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Law

Sources: Jackson staffer was at accuser's interview

From Art Harris
CNN

Jackson arrives in handcuffs at the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department last month.
Jackson arrives in handcuffs at the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department last month.

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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- When child welfare workers interviewed in February the boy who now accuses Michael Jackson of sexually abusing him, the boy denied he had been molested by the pop icon, and his mother said nothing improper occurred, according to the report.

Sources close to the prosecution told CNN there was a Jackson employee nearby during at least part of the interview by child welfare agency workers. And, the sources said, the employee's presence had an "intimidating" effect.

"To say there was intimidation going on is an understatement," one source said.

The presence of someone connected to Jackson may have had a chilling effect on the boy's story, one expert said.

"The implied message to the child is, 'I'm here to prevent you from saying anything bad about Michael Jackson,'" said Dr. Astrid Heppenstall Heger, a child abuse expert who heads the Los Angeles-based Violence Intervention Program.

The mother of the boy says in the welfare agency interview she was unaware of abuse of her son at that time. However, sources close to the prosecution say at least one incident of abuse was witnessed by the accuser's brother.

According to the Los Angeles Department of Family and Children's Services, the agency got a hotline tip from the boy's school shortly after the February ABC documentary aired featuring Jackson holding his hand.

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In the documentary, the superstar said the boy, a cancer patient, had been on sleepovers at his Neverland Ranch, where they slept in the same room, but not in the same bed.

When caseworkers met the family, the welfare report says Jackson was called a "father figure" by the boy's mother, who said her children were "never left alone with the entertainer."

Last month, CNN legal analyst Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom heard what the defense represented as the family praising Jackson on an audiotape recorded by a defense private investigator, also in February.

"One month after these alleged tapes were made, both the mother and the alleged victim in this case signed written affidavits under penalty of perjury stating that Michael Jackson never acted inappropriately toward the victim in this case," Newsom said.

Experts say children don't always tell everything.

"Defense attorneys can say to a child, 'Well, are you lying now, or were you lying then?' And it's not a lie. None of it was a lie. It's just part of getting permission to tell," Heger said.

Prosecution sources said investigators have more evidence to back up the boy's story, but the defense says it has plenty to shoot it down. Still, the prosecution has discounted the welfare agency report.

One source said child welfare caseworkers "never independently confirmed anything in their report. They didn't discover what we found. Their report is not worth the paper it's printed on."

Jackson, 45, surrendered to authorities in Santa Barbara on November 20 and was booked on charges of "lewd and lascivious conduct" with a child under 14. He was released on $3 million bond.

If formal charges are filed next week as promised, he will face arraignment January 9.

The singer has maintained his innocence, saying the allegations against him are based on a "big lie."

The defense claims the boy and his family have brought the charges for financial gain. But prosecutors said the accuser does not plan to file a civil lawsuit against Jackson.


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