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Social worker testifies boy denied abuse

Says that family defended Jackson during interview

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- A social worker testified yesterday at Michael Jackson's child molestation trial that she met privately with the accuser and his family during the time they claim they were Jackson's captives, and they praised him and denied any sexual abuse.

Irene 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 documentary that drew attention to 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,' " Peters testified. She said the accuser told her Jackson ''was very kind to him and treated him like a father."

Jackson, 46, is accused of molesting the then-13-year-old boy between Feb. 20 and March 12, 2003, plying him with wine and conspiring to hold the family captive to get them to make a video to rebut the documentary ''Living With Michael Jackson," which aired in the United States on Feb. 6, 2003.

The boy, a cancer survivor, appeared with Jackson in the documentary. Jackson told interviewer Martin Bashir that he let children sleep in his bed but that it was not sexual.

Peters said she interviewed the mother, the boy, his younger brother, and older sister, and all of them praised Jackson. She said the mother, who was present at each child's interview, even gave Jackson credit for curing her son.

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

Peters 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," 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., 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 claimed they were forced to do by Jackson's associates.

Peter's testimony touched on an element of the prosecution's conspiracy case when she noted that she ran into the mother in April 2003 at a restaurant.

Peters said the mother told her that ''Michael wanted to send them to Brazil, and she didn't want to go." Peters said the mother referred to Brazil as ''that dump."

The prosecution claims that Jackson and associates wanted to send the family on a one-way trip to Brazil after the documentary aired. A travel planner has testified that she arranged a March 1, 2003, flight, but the trip was abruptly canceled.

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