Originally created 05/14/05

Former Jackson attorney says the pop star was a 'target'



SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Michael Jackson's former attorney Mark Geragos testified at the pop star's child molestation trial Friday that Jackson told him his accuser had slept in his bed but that nothing sexual had happened.

Geragos, who testified that he investigated the accuser's family and became "gravely concerned" about them as a threat to Jackson, was cross-examined on whether he ever asked Jackson if the boy slept in his bed.

"Yes, he said nothing happened," Geragos testified. "He said he didn't do anything untoward or sexual and if anyone spent the night in his room it was unconditional love."

Geragos also gave a ringing defense of his former client as he described his first visit to Jackson's Neverland ranch.

"When I was there, what I saw was a gentleman who was almost childlike in his love for kids. I didn't see anyone doing anything nefarious or criminal. I saw someone who was ripe as a target," he said.

Geragos said he was hired around the time of the February 2003 airing of a documentary in which Jackson appeared with the boy now accusing him of molestation. In the documentary, Jackson said that he let children sleep in his bed but that it was non-sexual.

Under questioning by Jackson attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr., Geragos said he was concerned about allegations spawned by the documentary and was particularly concerned that the boy or his family might take advantage of them.

He said he did database searches to see if the family had a "litigious history" and was disturbed to find they had previously sued J.C. Penney over allegations they were beaten by security guards. The family received a $150,000 settlement.

"I was gravely concerned," Geragos said.

Geragos said he hired a private investigator to look into the family, and the results led him to believe the family was bad news.

"Michael should have nothing to do with them," he said. "It was a pending disaster."

Mesereau asked Geragos if he was aware of any crime committed against the family. Geragos said no.

"I was trying to prevent a crime against my client," he said. "I thought that they were going to shake him down."

Geragos worked for Jackson until he was replaced in April 2004.

At one point, Geragos declined to answer a prosecution question on grounds that Jackson only waived attorney-client privilege concerning events before his arrest in November 2003, surprising Judge Rodney S. Melville and prosecutors.

The judge sent the jury out of the room to address "the misrepresentation Mr. Mesereau has made to the court and counsel." The judge said he believed it was a total waiver of the privilege.

Mesereau apologized, saying he did not think events after Jackson's arrest were relevant.

Jackson, 46, is accused of molesting a 13-year-old cancer patient in February or March 2003 and plying him with wine. He is also accused of conspiring to hold the boy's family captive to get them to make a video rebutting the documentary.

Geragos came to court under threat of arrest. Melville issued the warning Thursday when a Geragos colleague sought to reschedule his testimony because of other courtroom obligations. But the judge ordered him to be there at 8:30 a.m.

Geragos arrived well in advance but then waited around for hours while attorneys questioned another witness. The judge became exasperated.

"I have this picture of a lawyer upstairs walking back and forth pulling his hair out of his head wondering why I called him here today under threat of a warrant while Mr. Mesereau goes on and on," the judge said. "What's wrong with that picture?"

Mesereau replied, "It's pretty accurate, I think, your honor."

Geragos did not complete his testimony before court recessed for the weekend. The judge scheduled him to return May 20.

Also Friday, defense attorneys asked to call as a witness a former Neverland ranch employee who allegedly heard the sister of Jackson's accuser say her mother and her mother's then-boyfriend were planning "something big" involving the singer.

Defense attorneys said Neverland employee Angel Vivanco's testimony would support their argument that the family was plotting to get money from Jackson. The mother and boyfriend married last year.

The sister, who was 16 at the time, allegedly said her mother was "not OK in the head" and was "making her do something." Her statements also reportedly included a reference to her mother as "Psycho Mom" and a prediction that "something bad is going to happen."

Prosecutors, who described Vivanco as having a "quasi-sexual relationship" with the sister while she was at the ranch, said Vivanco's statements about the sister should not be admitted because they were hearsay.

Associated Press Writer Tim Molloy contributed to this report.