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Witnesses' unexpected testimony surprises lawyers in Jackson case

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- They may not be as unpredictable as Michael Jackson, but witnesses in the singer's child molestation case have surprised lawyers on both sides with unexpected testimony.

Flight attendant Cynthia Bell had been expected to testify this past week that Jackson shared wine with his young accuser on an airplane trip, but she said no such thing.

Bell testified she served Jackson wine in a Diet Coke can but did not see the boy drink from it.

Prosecutors also thought Jesus Salas, the pop star's former house manager, would say he served wine to Jackson and several boys. But on the witness stand, Salas suddenly remembered he had also brought soda for the boys.

Jackson, 46, is on trial on charges of molesting a 13-year-old boy at his Neverland ranch in 2003, and one of the counts alleges he plied his accuser with alcohol, but the testimony left prosecutors with no direct evidence to prove that allegation.

''The DA's come up empty-handed," said Jim Hammer, an analyst at Fox News and a former San Francisco prosecutor. ''You shouldn't be surprised by your own witnesses."

The Jackson case has seen an unusual number of people change key aspects of their testimony or say something unexpected, said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson. It could be a sign that prosecutors are overwhelmed by the number of witnesses or by how quickly the case went to trial, she said.

''When you do last-minute preparation, you're more likely to have surprises," Levenson said.

Defense attorneys have also faced unexpected testimony. They had hoped comedian George Lopez would say the accuser once tried to con him out of $300 by claiming that Lopez took money from the boy's wallet. During testimony, however, Lopez accused the boy's father of orchestrating the scheme.

Prosecutors have occasionally looked frustrated as their witnesses strayed. Jackson's accuser told a grand jury last year that the pop star once appeared nude in front of him and his brother, and told them it was ''natural." But while testifying last month, the boy did not initially recall the statement. When prosecutor Tom Sneddon pressed for details, defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. accused Sneddon of coaching the witness. Eventually, the boy was allowed to review his grand jury testimony and then said he remembered Jackson making the statement.

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