Ron Arias and Stephen M. Silverman
March 11, 2005 08:00 AM

Michael Jackson has the day off Friday, as a hearing not requiring his attendance will be held to deal with some issues in his child-molestation trial.

The hiatus follows a series of dramatic events that unfolded Thursday, when Judge Rodney Melville threatened to have Jackson arrested and forfeit his $3 million bail if he did not appear in court as scheduled. A distressed-looking Jackson, complaining of having fallen and hurt his back earlier in the morning, finally made it to the Santa Maria, Calif., courthouse a few minutes past the judge’s one-hour deadline – arriving in blue pajama bottoms and slippers under a blazer, with his apparent wig disheveled.

Once court reconvened, a visibly pained Jackson, 46, was forced to listen to his young accuser testify that the pop star masturbated him twice in early 2003.

The witness, now 15, also testified that Jackson plied him with wine and hard liquor during his visits to the Neverland Ranch and showed him what he called “adult” magazines taken from an employee’s small suitcase.

Prosecutor Tom Sneddon waited until he was wrapping up his questioning before asking the boy if Jackson “had touched you inappropriately.” In a hushed yet determined voice, the boy recounted two incidents on Jackson’s bed.

“I was sitting there a while and then Michael started to talk about masturbation,” the boy said of the first time he was molested. “He told me men have to masturbate … that it’s okay and natural.” Sneddon then asked the witness if he knew what “ejaculation” meant. The boy said he did, and said it happened during both incidents.

During the court session’s final 20 minutes, Jackson attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. aggressively attacked the boy’s credibility under cross-examination. Zeroing in on Jackson’s generosity toward the accuser and his family, Mesereau prompted the boy to grow defensive and show how hurt he was in remembering how at one point Jackson no longer cared about him.

Assessing how the day in court went for both sides, Seattle attorney Anne Bremner observed: “The boy’s voice was mostly flat. He’s embarrassed, and he’s no different than any other child-abuse survivor that I’ve seen on the stand.”

In contrast, Laurie Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor, called the prosecution’s performance mediocre. “The boy was very convincing,” she says. “But when he got to the issue of the actual abuse or fondling, he had his story ready to go. On cross-examination, Mesereau started getting the message out to the jury that this boy was hurt by Michael not giving him enough attention. And that’s his motive to lie.”

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