Former child star Macaulay Culkin, 24, testified Wednesday in Michael Jackson's child molestation trial.
His appearance was a major moment in this strange and often uncomfortable ordeal. Culkin could be the best thing that has happened to Jackson.
Culkin's first order of business on the stand was to refute testimony given earlier by a former Neverland employee.
Philip LeMarque, who worked at Jackson's ranch from 1990 to 1991, said Jackson fondled the child star when he was around 10.
LeMarque told the jury that he had seen Jackson and Culkin playing a video game in the middle of the night. Jackson was holding Culkin, who was too short to reach the machine, and the singer's hands went under Culkin's shorts, LeMarque said.
But LeMarque had a checkered history at Neverland. He and his wife, who also worked at the ranch, attempted to sell their story to the tabloids twice in the early 1990s. They also took money from the National Enquirer to give reporters access to Neverland when Elizabeth Taylor married Larry Fortensky there.
Private investigator Paul Barresi, acting then as a "tabloid story broker," later said the LeMarques changed their Culkin tale, making it sound worse as the bidding war for the story increased. In the end, Barresi himself sold the story.
I've known Culkin since he was about 12. He's a good kid, and so are his siblings. But he's suffered from the stigma of having been Jackson's alleged "victim" for years, even though he's denied publicly that anything illegal, sinister or inappropriate ever happened between him and the pop star.
Today he got to set the story straight.
Testimony given on Tuesday was not so helpful to Jackson's defense. Joe Marcus, the manager of Neverland, underwent a rocky cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Gordon Auchincloss.
Marcus, who has worked for Jackson for 18 years, constantly looked over to Jackson for help during his ordeal on the stand. That did not look good.
Marcus' worst moment came when he admitted to having lied to the police investigators who raided Neverland on Nov. 18, 2003. He had told them he was unaware that Jackson shared his bed with children.
Marcus may well be telling the truth about a lot of other things. But his lack of preparedness as a witness, coupled with a plodding testimonial style, didn't do much to help Jackson's case.
Could things get any stranger? Don't answer that.
This column has learned that Michael Jackson — plagued with financial woes — has forfeited his $300,000 bail bond and replaced it with another bond, also costing $300,000.
Jackson's $3 million bail, set a year ago, was handled by David Perez Bail Bonds of Covina, Calif.
Most bail bondsmen require a premium payment on a bond's first anniversary. But sources say that Perez told Jackson's personal attorney, Brian Oxman, more than a month ago that he would not charge Jackson the usual premium.
As this column reported Tuesday, the bond was collateralized using Jackson's parents' home in Encino, Calif., which Michael Jackson holds the title to.
For reasons that are unclear, however, Oxman decided this week to forfeit the $300,000 he'd already placed with Perez and take out a new bond entirely — even though there was no reason to do so.
"I've been in the business 15 years, and no one's ever done anything like this," Perez said
There's no word yet on who Jackson's new bail bondsman is. But forfeiting the $300,000 placed with Perez seems like an odd thing to do, considering Jackson's current financial crisis.
Jackson's Bank of America loans — totaling over $270 million — were bought last week by Fortress Investments, a private hedge fund. The loans are secured by Jackson's 50 percent stake in Sony/ATV Music Publishing (worth $200 million) and his own music-publishing catalog called MiJac (worth $70 million).
Oxman, reached by phone, said he was observing Judge Rodney Melville's gag order and refused "to cause consternation."
Oxman was fired last week from Jackson's child molestation case by defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. for reasons that are still unclear.
But sources say Mesereau was upset with him over the handling of a number of issues, including a separate civil suit brought by former Jackson associate Marc Schaffel.