SANTA MARIA, Calif. – A Las Vegas public relations specialist who briefly worked for Michael Jackson (search) gave damaging testimony against the pop star Wednesday, suggesting his associates arranged a smear campaign against the family who would ultimately accuse him of molestation.
Ann Marie Kite (search) said she was told by a Jackson lawyer that they would portray the mother of a boy as a "crack whore" in the media. Kite was hired to handle Jackson's crisis management after the airing of a damaging documentary, but she worked for him for only six days and never met the singer.
In an aggressive cross-examination, defense lawyer Thomas Mesereau Jr. (search) turned Kite's account into a description of Jackson as a victim of close associates she said did not have his interests at heart. She said she learned that one member of what she called Jackson's "team" may have been planted to try to wrest away his co-ownership of a music catalogue valued at hundreds of millions of dollars.
Jackson, 46, is accused of molesting a 13-year-old cancer survivor at his Neverland Ranch (search) in 2003, giving him alcohol and conspiring to hold the boy's family captive. The charges were sparked by journalist Martin Bashir's 2003 documentary, "Living With Michael Jackson," in which the pop star said he let young boys sleep in his bedroom.
Kite said there was alarm in the Jackson camp when the woman and her children abruptly left Neverland in the middle of the night in the aftermath of the documentary.
"It made me very uncomfortable," she said of being told by Jackson associate Marc Schaffel that the mother and children had left. Jackson's indictment names Schaffel as an unindicted co-conspirator.
Later the same day, she said, Schaffel told her "the situation had been contained. ... He said they had been brought back to the ranch. I didn't understand why he would be upset about them leaving the ranch."
She said she then contacted her ex-boyfriend David LeGrand, a lawyer for Jackson who had hired her.
"I said, 'Don't make me believe that these people were hunted down like dogs and brought back to the ranch,"' she said.
She said he told her, "I can't discuss this right now."
Prosecutors called Kite to support allegations that Jackson and associates held the family against their will at Neverland and other locations throughout February 2003 to force them to help in a public relations campaign to rehabilitate his image.
Defense attorneys say the family was free to leave at any time.
Kite said she was hired on Feb. 9, 2003, six days after the documentary aired, and was terminated on Feb. 15 with no reason given.
A former Jackson lawyer, Mark Geragos, later asked her to sign a confidentiality agreement but she refused, the witness said.
"I believe it was designed to shut me up," she said.
Kite said that later she contacted her ex-boyfriend again and was told the mother would not be a problem.
"He said that they no longer had to worry about (the mother) because they had her on tape and they were going to make her look like a crack whore," she said.
The conversation was apparently a reference to a videotaped statement the family made on Feb. 19-20, 2003, in which they praised Jackson.
On cross-examination, Mesereau stressed that Kite never met the singer or most of his associates and dealt with them only by telephone. She also never met the accuser's family and did not know their relationship to Jackson.
Kite said Jackson's advisers often seemed to work at odds with one another and did not have his best interests at heart. She said she had difficulty talking with them about a strategy to improve his public image.
"I couldn't discuss anything with anyone because they all had different agendas," she said.
When Mesereau asked if she told police that she thought Jackson was being "slammed by the team," Kite said yes.
She acknowledged telling investigators that she felt Jackson advisers including Schaffel and Ronald Konitzer were not acting in his best interest. Kite said she had gotten her information about Jackson's associates from LeGrand and from the Internet.
She said she learned that Konitzer, another unindicted co-conspirator, might be working behind the scenes to allow Sony to take over Jackson's ownership of a valuable music catalogue that includes the works of the Beatles.
"You said that Mr. Konitzer was hired to isolate Michael Jackson and let him create his downfall so that Sony could get the catalogue back, isn't that correct?" asked Mesereau.
"Not in those words," Kite said, but she added she was aware of the catalogue's importance and was informed "that Sony was waiting for the opportunity to get the Sony catalogue back."
Earlier, under prosecution questioning, Kite mentioned child molestation allegations that the pop star faced in 1993 but which did not result in charges. The reference was made even though the judge has not yet ruled on whether prosecutors will be allowed to present evidence from 1993.
The prosecution had asked about other public relations problems Jackson faced in February 2003.
Kite listed both the documentary that triggered the current case, and the leaking of information from the 1993 allegations to the Web site thesmokinggun.com. Kite said the latter allegations involved inappropriate actions with a young boy.
"In combination with the Bashir documentary I felt it was beyond a disaster," Kite said.
Mesereau objected to questions about 1993, and the judge cautioned jurors that they were only to consider the testimony as it related to explaining Kite's motivations and not for the "truth of the matter."
Outside court, Jackson said "yes" when reporters asked him if he was happy with his attorney.