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The Michael Jackson Trial

Ex-wife: Jackson manipulated by 'vultures'

Former spouse provides favorable testimony for defense


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Debbie Rowe became angry when she learned prosecutors taped her conversations.
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Ex-wife Debbie Rowe's testimony favors the defense.

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SANTA MARIA, California (CNN) -- Michael Jackson's ex-wife told a jury Thursday that she believed the pop star was being manipulated by three business associates she called "opportunistic vultures," who were trying to profit from his fame and fortune.

Returning to the witness stand for a second day, Debbie Rowe provided testimony favorable to the pop star, who is on trial on child-molestation charges.

The prosecution has alleged that Jackson conspired with three men -- Ronald Konitzer, Dieter Weizner and Marc Schaffel -- and two other associates to control and manipulate the family of the teenager accusing Jackson. They contend Jackson wanted the family to help with damage-control efforts after the broadcast of an unflattering 2003 TV documentary about the pop singer.

Konitzer, Weizner and Schaffel have been named as unindicted co-conspirators in the criminal case against Jackson.

But Rowe said it was her impression that "they made all the decisions," and that Jackson was somewhat remote. She also testified that she told investigators from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department that Jackson was easily manipulated, particularly when he was scared.

Jackson's former wife also said she tried to warn him about her concerns by sending a message via his dermatologist -- her former employer -- because she believed Schaffel was not passing along her messages to Jackson. But she said she was warned to be "careful" of Schaffel.

"He's like everybody else around Mr. Jackson. He's not telling him everything," Rowe said.

Rowe also had an angry retort for prosecutors when defense attorney Thomas Mesereau asked her if she was aware that investigators had recorded her telephone conversations.

"You did? You did?" Rowe said, looking at the prosecution table. "Damn you guys. You don't share anything. You bugged my phone?"

After Rowe's comments during cross-examination proved helpful to the defense, Mesereau withdrew an earlier motion to have all of her testimony stricken.

Before Rowe took the stand, prosecutors had said her testimony about a February 2003 interview she gave supporting Jackson after broadcast of the documentary would buttress earlier testimony by the mother of Jackson's accuser. The mother testified she and her children were pressured into participating in a scripted, rehearsed video defending Jackson, in the same month.

But Wednesday afternoon, Rowe stunned the courtroom when she testified that her interview was neither rehearsed nor scripted, although she also said some of her positive comments about Jackson were untrue.

When she took the stand Thursday, Rowe herself seemed to backtrack slightly on her assertion that her words in the interview were solely her own.

She said that while there was no script or rehearsal, Schaffel, who organized the taping, did periodically stop the interview to ask both her and the interviewer to "rephrase" their remarks in order to "clarify" them.

Rowe said she complied with Schaffel's requests "only if it didn't change the meaning of what I had to say."

She described the interview as an all-day marathon, consisting of more than 100 questions and lasting nine hours.

Rowe's attorney, Iris Finsilver, also testified Thursday about the interview, which she attended.

Finsilver said that when Rowe answered a question about Jackson positively, Schaffel would praise her, quoting him as saying, "Oh, Michael will be very, very pleased" and "You'll go to Neverland, and you'll see Michael and your kids."

She conceded she had been untruthful in the interview when she presented herself as part of Jackson's family, when in fact she hadn't seen Jackson in more than three years and had given up parental rights to their children, Prince Michael and Paris.

Rowe, who has since had her parental rights restored, said she made the false statements to "protect the children" and keep the media away.

The interview Rowe gave was part of an effort by Jackson and his associates to rebut a documentary by British journalist Martin Bashir, which showed him holding hands with his accuser, then 13, and defending his practice of letting children share his bed.

Rowe testified Wednesday that Jackson had asked for her help in a telephone conversation. She said he told her she would get to see him and their children after the firestorm from the documentary died down.

Thursday, Rowe said she was "excited" to participate in the interview because she thought she would get to see her children and possibly renew her relationship with Jackson. At the interview, she said she had a conversation with Schaffel in which he told her "we'd be going up to Neverland soon."

But despite her repeated queries to Schaffel over the next several months, she said, she never saw the children.

Asked who she thought was responsible for keeping her away from Prince Michael and Paris, Rowe said she would "like to believe" that it was the people surrounding Jackson, but, in the end, the responsibility lay with him.

"He's their father. Ultimately, it's his decision," Rowe said.

Last year, after Jackson was charged with child molestation, Rowe initiated legal proceedings to gain more contact with her children. A retired judge is overseeing ongoing negotiations over visitation to try to reach an agreement.

Rowe also said Thursday that Schaffel "bragged about how he took advantage of an opportunity" to make millions of dollars from the rebuttal documentary, which was sold to the Fox network. She said Schaffel also falsely told Konitzer and Weizner that she had demanded $100,000 for her interview, but then kept the money for himself.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon said Wednesday that he expects to wrap up the prosecution's case against the pop star by next Tuesday, two days later than previously announced. Three witnesses are scheduled for Friday, with some of their testimony to be outside the presence of the jury, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville said.

A grand jury indicted Jackson, 46, last year on charges of molesting a then-13-year-old boy, giving him alcohol and conspiring to hold him and his family captive in 2003.

Jackson has pleaded not guilty to the charges.


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