Elon Musk has come face to face for the first time with a British diver he called a ‘pedo guy’ at their defamation trial in L.A. on Tuesday.
The Tesla CEO is being sued by Vernon Unsworth, who was part of the team responsible for saving a group of 12 Thai soccer players from a cave in 2018 but who Musk called a ‘pedo guy’ on Twitter after he criticized him.
Musk was grilled by the lawyer for his opponent in a defamation lawsuit in a Los Angeles court Tuesday afternoon.
The billionaire Tesla founder was cross-examined by an attorney for British diver Unsworth.
Vernon Unsworth arrived outside US District Court in L.A. on Tuesday (left). Musk was not seen until later (right)
Dressed in a black suit, white shirt and dark tie, Musk sat in the witness box and answered questions from Unsworth’s Georgia attorney, Lin Wood.
Under cross-examination, he admitted that some of his tweets were not ‘completely thoughtful’, but claimed that he was reacting to Unsworth’s comments, claiming the diver ‘flat out lied’ about him in an interview with CNN.
After 12 boys and their soccer coach were rescued from a flooding cave in Thailand by divers, who did not use a miniature submarine that Musk had built and flown over to aid the mission, Unsworth told CNN Musk’s intervention was just a publicity stunt and that he should ‘stick his submarine where it hurts’.
‘I assume he did not mean literally to sodomise me with the submarine, just as I didn’t literally mean he was a pedophile,’ an exasperated Musk told Wood, his arms folded as he sat in the witness box.
‘There are a lot of things that I say, not all of them have the same quality of thought,’ he admitted. ‘At times I’m quite verbose. Some of it is more thoughtful than others. Not all of it is completely thoughtful.’
Musk, 48, had sent a team of Tesla engineers to Thailand to assist in the rescue mission and offered a miniature submarine as a way to get the boys out alive – an idea Unsworth found laughable.
After calling him a ‘pedo guy’ on Twitter, Musk then hired a private investigator to dig up dirt on him and subsequently emailed BuzzFeed claiming to have been told that Unsworth married his wife when she was a child.
BuzzFeed published the email, despite Musk’s insistence the correspondence was ‘off the record’.
One of the potential jurors bowed out of the process, saying he could not be impartial because he has an interview at Musk’s SpaceX next week.
Other jurors called in for the beginning of the trial were excused for owning stock in Musk’s companies, and two avoided jury duty because they owned Teslas.
Musk’s lawyers also vetoed four potential jurors, most of whom were older women, and the two sides settled on a jury of three men and five women.
After the eight were sworn in at the Los Angeles federal court, lawyers for Musk and the diver, Vernon Unsworth, gave opening statements.
Attorney Taylor Wilson said his client suffered ‘shame, mortification, worry and stress’ over the accusations, smearing ‘what should have been one of the proudest moments of his life,’ after all 12 of the young soccer players and their coach were brought out of the cave alive.
Musk’s lead attorney, Alex Spiro, told the jurors the Tesla founder’s tweets were not to be taken seriously, and were just ‘insults understood as insults’ in an ‘argument between two men’.
Spiro accused Unsworth of lying saying that Musk was ‘asked to leave very quickly’ when the billionaire arrived at the caves during the rescue mission, and suggested that the British diver’s reputation had not been damaged by the spat, as he now has a talent agent and has been given honors by both the British and Thai governments.
Musk inside the courthouse, passing through security on Tuesday. He has said he will not settle
Musk was escorted into the courthouse by what looked like a huddle of bodyguards
Unsworth arrived much earlier in the day with his attorney, Lin Wood
Unsworth filed a lawsuit against him in California in September 2018 and for the last year, the two sides have fought viciously in court filings.
Musk’s team has said in the past that he refuses to settle the case.
Among his defenses so far have been that the term ‘pedo guy’ does not mean pedophile in South Africa, where Musk is from; that it was not him who suggested Unsworth was a pedophile, it was his private investigator, and that he did not expect BuzzFeed to publish what he put in the email without verifying it themselves.
He has also accused Unsworth of being fame-hungry and money-grabbing, saying he has tried to squeeze book and movie deals out of the entire saga along with filing multiple lawsuits to try to win damages.
Among those on Musk’s witness list are the British diver’s first wife, Vanessa – who Musk and his lawyers claim he abandoned to go to Thailand – and his current wife, the Thai women he was falsely accused of marrying when she was a child.
Unsworth’s lawyers have called the Tesla billionaire ‘thin-skinned’ and a ‘bully’.
He is seeking unspecified damages that are to be determined by a jury.
TIMELINE OF THE THAI RESCUE AND MUSK AND UNSWORTH’S DISPUTE
June 23 2018: The boys and their soccer coach become trapped in the caves
July 8: Musk tweets that he is using Tesla engineers to build a ‘kid size’ submarine to try to get them out
The Thai soccer team got lost in caves while exploring and became stuck for days. Musk offered to help and sent a team of Tesla engineers to build a submarine to get them out
July 8 – 10: The boys were rescued gradually in a complex mission involving hundreds of people
July 13: Vernon Unsworth gives a CNN interview where he is asked about Musk’s plan. He calls it a ‘PR stunt’ and says: ‘He can stick it where it hurts’ in reference to the submarine
July 15: Musk tweets calling him a ‘pedo guy’
July 17: Musk apologizes
August 15: Musk hires private investigator James Howard after he got in touch with him saying, in an email: ‘Dear Elon, you may wish to dig deep and look into Mr. Unsworth’s past… no smoke without fire!’
They set about launching their ‘investigation’ but go to great lengths to keep Musk separate from it. In emails, Musk’s associate Jared Birchall carried out their dealings and Musk was referred to as ‘the principle’. He and Birchall never discussed it in writing.
August 28: Musk tweets in response to a follower who accused him of lying about Unsworth: ‘You don’t think it’s strange he hasn’t sued me yet?
August 30: BuzzFeed reporter emails Musk for a comment. He replies saying, among other things, that Unsworth married a ‘child bride’ and inferring that he is a rapist
September 4: BuzzFeed publishes the story
September 5: Private Investigator emails Birchall, Musk’s associate, saying: ‘At no time have have I reported that the target is a child rapist.’
September 17: Unsworth files a lawsuit against Musk