Elon Musk and Vernon Unsworth could not have presented more contrasting personalities from the witness box in a Los Angeles courtroom.
Musk, the idiosyncratic billionaire, sometimes brusque, often bumbling, his awkward attempts at charm and humour getting a mixed reception – and utterly dismissive of the allegation against him.
Unsworth, the British caving expert in the most unfamiliar of surroundings, laying out in graphic detail the impact he says Musk’s “pedo guy” tweet has had on his life.
The court was rapt as Unsworth, who played a key role in the rescue of the young Thai footballers from a cave system last summer, said he felt he had been branded a paedophile by that tweet.
His voice cracked as he described feeling “raw, humiliated, ashamed and dirtied” by the experience. He finds it hard even to read the word ‘paedophile’, let alone talk about it, he said.
It was “a life sentence without parole”, he added, and not even honours from royalty around the world could take away the pain of that feeling.
Hours earlier, Musk had completed a five-hour stint in the witness box, insisting he had only intended to insult Mr Unsworth, not accuse him of any crime.
His answers roamed unusual territory – explaining his use of ‘no problemo’ as being cribbed from the cartoon character Bart Simpson – and musing over who buys marijuana in Colorado.
He detailed his “very extreme” 80 to 100 hour work weeks – “I wouldn’t recommend it” – and the $20 billion in Tesla and SpaceX shares that must take the edge off the exhaustion.
The court has also heard colourful testimony of how an employee of Musk’s used a pseudonym to engage an investigator to look into Unsworth’s background. A bonus was offered if he found any evidence of “nefarious conduct”.
Not only was nothing found, but the investigator turned out to be a conman.
At times, the judge has appeared impatient with the efforts of lawyers to pull apart the versions of Musk and Unsworth. The hearings have veered from the fractious to the farcical.
The jury has to decide whether what Musk calls ‘flippant’ and ‘off-the-cuff’, in the mind of a reasonable person, can be understood as accusing Unsworth of being a paedophile.
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