Billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk took the witness stand Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles and apologized to the British diver who sued him for posting on Twitter that he was a pedophile.
Vern Unsworth filed suit last year seeking unspecified damages after Musk called him a “pedo guy” online and referred to him in email messages as a “child rapist” who married a 12-year-old Thai girl.
“I apologize to Mr. Unsworth,” Musk, 48, told the eight-member civil jury who will decide whether Unsworth deserves to be paid for the slander.
Musk agreed with the plaintiff’s attorney that the tweet caused Unsworth “unreasonable grief.”
The tweet came days after a CNN interview in which Unsworth, who was part of the 2018 rescue of a youth soccer team and its coach from a cave in Thailand, criticized the miniature submarine Musk sent to help with the rescue, calling the effort a publicity stunt.
In the interview, Unsworth said Musk could “stick his submarine where it hurts.”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a judge’s order stopping Musk from making further allegations.
Called to the stand by the plaintiff’s attorney, the South Africa-born Musk spent multiple hours with arms crossed in front of him, drinking from a water bottle and speaking in a quiet monotone.
Asked to define the term “pedo guy” for the panel, the tech tycoon said it was not an obscure South African insult, but is used frequently on the internet and throughout the world.
“It just means creepy old dude,” Musk testified. “It is quite common in the English-speaking world.”
Musk added that “pedo guy” is merely a “frivolous insult” which should not be taken literally, just as Unsworth’s comment to CNN was “not actually suggesting sodomizing me with a submarine.”
In his opening statement earlier Tuesday, Taylor Wilson, an Unsworth attorney, alleged that his client’s reputation had been ruined and his heroic efforts in saving the trapped soccer team had been overtaken by the slanderous comments.
However, Alex Spiro, one of Musk’s lawyers, said that the tweet was merely a “joke” prompted by Unsworth’s CNN interview days earlier. Spiro said the term does not imply that the plaintiff was engaging in pedophilia.
Musk is expected to return to the stand Wednesday for further questioning by his own lawyers.
The civil jury was chosen from a pool of 40 people called to the courthouse early Tuesday.
In October, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson rejected Musk’s motion to dismiss Unsworth’s claims, telling attorneys that “malice” would play a part in the libel trial. The judge also allowed the “child rapist” comment emailed to a BuzzFeed reporter to be used to show Musk’s “state of mind” at the time.
Musk argued in court filings that he made the “pedo guy” insult as a joke, claiming he was sorry and explaining that the phrase was used frequently where he grew up in South Africa.
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