DOCUMENT: Celebrity, Crime

Culkin Denies Jacko Abuse

Ex-child star refutes claims he was molested by Michael Jackson during Neverland stays

MAY 11--Ending months of speculation and anticipation, Macaulay Culkin took the witness stand in the Michael Jackson trial this morning and forcefully denied that the entertainer ever molested him, terming those claims "absolutely ridiculous."

Refuting prior testimony from two former Neverland Ranch employees, the 24-year-old actor told jurors that Jackson never touched him inappropriately during stays at the entertainer's estate more than a dozen years ago.

Wearing a black suit and a white shirt sans tie, Culkin took the stand at 8:39 AM (pst) and, under questioning by defense attorney Thomas Mesereau, was asked about allegations that Jackson fondled him. Culkin said those claims were false during his 16 minutes on the stand during direct testimony. Culkin testified that he could not believe trial witnesses had made the abuse allegations, adding that prosecutors have never contacted him to ask about the truth of these claims.

As he concluded his direct testimony, a composed Culkin said of Jackson, "I've never seen him do anything improper."

At the outset of his cross-examination of Culkin, prosecutor Ronald Zonen asked the actor about a trip he once took to Bermuda with Jackson and other friends. During that vacation, Culkin confirmed that the singer gave him an expensive Rolex watch, but discounted the gift's significance. "It wasn't anything all that crazy to me...I was not a person without means, so it wasn't anything that was all that awe-inspiring," said Culkin.

Prosecutors have alleged that Jackson, as part of a pedophilic "grooming" process, has frequently given expensive gifts to his underage male targets, as well as their family members.

As prosecutors have done previously with alleged abuse victims Wade Robson and Brett Barnes--both of whom testified that Jackson never molested them--Culkin was asked whether the entertainer could have fondled him while he was sleeping. "As far as I know, he's never molested me," Culkin testified. "I find that unlikely."

In a bid to counter Culkin's testimony that he has never been approached by law enforcement officials about the abuse claims, Zonen asked the actor whether he (or his representatives) had, over the years, rebuffed interview requests from investigators. Culkin said he was unaware of those requests.

When Zonen asked Culkin about the frequency with which he shared Jackson's bed, the actor did not specify a number of times he bunked with the King of Pop. In a follow-up, Zonen asked if Culkin had ever slept with any other 35-year-old men. "Not that I remember," the actor testified, "but I wasn't really friends with a lot of 35-year-olds who actually understood me."

During Mesereau's redirect examination, Culkin was asked about his comment that Jackson "understood" him. The "Home Alone" star testified that the singer could relate with the actor's worldwide fame and the fact that some people sought to personally profit from their association with him. "He gets it," Culkin said of Jackson, whom the actor described as "childlike."

The gambit to portray Jackson as childlike, or somehow regressed, began to emerge as the defense started putting its own witnesses on the stand last week. It appears the only way for Mesereau to counter testimony that Jackson shared his bed on hundreds of occasions with young boys. Instead of denying these creepy sleepovers, the defense camp seems poised to embrace them, arguing that they were actually innocent, not prurient, endeavors.

Jackson's defense team called Culkin to counter testimony last month from former Neverland employees Adrian McManus and Phillip Lemarque. McManus, who worked as a maid, told jurors that she saw Jackson once kiss Culkin on the cheek while "he had his hand kind of by his leg, kind of on his rear end."

Lemarque provided more graphic, and possibly damaging, testimony. The former Neverland majordomo claimed that he saw Jackson fondle Culkin while the pair played a video game in Neverland's arcade sometime in 1991 (Culkin would have been 10 or 11 at the time). In his April 8 testimony, Lemarque said that he saw Jackson's left hand inside Culkin's pants.