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Last Updated: Monday, 13 June, 2005, 21:40 GMT 22:40 UK
'Jackson trial changed my life'
By Matthew Davis
BBC News, Santa Maria

A US comedian who testified against Michael Jackson, who has been cleared of child abuse and abduction charges by a California court, has described the "overwhelming" experience of being thrust into one the biggest celebrity trials of all time.

Louise Palanker enters the Santa Maria courthouse
Louise Palanker found testifying against Michael Jackson a nerve-wracking experience

Louise Palanker jokes that her comedy career is crowned by her testimony at the Jackson trial - appearing on the same "bill" as US sitcom star George Lopez.

Her three hours and 15 minutes of fame are now an integral part of her stand-up routine.

But her jokes about paedophiles don't reflect her real emotional entanglement with the case - nor the shock she felt as she stepped into court in March.

"The first thing that enters your mind is the overwhelming amount of visual stimuli. You don't even know where to look.

"When they swore me in I couldn't even see who was talking to me. You have to acclimatise.

"The scariest thing is that they have all been in there for hours so they focus on you - if I hadn't had experience of stand-up, I don't know how I would have got through it."

'An extraordinary kid'

A gagging order prevents Ms Palanker discussing details of her testimony, but she openly talks of her relationship with Michael Jackson's teenage accuser - and the hate mail she received after her testimony.

Needless to say you are totally captivated by the case once you have been there
Louise Palanker

She first met Gavin Arvizo at the Laugh Factory comedy club in Hollywood, and got to know him well before he became sick with cancer.

"He stood out for me. He was an extraordinary kid," she told the BBC.

"When he became ill it was really grave, I had never seen a kid this sick. He was from an underprivileged background and I just thought 'Who is there for him?'

"I had just sold PRN [her radio comedy network] and I was in a position that I could do something, so I gave the family $10,000.

"Three weeks later the father was asking me for more money and I gave them another $10,000. I thought Gavin was going to die - I wanted to help.

"To this day I don't know what happened to that money. I basically thought 'Let that be my gift to Gavin' and never confronted them about it. In hindsight I'd do things differently."

'I love Jackson'

When the investigation into Michael Jackson was launched, Ms Palanker was subpoenaed by both the defence and prosecution - but ended up testifying against the singer.

Fans heckle outside Santa Maria courthouse
The Jackson trial has provoked strong emotions

"I am a friend of Gavin's not Michael Jackson's, so I was never going to be a witness for the defence," she says.

"But I love Michael Jackson, like everyone else I grew up with Michael Jackson - I don't know how he got himself in this situation, but I don't have an axe to grind.

"When I got home, I turned on the TV and the radio and people were tearing my testimony to bits.

"People are dying to second-guess your motives, to have an opinion on what you said and why you said it - but I had no agenda. I was asked to testify to what I know and I did it as a civic duty."

'Surreal experience'

Ms Palanker has posted examples of the hate mail she has received on her website - nothing too sinister, she says, but an example of the huge interest in the trial.

"Needless to say you are totally captivated by the case once you have been there," she adds.

"It was a surreal experience. When I use the story in my routine, a lot of people think I am joking."

Her friendship with Gavin means she intends to stay in touch with the teenager.

"The important thing for me is that Gavin can move on with his life," she says.

"No matter what happens, I will be on the phone to make sure he is okay and hoping that he can rebuild his life."

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