Macaulay Culkin, the former child actor, came to Michael Jackson's defence yesterday, denying he had ever been molested by the singer during repeated stays at his Neverland ranch and describing the criminal charges against him as "absolutely ridiculous".
Mr Culkin, who shot to stardom in the Home Alone films and has undergone well-documented struggles with his own celebrity, was the first of what is expected to be a roster of prominent showbusiness personalities to testify on Mr Jackson's behalf.
He arrived at the court in Santa Maria by limousine and slipped in through a back entrance to avoid attracting undue attention from the fans and television cameras arrayed outside.
His vigorous support of Mr Jackson came as no surprise, as he has said before that his sleepovers in Mr Jackson's bedroom were entirely innocent. He said yesterday he had not expected to testify, but that he and the defence team had changed their minds after some prosecution witnesses alleged they had seen Mr Jackson behaving inappropriately with him years ago.
He told Mr Jackson's lead defence lawyer, Tom Mesereau, that he had learnt about these allegations by watching coverage of the trial on television. "I just couldn't believe it," he said. "It was amazing to me that nobody even approached me and asked if these allegations were true."
The most specific allegation came from Phillip LeMarque, Mr Jackson's self-styled "major-domo", who told the court he had seen Mr Jackson with his hand in Culkin's trousers during a night-time video-game session. Mr LeMarque had been ordered to bring some food, but was so stunned by what he saw he "almost dropped the french fries".
Mr Culkin painted a very different picture of his relationship with Mr Jackson, saying they had formed a bond because they were both child stars who understood the privations and difficulties that that entailed. They met when he was nine or 10; Mr Culkin is now 24. "We're a part of a unique group of people," he said. "He'd been through that before, so he understood what it was like to be put in that position I was in, to be thrust into it."
Asked whether he had witnessed anything untoward going on between Mr Jackson and other boys who frequently stayed at Neverland, he replied: "I've never seen him do anything improper with anyone."
On cross-examination, the prosecution sought to undermine his claim that he had not been contacted regarding the allegations made about him. Ronald Zonen suggested the prosecution had tried to contact him many times but had been rebuffed, something Mr Culkin said he knew nothing about. He acknowledged, however, that he had made a decision not to talk to either side in the case on the advice of his personal lawyer.
Mr Culkin was part of an early effort by the defence to defuse what many observers agree was the most damaging part of the prosecution case - the allegation that Mr Jackson has a long-standing pattern of disturbing behaviour around pre-teenage boys. Last week, two other boys identified by the prosecution as molestation victims testified, along with their mothers, that nothing improper happened at Neverland.
Their experiences in the early 1990s have no direct bearing on the criminal charges at hand, which are restricted to the allegations of a 15-year-old cancer patient and his family who allege he was molested two years ago.
However, both sides in the case appreciate the importance of the past as prelude. Mr Jackson settled at least two molestation cases out of court in the early 1990s, one for a figure reported to be in excess of US$20m.
Mr Jackson denies all wrong-doing.Reuse content