SANTA MARIA, Calif. (AP) – Michael Jackson may be the defendant, but the pop star’s accuser and his mother were the ones essentially placed on trial during the defense case – the mother depicted as a star-stalking con artist, her son as a cunning schemer.

The defense rested its case in the child molestation trial Wednesday after three weeks of testimony that sought to portray Jackson as the victim of trumped-up charges lodged by a money-hungry mother.

A series of witnesses described her as a grifter and a welfare cheat who led her family to celebrities with tales of woe about her cancer-stricken son – with the goal of getting her hands on their money. The defense contends that the mother went to authorities only after she realized that the family’s days of living lavishly at Jackson’s expense were nearing an end.

The defense carried the image to its very last witness Wednesday, with comedian Chris Tucker testifying that he once warned Jackson to be wary of a mother and son he already had furnished with expensive gifts.

“I said, ‘Michael, something ain’t right,”‘ the star of the “Rush Hour” movies said. “Watch out.”

Prosecutors later began to call rebuttal witnesses. The jury could get the case by the middle of next week and begin deciding whether Jackson molested the 13-year-old boy at his Neverland ranch in February or March 2003.

Initially, the defense case was projected to last up to eight weeks, with a celebrity-studded witness list some 300 names long, including Elizabeth Taylor, Stevie Wonder and Kobe Bryant.

But only a few celebrities were called, among them Tucker, Jay Leno and Macaulay Culkin. Jackson did not take the stand, either, despite his lawyers’ hints at the start of the trial that he might do so.

Prosecutors spent nearly 10 weeks laying out their case, casting the 46-year-old Jackson as a pedophile with a history of fondling boys, including the cancer survivor in February or March 2003 at Neverland.

Jackson also is charged with giving the boy alcohol and conspiring to hold his family captive to get them to rebut a damaging TV documentary that recounted Jackson’s penchant for letting children sleep in his bed.

The defense called 50 witness in all, including Culkin and two other young men who disputed earlier prosecution testimony by insisting that Jackson never behaved inappropriately when they stayed at Neverland as boys.

Tucker said he found the accuser to be unusually cunning for a 12-year-old after meeting the boy at a benefit while the child was battling cancer in 2001.

Tucker said his suspicions about the family set in when they came to the set of a movie he was filming in Las Vegas and refused to leave. He said he paid for their hotel and expenses, but after several weeks they were still there.

Tucker said that under pressure from the family he arranged a private flight to Miami for them after they discovered that Jackson was there, and in Florida he took Jackson aside and warned him to be wary of the family.

On cross-examination District Attorney Tom Sneddon implied that Tucker encouraged the family by asking them to come to his brother’s wedding, but Tucker said they invited themselves.

When Sneddon showed a photograph of the family at the wedding with Tucker, the comedian quipped, “That’s a nice photograph. Can I get it?”

Sneddon snapped back, “That depends on whether you’re a good boy.”

Leno testified Tuesday that he became suspicious of the accuser after he received several voice-mail messages in which the boy gushingly expressed his admiration for “The Tonight Show” host.

According to testimony, the family received a $152,000 settlement from J.C. Penney after filing a lawsuit in which the mother accused department security guards of roughing up her and her children in 1998. The defense suggested that the woman’s injuries were actually caused by the woman’s then-husband.

Also, a paralegal testified for the defense that the mother admitted lying about the injuries and threatened to have the paralegal killed by the Mexican Mafia.

There was also testimony that the family had the run of Neverland while staying at the amusement-park estate’s guest quarters. Witnesses told of the mother receiving spa treatments and the family racking up $7,000 in shopping, dining and other expenses during a week at a California hotel.

Without ever taking the stand, Jackson spoke to jurors through a nearly three-hour videotape that included scenes left out of the documentary “Living With Michael Jackson.” In the video, Jackson said his feelings for children were innocent and loving.

“I haven’t been betrayed or deceived by children,” he said. “Adults have let me down.”

The prosecution called several rebuttal witnesses before the jury was dismissed early to allow discussions about whether prosecutors may play a 2003 video of the accuser’s initial interview with police. The defense said that if it is played they will want to call the accuser during their rebuttal. The judge had yet to decide the issue at day’s end.


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