A British spelunker who helped rescue a Thai soccer team told a Los Angeles jury Thursday in a civil defamation trial that he would not apologize to Elon Musk for an interview in which he said the Tesla/SpaceX CEO’s mini-submarine offer to help in the recovery was a “PR stunt.”
In the trial’s third day, Vernon 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.”
Closing arguments are expected Friday after the judge instructs the jury.
Unsworth’s lawsuit seeks unspecified damages after Musk called him a “pedo guy” on Twitter days after the television interview, in which the cave explorer also said Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts.”
Testifying in his own defense earlier this week, Musk told the panel in Los Angeles federal court that he tweeted the “pedo guy” slur — which he defined as “creepy old dude” — as an angry reaction to Unsworth’s CNN comments.
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.”
During several hours on the stand Wednesday, an emotional Unsworth, 64, told the jury that Musk’s tweet left him feeling “humiliated, ashamed and dirtied.”
Asked to define the term “pedo guy,” the electric car entrepreneur said it was a common insult used frequently on the internet and throughout the world.
“It just means creepy old dude,” Musk testified.
Musk founded Hawthorne-based rocketbuilder SpaceX and electric-car maker Telsa, which operates a design complex in Hawthorne, and The Boring Co., which aims to build transit tunnels under the greater Los Angeles area.