SANTA MARIA, Calif. – They rode in chauffeured limousines, were whisked across the country in private jets and were treated to spas at luxury resorts.
Along the way, the poor family with the cancer-stricken son circulated within a constellation of celebrities — Chris Tucker (search), George Lopez (search), Kobe Bryant (search) among them. But of all the stars, Michael Jackson (search) was the brightest, and seemingly the most generous.
During the first week of a trial that is expected to last months, the prosecution described Jackson as a sexual predator who molested the boy when he was 13 and held his family against their will. Jackson's lawyer called him the victim of a celebrity-obsessed family seeking money.
"Michael Jackson continually attracts people who want to profit," defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. (search) said in his opening statement.
What emerged from the trial's early stages was a portrait of a family from the wrong side of the tracks who managed to infiltrate the rarified air of Hollywood celebritydom.
"We were broken and Michael fixed us," the mother of the family said on a video shown in court last week.
The mother, who had show business ambitions for her children, took them to classes at The Laugh Factory, a popular comedy club on Hollywood's Sunset Strip. When her son, then 10, was stricken with cancer, she appealed to people she met there for help.
Mesereau said Fritz Coleman (search), a popular local TV weathercaster, organized a fund-raiser for the boy and Laugh Factory owner Jamie Masada (search) asked the boy if there were any celebrities he wanted to meet. He named Tucker, Adam Sandler (search) and Jackson.
Mesereau said the boy's mother also approached other celebrities, including Lopez, actor Jim Carrey (search), "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno (search) and boxer Mike Tyson (search). Leno went to police, telling them "something was wrong" and that he suspected the family was "looking for a mark," according to Mesereau.
Some of the celebrities the family approached responded generously, according to testimony and defense statements. Comic Louise Palanker (search) reportedly gave the family $20,000.
Tucker took the boy and his family by private plane to an Oakland Raiders football game and a relative's wedding, and sometimes let the sister sleep at his fiancee's home.
Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers star, visited him and posed for a picture.
And in August 2000, Jackson called. The two talked about the boy's illness and Jackson invited him to his Neverland Ranch.
"I got really excited," the boy said. "I was going to see Michael Jackson."
A limousine arrived at the family's modest apartment and took the boy to Jackson's estate.
"I thought 'Dang, this is cool,'" he recalled. "We got there and it was so beautiful and music was playing."
His mother, father and siblings also went to Neverland. Jackson invited them all to dinner and showed them the wonders of his private amusement park with its rides and zoo.
According to testimony, the boy and his brother slept in Jackson's room that first night, they on the bed, Jackson on the floor. Later, the star gave the family an SUV to use for the boy's trips to the doctor.
"God worked through Michael to help us," the accuser's mother said in the video played for the jury. "When we saw no hope, Michael said there was hope."
The mother, who is Hispanic, also spoke of the family's experiences with rejection and discrimination.
"We weren't the right Zip code, the right race. All the doors closed on us and Michael said 'My doors are open.'"
The prosecution claims the video was staged by Jackson's employees and the family was told what to say.
The family did not see Jackson again for many months, according to testimony, and in the interim the mother separated from her husband, claiming abuse.
In 2002 they were summoned to Neverland to participate in a documentary on Jackson's life being made by British TV personality Martin Bashir (search). They stayed at Neverland for weeks at a time, according to the sister, with the mother occupying a guest cottage, the boys and girl in guest rooms.
In early February 2003, the mother told her daughter they were going to Miami for a press conference with Jackson. But in Florida, where they were put up in a luxury resort and treated to spa treatments, they were told not to watch the Bashir documentary when it was broadcast.
A period of frenetic activity ensued — a private plane ride back to Neverland, a middle-of-the-night departure by the family for their home in a chauffeured Rolls-Royce, a trip to another luxury resort where the family spent more than $3,000 on clothing and spa treatments and were told they were going to Brazil.
There was a trip to Los Angeles in the dead of night to make a "rebuttal" video extolling Jackson's generosity. And, the prosecution said, there were threats that the family would be harmed if they did not cooperate.
Then, abruptly, it was over. They were returned to a grandmother's home and never visited Jackson again.
Within weeks of their final visit, the family contacted two lawyers, one of whom had arranged a $20 million settlement for another boy who made sexual claims against Jackson in 1993. The boy was sent to see a psychologist who reported that he might have been molested.