Gary Susman
March 23, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

Tuesday’s prosecution witness in the Michael Jackson trial, a comedian who considers herself a friend of the accuser’s mother, testified that the mother called her in a panic a few days after the Martin Bashir documentary aired and suggested that she and her family were being held hostage at Neverland. Under cross-examination, however, the witness said the woman spoke so often over the years of feeling like a hostage that she seemed afflicted with what the witness called ”hostage syndrome.”

Prosecutors claim that Jackson and his associates conspired to hold the family captive in order to compel their appearance in a rebuttal to the Bashir film, and that it was during this period that Jackson molested the boy. Jackson has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his attorneys have portrayed the boy’s mother as a con artist who exploited her cancer-stricken son to wheedle money and gifts from celebrities.

According to wire service reports, Louise Palanker testified that she tried to contact the boy’s family in February 2003 after watching the Bashir documentary (in which the future accuser is shown holding hands with Jackson) but was unable to reach them. Days later, however, she said she received a call from the boy’s mother, whom Palanker said sounded ”very frightened.” She says the mother told her, ”It’s not a safe line. They’re listening. These people are evil. They are keeping us.” Palanker added, ”I felt they were being held against their will.” She said the call so disturbed her that she called her lawyer, though she did not call police.

Palanker said she met the accuser’s family in 1999 when they joined classes at Hollywood’s Laugh Factory comedy club, through which the family also met George Lopez and Chris Tucker. Palanker said it was the boy’s now-estranged father, more than his mother, who had pestered celebrities like Lopez and Tucker for aid for the ailing boy, and that she herself had given the family $20,000. Palanker acknowledged telling investigators that she believed the mother had ”hostage syndrome,” often speaking of herself as a hostage to her husband, whom she had married at 16. She filed for divorce from him in 2001, but her calls to celebrities continued. ”It felt to me like [the mother] was reaching out to people who were more stable so that they could pull her out of her circumstances and help her stabilize herself,” the witness said. Asked by the defense about her having described the mother to investigators as ”wacky” and ”totally bipolar,” Palanker said she’d been exaggerating, her prerogative as a comic.

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