Tuesday, May 17, 2005

SANTA MARIA, Calif. (AP) — A social worker testified yesterday that she met privately with Michael Jackson’s accuser and his family during the time they contend Mr. Jackson held them captive, and they praised the singer and denied any sexual abuse.

Irene Lavern Peters, a 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, said she met with the mother and her three children on Feb. 20, 2003, after the airing of a TV documentary that drew attention to Mr. Jackson’s relationship with the boy who is now his accuser.

“I asked him if he had ever been sexually abused by Michael Jackson and he became upset. He said, ‘Everybody thinks Michael Jackson sexually abused me. He never touched me,’” Miss Peters testified. She said the accuser told her Mr. Jackson “was very kind to him and treated him like a father.”

She said when she interviewed the mother, the boy, his younger brother and older sister on Feb. 20, all of them praised Mr. Jackson. She said the mother, who was present at each child’s interview, even gave Mr. Jackson credit for curing her son, who had cancer.

Rather than wanting to flee Mr. Jackson’s Neverland ranch, the mother initially asked whether the social worker could do her interview at the pop star’s estate, Miss Peters said.

The social worker said, however, that she wanted to see where they were living, so she was invited to the home of the mother’s boyfriend, who is now her husband.

“She denied all allegations of general neglect,” Miss Peters said. “I asked her about the relationship with Michael Jackson. She went on to say he was like a father to her children and she felt he was responsible for helping [the boy] to survive his cancer, for his cancer to go into remission.

“I asked her if the kids ever slept in Michael Jackson’s room and she said no, that never happened.”

Under questioning by defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr., Miss Peters said the family members never mentioned being held against their will.

The interview took place the morning after the family made the rebuttal video, which they later said they were forced to do by Mr. Jackson’s associates.

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