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'King of Pop' takes the stand

From Brian Cabell

Jackson remained on the stand for three hours, giving short answers in a soft-spoken voice.
Jackson remained on the stand for three hours, giving short answers in a soft-spoken voice.

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SANTA MARIA, California (CNN) -- Pop superstar Michael Jackson took the witness stand Wednesday to defend himself in a $20 million breach of contract and fraud case.

The civil trial started Tuesday. Marcel Avram, a European concert promoter, is suing Jackson, claiming the "King of Pop" backed out of two millennium concerts he had agreed to perform on New Year's Eve 1999.

The concerts were to have taken place in Sydney, Australia, and Honolulu, Hawaii.

Jackson arrived at the courthouse in a van, wearing a white surgical mask and carrying a black umbrella. He initially appeared nervous and asked the clerk of courts to repeat the oath to tell the truth, saying he didn't hear her the first time.

The singer removed his mask to testify and remained on the stand for three hours, giving short answers in a soft voice.

Avram's lawyers said Jackson's testimony contained several inconsistencies and answers that were different from his deposition in June.

The singer's attorneys said it is understandable that Jackson can't remember every detail of an agreement worked out a few years ago, because he deals with thousands of letters, phone calls, and agents every day.

Jackson claims it was Avram who, in a telephone call, backed out of the concerts.

Avram, a well-known concert promoter, said in court Tuesday he has also done business with Tina Turner, Eric Clapton, Frank Sinatra, and Paul McCartney, among others.

Avram said he had also worked with Jackson before the concerts in question. He said he handled two charity concerts for the singer earlier in 1999, one in Seoul, South Korea, and the other in Munich, Germany.

But those concerts lost money, the promoter said in court, and he had counted on the millennium shows to recoup his losses.

A lottery allowed 25 fans to sit in on the trial. Jackson signed some autographs and waved to well-wishers around the courthouse.

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