THE JACKSON CASE: Culkin willing to cooperate with defense, sources say 1/6/05 By DAWN HOBBS

Actor may testify to rebut claims he was molested at Neverland

NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER

“Home Alone” star Macaulay Culkin has indicated he’ll cooperate with Michael Jackson’s defense lawyers in the pop star’s upcoming child molestation trial, the News-Press learned on Wednesday.

A defense investigator recently spoke with Mr. Culkin, who said he would be willing to testify to rebut former Neverland Valley Ranch employees who are expected to claim the actor was molested by Mr. Jackson more than a decade ago, sources told the News-Press.

Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville is scheduled to hear arguments next week in Santa Maria on whether to admit testimony about the 1993 investigation of Mr. Jackson. Mr. Culkin, 24, who is godfather to Mr. Jackson’s first child, has been close friends with the entertainer for years and frequently visited him at his Los Olivos ranch.

During the 1993 investigation, former Neverland employees identified at least five boys — including Mr. Culkin — who spent the night in Mr. Jackson’s room, according to depositions obtained by the News-Press. Mr. Culkin, Brett Barnes and Wade Robson said explicitly at the time that Mr. Jackson did not molest them.

The three have recently reiterated that and said that they would take the stand to rebut any prosecution claim of wrongdoing, the sources said. The three men, now in their 20s, have not been subpoenaed by prosecutors, the sources said.

However, prosecutors have asked Judge Melville to allow the former Neverland Valley Ranch employees to testify to lend weight to the current accuser’s claim. No charges were filed in the 1993 case, which crumbled when the boy at the center of it refused to testify after his family accepted a $20 million settlement from Mr. Jackson in a simultaneous civil suit.

Mr. Jackson has pleaded not guilty to charges of child molestation and conspiracy. His trial, which may last up to six months, is expected to begin Jan. 31 with jury selection. A gag order prohibits lawyers from talking about the case.

Mr. Culkin’s representative would neither confirm nor deny that Mr. Culkin has agreed to help the defense.

“Macaulay Culkin has no involvement in the proceedings at this time,” Michelle Bega said. “We do not expect that to change.”

It appears prosecutors may want to call the former Neverland employees as witnesses to get testimony they can’t get from the alleged victims, said Ronald Richards, a Los Angeles defense lawyer who has worked with Mr. Jackson’s lead attorney, Thomas Mesereau, on several cases and has been watching this one.

“They may want to call these disgruntled employees to try to corroborate other alleged acts of molestation without using the alleged victims,” Mr. Richards said. “However, the judge may not even let the other witnesses come in if these alleged victims never said they were molested and never filed any civil or criminal complaints against Jackson because that would be unfair to Mr. Jackson.”

Five of the former Neverland employees filed a lawsuit against Mr. Jackson in 1995. Some were witnesses in the criminal grand jury investigation of the 1993 molestation allegations. The ex-employees alleged they were fired in retaliation for cooperating with authorities.

They lost the lawsuit and were ordered to pay Mr. Jackson $1.5 million. They each declared bankruptcy after the case. The accuser at the center of the 1993 investigation has declined to testify in the current case, another source said.

The prosecution may attempt to subpoena him or his parents, who both acknowledged during the prior investigation that they never witnessed any molestation. Another boy from 1993, who alleged Mr. Jackson inappropriately touched him through his clothing, is apparently cooperating with prosecutors, another source said, and may testify in the current case.

Mr. Jackson paid $2 million to the boy’s mother, a Neverland maid, who said in court depositions that she saw her son sleeping in the entertainer’s room.

Mr. Jackson’s lawyers have previously said he settled the cases on the advice of business associates to avoid drawn-out trials, but now wishes he had fought the matters in court. In court depositions submitted in the previous case, the ex-employees gave sworn statements with details that could be used to support the allegations from 1993.

However, defense lawyers would likely attack the credibility of these witnesses because of the civil litigation they lost and because some sold their stories to tabloids.

News-Press Senior Writer Scott Hadly contributed to this story.

E-mail Dawn Hobbs at [email]dhobbs@newspress.com[/email].

Macaulay Culkin and Michael Jackson are longtime friends.

Source: http://news.newspress.com/topsports/010605jackson.htm

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