An ex-wife of Michael Jackson and the mother of his two oldest children, Rowe took the witness stand Wednesday as a prosecution witness and will continue her testimony Thursday at the pop star's child molestation trial.
Rowe - who is currently embroiled in a dispute with Jackson over visiting the children - dealt the prosecution a startling setback as she said through tears that she was never scripted or rehearsed to say positive things about Jackson to rebut a damaging TV documentary.
Prosecutors had called Deborah Rowe to bolster their argument that Jackson conspired to hold the accuser's family captive to get them to rebut the documentary, in which the singer said he lets children sleep in his bed. The accuser's mother claims a video she recorded praising Jackson was made under duress and that every word was from a script.
The prosecution had said Rowe would offer similar testimony — that she was also pressured to praise Jackson in a video — but her testimony Wednesday did not reflect that.
"I didn't want anyone to be able to come back to me and say my interview was rehearsed," Rowe said. "As Mr. Jackson knows, no one can tell me what to say."
She reiterated that she had been offered a list of questions by her interviewers but she declined to look at them before she talked.
"It was a cold interview and I wanted to keep it that way," she said.
Rowe glanced at Jackson as she spoke. The pop star, dressed in a maroon suit, showed no obvious reaction to her testimony.
"Now prosecutors have toand figure out why Rowe didn't deliver what they had hoped and expected she would when they called her to the stand," says CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen.
"First they have to figure out if she has backed away from what she had told them earlier, in which case they might have to attack the credibility of their own witness," Cohen said
Rowe was a nurse for one of Jackson's plastic surgeons when they married in 1996, and they had two children together — 8-year-old Prince Michael and a 7-year-old daughter named Paris. The couple filed for divorce three years later, and Rowe is currently in a family court dispute over visitation with their children. Jackson has a third child, Prince Michael II, whose mother has remained anonymous.
Rowe appeared nervous at first as she told jurors "We've been friends and we were married." Asked about her domestic arrangements, she said, "We never shared a home."
Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen asked her what she expected after she gave the video interview. A teary-eyed Rowe said, "To be reunited with the children and be reacquainted with their dad." She said she hasn't seen the children in two and a half to three years.
Jackson is accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy in February or March 2003, giving him alcohol and conspiring to hold the accuser's family captive to get them to rebut the "Living With Michael Jackson" documentary.
Rowe said her conversation with Jackson lasted perhaps 2½ minutes and there was no discussion of what he wanted her to do other than to work with his associates.
She said all she could recall him saying was, "There was a bad video coming out."
"Did he tell you with any specificity what he wanted you to do?" asked Zonen.
"No," she said.
Asked why she would help Jackson, she said, "I promised him I would always be there for Michael and the children."
She did not give any details of her private life with Jackson and made it clear that she did not want to discuss it.
"My personal life was my personal life and no one's business," she said when asked by the prosecution if she had talked completely truthfully on the video.
She said the videotaped interview lasted nine hours and that she recently saw a two-hour version of it which was shown to her by prosecutors. She said she found it "very boring and dull" and didn't really pay attention while she was watching it.
Rowe said she did not see the "Living With Michael Jackson" documentary before her interview was taped.
"All I knew is whatever what is being put out about Michael was hurtful to Michael and the children," she said.
In his opening statement, District Attorney Tom Sneddon told the jury they would hear Rowe tell a story similar to that of the accuser's mother.
"Debbie Rowe will tell you her interview also was completely scripted," Sneddon said on Feb. 28. "They scripted that interview just like they scripted the (accuser's mother's) interview."
Rowe was expected back on the stand Thursday for more questioning.
"I think she has a special sort of credibility and resonance with jurors because her story is sad and odd and its hard to believe that anyone would make it up. And I think by the time her testimony is done both sides will have been able to use some of that credibility to their own advantage in the case," said Legal Analyst Cohen.
Earlier in the day, Jackson's attorneys asked for a mistrial but were turned down by Judge Rodney S. Melville during a controversy involving testimony about the television documentary.