March 23, 2005
SANTA MARIA, Calif. - A comedian who gave $20,000 to the family of Michael Jackson's accuser testified that she believed the boy's mother suffered from "hostage syndrome."
Louise Palanker told jurors in the singer's child molestation trial that she believed the woman had felt like a hostage since age 16 when she married a man who allegedly abused her.
Palanker said she tried to get in touch with the mother after seeing the TV documentary "Living With Michael Jackson" in which Jackson and his accuser held hands, and Jackson acknowledged letting children sleep in his bed.
The prosecution called Palanker to testify about the call and to rebut defense suggestions that the family tried to dupe celebrities, including Palanker, George Lopez and Jay Leno, into giving them money.
On the witness stand Tuesday, Palanker said soon after she left a message with the boy's grandparents, the mother called her and sounded frightened.
"She was extremely agitated and she was almost whispering. ... This was fear-based agitation," Palanker said.
The mother told her not to call her back at the same number, the witness said. Palanker quoted the mother as saying: "Don't call me back here. They're listening to everything I say. These people are evil."
"I said, `Are the children in school?' She said, `No.' That's when she started crying," Palanker said.
Palanker did not say where the mother was at the time of the call. The comedian said she called her attorney afterward because "I felt that they were being held against their will." She did not call police.
She also testified she once told investigators the mother had "hostage syndrome."
Prosecutors claim that Jackson conspired to hold the family captive after the documentary aired on Feb. 6, 2003, to get them to make a rebuttal video praising Jackson.
Jackson, who is accused of molesting the boy in February or March 2003, arrived to court on time Tuesday, smiling but moving slowly as he did Monday when he was late again after another visit to a hospital. The pop star has complained of back pain.
Palanker told jurors how the accuser's family, who claimed to be poverty-stricken, joined classes in 1999 at the Laugh Factory comedy club in Hollywood and received help from comics including George Lopez and Chris Tucker.
Palanker testified that it was primarily the father, who is now estranged from his family, who made most of the requests for money. She said the boy and his mother were good people.
"He has been honest in the face of others not wanting him to be," she said.
Palanker said she once gave the family $10,000 so they could take time off work and cover personal expenses while the boy was being treated for cancer in 2000.
"I was in a position where I could help this family and I didn't want someone to ever be alone in a hospital," she said.
But within two weeks of the first gift, she said, the father asked her for another $10,000 to fix up a germ-free room for the boy when he came home. She obliged and later visited the room, where she found the family had bought a large-screen TV and DVD for the boy, expenditures she considered to be poor money management.
She said the contractor sent to fix up the room was never paid, and eventually decided to consider his work a gift to the boy.
Palanker said she and Jamie Masada, owner of the Laugh Factory, organized two benefits for the family at the father's urging but by the time of the second benefit Lopez refused to perform because the father and boy had accused Lopez and his wife of stealing $300 from the boy's wallet.
"They were irate," Palanker said of the Lopezes. "They thought (the father) was lying."
The boy's mother filed for divorce in 2001, and the father is barred from seeing his children. The father has denied allegations of abuse through his attorney, and pleaded no contest to child cruelty and spousal abuse after the boy's mother filed for divorce in 2001.
Jackson attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. questioned Palanker about the family's interest in meeting celebrities.
"Did you say at any time that they were trying to latch on to celebrities to get out of their situation?" asked Jackson attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr.
"Latch on to anyone that could help them," said Palanker.
She said the family "liked to make phone calls" to celebrities, including Leno, who contacted Palanker and asked her to tell the family to stop calling him.