Closing arguments are expected Friday in the trial of a defamation lawsuit filed against Tesla CEO Elon Musk by a British spelunker who helped rescue a youth soccer team from a Thailand cave.
Vernon Unsworth’s lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court seeks unspecified damages, claiming Musk defamed him by calling him a “pedo guy” on Twitter.
On the stand Thursday, Unsworth said he would not apologize to Musk for an interview in which he said the Tesla/SpaceX CEO’s offer of a mini-submarine to help in the cave rescue effort was a “PR stunt.”
Unsworth said on the witness stand that in the CNN interview, he was only giving his opinion of the device Musk’s SpaceX team had devised, but was not criticizing the tech tycoon.
“My insult was to the tube and not to Mr. Musk personally,” Unsworth said during cross-examination by one of Musk’s five lawyers. “I’m not sure how I need to apologize. It was my opinion at the time and I stand by that opinion.”
In the same interview, Unsworth said Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts.”
Testifying in his own defense earlier this week, Musk told jurors he tweeted the “pedo guy” slur — which he defined as “creepy old dude” — as an angry reaction to Unsworth’s CNN comments, which were made just days earlier.
Unsworth, 64, alleges that the tweet ruined his reputation by branding him a pedophile, telling the jury that he felt “humiliated, ashamed, dirtied.”
The cave explorer, who received several commendations, including an MBE (Member of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth II for his work in the rescue, said the “pedo guy” tweet amounted to a “life sentence” of having his “name tagged with being a pedophile.”
In often halting testimony, Musk on Wednesday apologized to Unsworth several times, and agreed that the insult had caused the plaintiff “unreasonable grief.”
Asked by his own attorney if he seriously meant to accuse Unsworth of the crime of pedophilia, Musk answered: “Absolutely not. I thought it was obviously an insult … a flippant insult. Nobody took it to mean he’s a pedophile.”
Later, Musk added, “I want to be clear. I did not accuse Mr. Unsworth of being a pedophile. I just meant creepy old man.”
Musk founded Hawthorne-based rocketbuilder SpaceX and electric-car maker Tesla, which operates a design complex in Hawthorne, and The Boring Co., which aims to build transit tunnels under the greater Los Angeles area.
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