living With Michael Jackson." He has pleaded not guilty to 10 charges that include felony conspiracy with 28 overt acts involving child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. When this alleged victim's mother first took the stand Wednesday, she became the third mother to tell the jury about Jackson's close friendships with boys.

Jackson reached settlements with boys who accused him of molestation in 1990 and 1993 for a reported $2 million and more than $20 million respectively. He was never criminally charged for those allegations and has always denied any wrongdoing. Santa Barbara County, Calif., prosecutors decided not to pursue criminal charges against Jackson in the 1993 case when they said the alleged victim refused to testify.

The mothers of these past accusers were able to testify at Jackson's molestation trial because Judge Rodney Melville ruled that prosecutors could present testimony about prior similar allegations against Jackson. A 1996 California law allows prosecutors to show evidence of previous patterns of alleged bad behavior in sex crime cases.

The mothers of Jackson's three accusers have had dramatically different lives and met Jackson through equally disparate circumstances. On the stand they gave accounts of varying paths to Neverland, but each said she came away from his home with similar results.

She came to the United States from El Salvador in 1975, when she was 21, and still has a heavy Spanish accent. Now a caregiver for the elderly, in 1986 she began working for Jackson, cleaning his mansion and hideout condo in Los Angeles. "I took care of Mr. Jackson's room and personal stuff," she said.

She worked six days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., sometimes more. "Christmastime, and whatever time he needed me." She brought her son to work with her at Jackson's request. It was on several of these occasions that she said she saw inappropriate behavior by Jackson, well before she ever saw Jackson showering with a young boy at Neverland, but not before seeing other things. "I saw little things before that with other kids."

When her son was 7, she said she took him off Jackson's lap against the boy's protestations that Jackson was reading him a story. On another occasion, when he was 8, she testified that she found her son in a sleeping bag with Jackson. At first, she said, she told her son in Spanish to come out of the sleeping bag. When he didn't respond, she said it in English hoping Jackson would understand. However, Jackson and her son didn't move and so she served them snacks where they were.

She testified that later when they were walking to the bus stop, her son told her that he could pay their fare. She asked to see the money he spoke of and her son told her, "No, 'cause Michael told me it was for me and not to tell you." She was surprised to see two $100 bills, she testified.

She wasn't present to hear her son's tearful version of how he'd gotten the money. In emotional testimony, her son told the jury about tickle sessions with Jackson that he said ended with Jackson touching him in his private area -- twice through the outside of his shorts and once directly. Three times it happened in Jackson's homes while his mother was working. On two occasions, Jackson gave him two $100 bills.

He said the first person he told was God. Regarding his mother he said, "I don't think to this day she knows." He explained, "Me and my mom have a weird relationship. We don't talk much," he said. His mother said she had tried to discuss it with her son one time, "He didn't want to talk -- I was going to ask his counselor and he said no."

Talking to her son even a little bit is a luxury that the mother of Jackson's 1993 accuser doesn't have. She told the jury in a shaking voice that she hasn't spoken to her son in 11 years, and not by choice. Unlike the mother before her, she did cry, but she quickly pulled herself together. "I'll be OK," she said.

Observers were intrigued by her beauty, and one said she looked regal in her cream linen suit. She was a forthcoming witness and non-confrontational. If she didn't remember something, she'd testify in a polite, quiet voice, "I don't recall." The only time she raised her voice even slightly was to correct Jackson's defense attorney Tom Mesereau, "I did not sue Michael Jackson," she said firmly, "[My son] sued Michael Jackson." She testified that she participated in a lawsuit against Jackson as her son's representative. It was settled in 1994 and they both received payment.

She testified that she was the one to invite Jackson to contact her son, in the summer of 1992, when they met the entertainer at Rent-A-Wreck, a company in West Los Angeles that one of her ex-husbands owned. Jackson's car had broken down and she took her son to meet him. She told the jury that her son was a fan, that he would wear a sparkling jacket and glove, and "dance around like Michael Jackson." So she invited Jackson to call. "If you'd like to see [my son] or if you'd like to call him, here's the number, you can give him a call."

Jackson did call her son, eight to 10 times, she said, in conversations that lasted about 10 minutes at first, but progressed to an hour. "I was excited for him. They were talking about things that were of interest to [my son]." She said Jackson invited him to Neverland during one of those conversations and that she drove her son and young daughter three hours to visit the ranch. She said it was a fun trip. "Michael and [my son] were playing video games." She added, "I was watching."

It was on their second or third visit when her son began asking to participate in sleepovers with Jackson. She said he would beg her. "There were all these boys around and they were staying in Michael's bedroom, so why couldn't he?" Other mothers were there too. She said she had dinner and watched a movie with one of them one night.

