Jackson PR aide says she was
fired over concerns
Witness alleges plot to paint accuser’s mom as ‘crack whore’
SANTA MARIA, California (CNN) — A public relations specialist hired two years ago by an attorney for Michael Jackson said she was fired after she expressed concern about the treatment given to the family of a teenager who would later accuse the singer of child molestation.
Ann Kite also told jurors in Jackson’s child molestation trial that she believed people around the pop superstar were putting their own interests ahead of his as they dealt with the fallout. She said she expressed those concerns to Jackson’s brother Jermaine during a six-hour meeting, to no avail.
“Jermaine was in a complete state of denial,” she said.
But during cross-examination, Kite’s description of herself as a crisis-management expert was challenged. And she acknowledged that the singer never participated in the damage-control efforts.
In the documentary “Living With Michael Jackson,” which was broadcast on Britain’s ITV on February 3, 2003, Jackson is shown holding hands with the 13-year-old boy who later accused him of child molestation.
A different version of the documentary, based on the same material, was later broadcast in the United States on ABC.
Kite, who also goes by the professional name Ann Gabriel, told jurors in Jackson’s trial that she was hired by his Las Vegas-based lawyer, David LeGrand, less than a week after the documentary was first broadcast.
Kite described the program as “an absolute disaster” for the pop star and that, on a damage scale from one to 10, she would put it at “a 25.”
In addition to holding hands with the teenager in the documentary, Jackson also defended his practice of allowing children to sleep in his bedroom at Neverland Ranch, where the teen alleges he was molested.
Jackson was indicted in April by a state grand jury on 10 felony counts in connection with incidents that allegedly occurred in February and March 2003: four counts of committing a lewd act on a child; one count of conspiracy to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion; one count of attempting to commit a lewd act on a child; and four counts of administering an intoxicating agent to assist in the commission of a felony.
He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Kite’s testimony is an effort by prosecutors to support their contention that after the documentary backfired on Jackson, the singer and his associates tried to isolate the teenager and his family and intimidate them into participating in a rebuttal video designed to control the damage to his image — a campaign that allegedly included holding them captive at Neverland.
But Kite’s testimony also seemed to support the defense contention that Jackson’s associates, rather than the entertainer himself, exercised considerable control of the events that unfolded after the documentary.
Publicist: Jackson ‘confident’
Jackson feels “very happy” about the start of his trial and is coping by spending time with his family and friends, his spokeswoman said after court Wednesday.
“Michael feels very confident in his defense team, and he feels very happy about yesterday and today,” said Raymone Bain, who addressed reporters briefly.
Bain said Jackson’s blunt response to reporters about his feelings Tuesday — “angry” — was a good reflection of how he feels about the case against him.
Bain said Jackson “felt that there was some betrayal there” by documentarian Martin Bashir, who was given access to Jackson for seven months to prepare “Living With Michael Jackson.”
“He was very angry, because here was somebody who he embraced,” Bain said.
Witness cites plan to denigrate accuser’s mom
In her testimony Wednesday, Kite said that on February 13, 2003, she had a telephone conversation with Jackson associate Fredric Marc Schaffel. Kite testified that Schaffel had expressed concern because the accuser’s mother, who had been staying at Neverland with the teenager and two of her other children, took the children and abruptly left the ranch.
Several hours later, Kite said, she received another phone call from Schaffel in which he told her that “the situation had been contained” — a statement she said made her “very uncomfortable” — and that the family was back at the ranch.
Kite said she called LeGrand to ask him how the situation had been contained. He refused to answer, and she said she told him, “Don’t make me believe these people were hunted down like dogs and brought back to the ranch.”
Among other points Kite made in testimony Wednesday:
Defense challenges witness’ credentials
Under cross-examination, Kite said she worked closely on damage-control efforts with a number of Jackson’s associates, including LeGrand, Konitzer, Schaffel and Geragos, who was later replaced as Jackson’s criminal attorney. But she said she never met or spoke with Jackson.
One of the 10 counts in the indictment against Jackson alleges that he and five associates, who were not indicted, conspired to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. Schaffel and Konitzer were among those named as unindicted co-conspirators.
Other points Kite made during cross-examination included:
Kite told jurors her crisis plan involved trying to get the media focus back on Jackson’s music, rather than his actions, and she recommended that he make a “strong on-camera rebuttal” to the documentary. But she said Jackson’s associates, particularly Schaffel, disagreed with her about what to do, describing their approach as “hunker down.”
“There was obviously something more important going on,” she said.
Kite said Jackson’s entourage wanted to enlist help from Jackson’s ex-wife, Debbie Rowe, who is the mother of two of his children. She said she advised against using Rowe because “I didn’t think she was the strongest candidate.” But she said Schaffel told her Rowe would say whatever Jackson asked her to say.
Kite also disagreed with the decision to accept money to appear in a Fox network special to rebut the documentary.
“I didn’t believe Mr. Jackson should sell the proof of his innocence,” she said.
During his cross-examination, defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. challenged Kite’s description of herself as a crisis-management expert, getting her to admit her only other celebrity client was Marshall Sylver, a Las Vegas hypnotist.
“You really weren’t very experienced in the area of celebrity crisis management,” Mesereau said, asking Kite why she described herself that way.
“I’ve seen a lot,” she replied.
Mesereau also suggested that Kite had a conflict of interest because in the late 1990s, she was involved in an effort to put music on the Internet — a move opposed by Jackson and his record company, Sony. But Kite said she did not believe it was a conflict because LeGrand, who had hired her, was involved in the same effort.
When the trial resumes Thursday morning, the first witness will be Albert Lafferty, a criminalist with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.