SANTA MARIA, Calif. Celebrity comedians Jay Leno and Chris Tucker took the stand in Michael Jackson's child molestation trial Tuesday, each describing their unusual interludes in the life of Jackson's 13-year-old accuser.
Tucker, the 50th and final defense witness, will continue direct examination Wednesday, when the defense is expected to rest its case. Michael Jackson is not expected to take the stand.
Tucker said he met the boy, who was battling life-threatening cancer, through a fundraiser at the Laugh Factory comedy club in Los Angeles. Tucker said he gave the family about $1,500, and became close with the child and his siblings, taking them to amusement parks, shopping trips, and inviting them to his house about three times.
Unlike Tucker, who appeared slightly ill at ease during about 20 minutes on the stand, "Tonight Show" host Leno, the first witness of the day, hammed it up, mugging for the courtroom and announcing in a chipper inflection that Santa Maria was a "a lovely town."
While Leno's impromptu jokes were a hit with jurors, his testimony may have bombed for the defense.
"I wasn't asked for any money, nor did I send any," Leno said when asked about a brief phone conversation in 2000 with the boy, who was in the hospital at the time battling stage-four cancer.
Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau told jurors in his opening statement that Leno thought the family was "looking for a mark" and that he heard the mother in the background, prompting the child with what to say.
But Leno testified that there was nothing particularly strange about the phone call and the woman in the background may have been simply a nurse.
What he did find strange, he said, was the child's demonstrative voice-mail messages that followed, in which he called the comedian "wonderful" and "my hero."
"The voice mails I got were, 'Oh, I'm a big fan, you're the greatest,' — overly effusive for a 12-year-old," Leno said. "For a comedian in his 50s? I'm not Batman. It seemed a bit unusual, you know what I mean?"
Leno said he called a mutual friend, comedian Louise Palanker, and asked her, "What's the story here? This doesn't sound like a 12-year-old. It seems a little scripted."
"When you say scripted, do you mean coached?" Mesereau asked.
"No," he said.
Leno, who is involved in charitable organizations for sick children, said he works with about a dozen different kids per week, making phone calls, taking them on backstage tours, and fulfilling their personal requests.
|Chris Tucker |
He reluctantly agreed that he is very accessible ("up until about 10 minutes ago," he joked, "thanks for that"), and he often surprises people when he answers his own phone at work.
"I go, 'Hi, it's Jay.' They go, 'No, it's not.' And I spend 10 minutes convincing them it is," Leno said.
After calling Palanker, Leno testified, he felt assured that nothing was amiss, because she had told him, "That's the way [the boy] is. He wants to be a comic so he writes everything out before he says it."
He said he never spoke with the mother and that the boy stopped calling.
After he was excused from the witness stand, Leno gave the jurors a parting glance and a wry smile, leaned down into the microphone and deadpanned, "We have Renee Zellweger on the show tonight," leaving them laughing as he left the courtroom.
Bruises, a tantrum
Jurors took special notice, craning their heads to watch, as the bookend star witnesses arrived in court, but it was a paralegal named Mary Holzer who offered the most compelling defense evidence Tuesday.
Holzer said she became friendly with the accuser's mother in 1999, when the family sued JCPenney after they were assaulted in a parking lot by security guards. Holzer was an office manager and paralegal at the personal injury law firm that represented the family in its civil suit.
Jackson's defense claims that the mother is a con artist who coerces her children to lie as part of her fraudulent plots. Mesereau suggested during the mother's testimony that her bruises in evidentiary photographs used to secure the $152,000 settlement were actually given to her by her abusive husband, whom she has since divorced.
Prosecutors previously showed jurors the pictures, depicting dark purple-and-black welts from head to toe on the mother's legs, arms and face.
"What did she tell you about the photographs?" Mesereau asked Holzer.
"She told me that the bruises were inflicted by [her husband] that night, after the altercation at JCPenney," Holzer said in a shaky voice, clearly nervous on the stand. "It scared me ... When a client admits to fraud, it's kind of scary."
Holzer said she was terrified when the mother warned her eight or nine times not to tell anyone because her husband's brother-in-law was in the Mexican mafia and they would kill Holzer and her 9-year-old daughter if she snitched.
"She stated she was scared for me and my daughter and she didn't want anything bad to happen to us, because she considered me a dear friend," the witness said.
"Did you consider her a dear friend?" Mesereau asked.
"Not at all. I was just doing my job."
The mother previously denied having a conversation about Mexican mafia with Holzer and characterized the paralegal as a Jackson fan.
Holzer testified that she drove the family to "multiple, multiple" appointments because they had no car, and she described a physical tantrum the mother had in the driveway of a medical center.
"She threw herself down on the ground, started kicking and screaming, carrying on that the doctor was the devil, and the nurses were the devil, and they were all out to get her," Holzer said.
The mother, according to Holzer, revealed that she prepped her kids on what to say during the examination, and that she had put her children in acting classes because "she wanted them to be good actors so she could tell them what to say and how to behave."
But why, prosecutor Ronald Zonen asked Holzer during cross-examination, if she was so concerned about the mother's Mexican mafia connection and fraudulent acts, did she help the woman and take her to see a divorce lawyer years later?
Holzer, like so many witnesses who have testified for both the prosecution and defense, said she honestly felt sorry for the woman.
Jackson is accused of repeatedly molesting his accuser in spring of 2003 and conspiring to falsely imprison the child, his two siblings and his mother at Neverland.