Actress wary of accuser’s mother

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[b]THE JACKSON TRIAL: Actress wary of accuser’s mother[/b] 5/19/05 By DAWN HOBBS NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER Veteran film and TV actress Vernee Watson Johnson testified Wednesday that she did not trust the mother of Michael Jackson’s accuser and pulled the plug on a fundraiser for the family because she suspected the money would be misused. The defense witness, who appeared on TV’s “Welcome Back, Kotter,” “The Love Boat” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and in feature films including “Antwone Fisher” and “Cotton Comes to Harlem,” told jurors she wanted to help the family because the boy who later accused the entertainer of molestation was in the hospital, near death with cancer. “I had a strong feeling the money would not be used for the purpose (it was intended),” Ms. Johnson said. In response to lead defense lawyer Thomas Mesereau’s questions about why she felt that way, she said: “I didn’t trust her. I feel like if you’re going to raise money for someone and the person doing the fundraiser thinks the money should be in a separate account for your child and you tell me to put it into your account, then something is wrong.” The defense attack on the mother’s credibility was intended to show jurors that she has a history of scamming celebrities. Defense lawyers insist the mother made up the allegations against their client after she failed to get money from him in the spring of 2003. Mr. Jackson has pleaded not guilty to child molestation, administering alcohol to a minor and conspiracy. Ms. Johnson also testified that the family may have been trying to move in with her. She said the mother never directly asked her for money but always made it clear the family was in need. “Whenever I would talk to her, it would be all about what they needed, how they didn’t have anything, how they needed a place to live. There was a lot of heavy hinting.” Ms. Johnson, who met the children through her acting class in Los Angeles, told jurors the woman coached the kids to request sleepovers. “(The brother) would call, and I could hear (the mother) in the background saying, ‘Tell her you love her, tell her you love her.’ And then he’d ask to spend the night. I heard her telling (him) to ask me.” She said she refused because of how the children acted the one time she did allow them to visit. “It was ridiculous. They were all over my house. . . . They were unruly. They were all into my stuff.” Ms. Johnson’s testimony supported the defense assertion that the children were out of control. The prosecution contends that they didn’t begin to misbehave until after the alleged molestation at Neverland Valley Ranch. Prosecutor Ron Zonen declined to cross-examine Ms. Johnson. The defense has called 32 witnesses during the past 10 days. Its case was originally expected to last six to eight weeks, but it’s now anticipated that the defense may rest within the next two weeks. CNN talk show host Larry King is scheduled to testify for the defense today. Other significant testimony Wednesday included that of Mr. Jackson’s 12-year-old cousin, Rijo Jackson, who told jurors that he walked in on the boy and his brother in a guest unit at Neverland in early 2003 and caught them masturbating. Dressed in a grey suit, with his long black hair tied back, the boy, who could barely reach the microphone, testified: “I saw them go to the TV and turn to the channel that had naked girls and then they were doing nasty stuff.” “What nasty stuff?” Mr. Mesereau prodded the boy. “Jacking off and stuff,” Rijo responded. “They said, why don’t you do that with me? I said I didn’t want to because it was nasty.” The boy’s testimony contradicted that of the 15-year-old accuser, who said he didn’t know how to masturbate until the entertainer allegedly did it to him in early March 2003. Rijo said he told Mr. Jackson about the movie the boys were watching, “but he didn’t believe it. He said they were good and wouldn’t do that.” Despite Mr. Zonen’s rapid-fire cross-examination, the quiet boy stood by his story and even told the prosecutor: “I can’t understand you. You’re talking too fast.” Source:

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