SANTA MARIA, Calif. – In colorful testimony that may have damaged the prosecution’s case, Michael Jackson’s ex-wife testified Thursday that the pop star is a loving father who is easily manipulated by aides she described as “opportunistic vultures.”
Deborah Rowe Jackson’s second day of testimony seemed to distance Jackson from three associates he is accused of conspiring with in a scheme to falsely imprison the family of the boy who has accused him of molestation.
Rowe, the mother of two of Jackson’s three children, also insisted again that her statements in a 2003 television program that portrayed Jackson favorably were neither rehearsed nor scripted.
Using graphic language on occasion, Rowe spoke directly to Jackson several times, drawing the ire of one of Jackson’s prosecutors.
It was the first time she had spoken with Jackson in person since they divorced in 1999.
She also playfully scolded the lead detective in the case after learning that Santa Barbara County sheriff’s detectives recorded a conversation with her.
Rowe, who met Jackson while working as a nurse for his dermatologist, was called as a prosecution witness, but her testimony provided far more ammunition for the defense.
She said Jackson is easily manipulated by his top assistants, especially if he’s scared, and that many decisions are made without his approval.
“In my past knowledge, he’s removed from the handlers, the people who are taking care of business, and they make all the decisions. There’s a number of times they don’t consult him,” Rowe said.
She said one of the uncharged alleged conspirators, Marc Schaffel, appeared to be acting without Jackson’s knowledge when he produced a television program to rebut a damaging British documentary about the pop star.
“Did you ever get the impression he was not giving Michael Jackson all the information about what he was up to?” Jackson’s lawyer, Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., asked.
“He was like everybody else around Mr. Jackson. Yeah, he wasn’t telling him everything,” she responded.
Rowe also said that she believed the aides Jackson is accused of conspiring with were “opportunistic vultures,” who tried to make money at Jackson’s expense.
The mother of Jackson’s accuser testified earlier in the trial that Jackson associates threatened to harm her family if she and her children did not appear in the rebuttal program. Prosecutors allege that Jackson’s associates were acting at his direction.
Rowe’s testimony raised new doubt about the conspiracy case, several legal analysts said. “The defense was very successful in putting out the thought that Michael Jackson was isolated and all these other individuals were acting on their own without his knowledge,” said former Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Thomas, who is following the trial as a television analyst. “I think the defense is very pleased. She doesn’t kill the case. But she ended up making a pretty good defense witness during the prosecution case.”
Rowe made it clear in her testimony that she still has a fondness for Jackson and hopes that they’ll one day be reunited, at least as friends. She said she hasn’t seen the couple’s two children since their divorce and is petitioning a court for visitation rights. Rowe gave up her parental rights after the divorce.
She and Jackson spoke once by telephone in 2003, when he asked her to appear in the rebuttal video, but haven’t spoken beyond that since the divorce, she said.
Asked whether she still considers him a friend, Rowe said, “Yeah. If he’d talk to me.”
Then she looked at Jackson and said, “Sorry.”
Jackson, free on $3 million bail, is on trial on charges of child molestation, attempted child molestation, furnishing alcohol to a minor in order to molest him and conspiring to hold the child and his family against their will at his Neverland ranch. He could face more than 20 years in prison if convicted.
Asked whether he liked Rowe’s testimony, Jackson nodded but then left the courthouse without comment.