She testified that she finally relented and allowed her son to share a room and a bed with Jackson on a trip with him to the Mirage hotel in Las Vegas when Jackson came to her "crying, shaking and trembling." She said that Jackson asked her why her son could not sleep with him, telling her, "There's nothing wrong, there's nothing going on. Don't you trust me?" She testified that she didn't trust Jackson at first because she's had men in her life who disappointed her and that Jackson's overtures to be part of their family were in direct contradiction to what she'd always known.

After this conversation, her son began sleeping in the same room as Jackson regularly on trips and in her own house. For more than 30 nights he slept in her son's bedroom, she said. She agreed with Mesereau that she was glad Jackson was spending so much time with her son because his father was wrapped up in a screenplay and didn't see him much. "In the beginning I was happy," she said.

But later, she said she would have to force her son to wish his father a Happy Father's Day. "[He] did not want to call his father," she said. She testified that she first noticed her son's behavior changing on a trip to Disney World with Jackson. "I didn't have any communication with him any more really. He started acting withdrawn, sort of smart alecky, not as sweet as he was." She told the jury, "I wanted my son back." But she testified that she didn't suspect foul play by Jackson.

Nor did she testify about seeing anything that ever bothered her, even when she was in Jackson's room. She said she accompanied her son to Jackson's bedroom. When Mesereau asked her why she followed her son there, she was incredulous, "Because I'm his mother, I'm allowed to go in the bedroom," she replied.

She said she stopped accompanying her son to the bedroom with Jackson after the 10th time.

The mother of Jackson's present accuser, who began testifying Wednesday, said she never followed her son into Jackson's bedroom.

The two couldn't be more different. While Mother No. 2 was reserved and composed, the mother of Jackson's present accuser gestured wildly during her testimony and frequently became hysterical.

Sobbing from the stand, for example, she pleaded with her audience, "Please don't judge me. Please don't judge me." She was distraught, telling the jury that she saw Jackson lick her son's head on a plane returning from Miami. "I hadn't slept in so long," she said, explaining that she thought she was seeing things. "I wasn't going to tell nobody." And she didn't, not until she says her son told her he'd seen Jackson molesting his brother.

She frequently spoke directly to the jurors, like they were friends. She involved them in intricacies of her son's ongoing treatment for cancer that is currently in remission. For example, turning to them without prompting, she explained that her son still takes antibiotics to protect his remaining kidney. It's "certain death if he's exposed to certain bacteria," she said.

She said his cancer was the reason she had to live separately from him for a time. While he lived in a sterile room at his grandparents' home, she stayed with her other two children in a studio apartment in East Los Angeles. She began to cry when Assistant District Attorney Ron Zonen asked her to describe the place. "It was my home," she said breaking down. She lived with her three children in the one-room apartment for five years.

She and her son first met Jackson through a friend because of the boy's illness. The family first visited Jackson at Neverland during her son's chemotherapy treatments in August 2000, when he "would walk like a toddler and tire easily."

Frequently, she pointed to Jackson from the stand. Asserting that Jackson involved her son in the documentary "Living with Michael Jackson," without her permission, she testified that she was under the impression that her son was going to Neverland again to celebrate progress in his cancer treatment. Shooting her hand in Jackson's direction, she said, "I thought he was inviting him because of the biopsy," She emphasized the word he.

Other times during her testimony she seemed to be talking directly to Jackson. "They damaged controlled everything for you, for Michael. They fixed everything for you, for Michael," she said. She made the statement while testifying about what she said was an intricate scheme by Jackson and his associates to use her family to combat the fallout of the Martin Bashir documentary.

Some things she said she didn't remember so well, "Don't quote me on that," she'd say. Other events she recalled with great clarity. She gave the jury a vivid account of Jackson's alleged co-conspirators taking her to a spa to make it appear that she was being pampered.

"And get this," she said explaining that the trip was part of what she called "positive PR." "They wanted to show they were doing things for the mother," she testified. When Zonen asked her if she'd had a full body wax, she shook her finger at him, "No," she corrected. She explained that that it was just a leg wax.

She said she believed warnings from Jackson and his alleged co-conspirators that killers were after her and her children because she was terrified for her family.

"I was so wrapped up," she cried, "I believed everything they said."

Sniffling, she said she also believed them because she wanted to, "I wanted friends so bad because [my ex-husband] always told me no one liked me."

Once she started catching on, she said she made several attempts to save her family by escaping Neverland but that she was unsuccessful. "So then I the mother failed again," she said.

Another mother, Michael Jackson's mother, Katherine, sat alone in the row behind her son, silently taking notes.

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