Jackson not guilty on all counts

After 4-month trial, singer acquitted of molesting 13-year-old cancer patient

Michael Jackson Verdict

June 14, 2005|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Recording superstar Michael Jackson returned to his Neverland Ranch a free man yesterday after a jury acquitted him of charges that he had plied a 13-year-old cancer patient with alcohol, molested him, then conspired to imprison the boy and his family.

The verdict brought vindication for the embattled performer, whose close relationships with young boys have been questioned for more than a decade. Jackson, 46, had previously paid multimillion-dollar settlements to two accusers, and he had told a British TV interviewer that his sleepovers with children were a "beautiful thing."

Inside the courtroom yesterday, Jackson showed little emotion as the clerk read the verdicts at 2:14 p.m. Pacific time. At one point, he reached for a tissue and dabbed his eyes. His parents and siblings LaToya, Rebbie, Randy and Jackie, sat behind him, holding each other and silently weeping.

Word of the verdicts on all 10 counts generated tears and whoops of joy among the hundreds of Jackson supporters waiting outside the courthouse and at his storybook home nearby. Fans threw confetti into the air, and some shouted, "He's free! He's free!"

Afterward Jackson walked from the courthouse under cover of a black umbrella. He extended his hand from his heart out to the throng of fans, as white doves were released and flew overhead. He then boarded one in a convoy of black SUVs and returned home.

Jackson did not speak to the press, but his fans who had come like pilgrims to this quiet town on the Central California coast reveled in his victory.

"This has been a tremendously draining ordeal," said Najee Ali, from Los Angeles, who had led the crowd in saying the Lord's Prayer before the verdicts were announced.

"People laughed at us and ridiculed us because we believed him. Not only is Michael Jackson redeemed, but so are his fans who put our names on the line for him."

The verdicts, reached after more than 32 hours of deliberations in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, brought to a close a more than four-month trial that featured 140 witnesses - including defense testimony from celebrities Macaulay Culkin, Chris Tucker and Jay Leno.

The trial had its odd moments. Jackson danced on the roof of his SUV after his arraignment. Then he invited everyone to picnic at Neverland, where the abuse allegedly took place.

On another occasion, six of Jackson's siblings showed up in court in bright white outfits that matched their famous brother's. Nation of Islam members were briefly a visible part of his entourage. And on the day in March when his accuser testified, Jackson showed up in court wearing blue pajama bottoms.

Prosecutors alleged that on four occasions in 2003, Jackson sexually molested a 13-year-old cancer patient from Los Angeles. Prosecutors said Jackson shared his bed with the boy, showed him pornography, gave him alcohol and told him that boys who don't masturbate grow up to rape women or have sex with animals.

Jurors also heard testimony that Jackson had paid settlements in other cases of alleged molestation - more than $20 million in one case and roughly $2 million in another, though jurors were not told the amounts.

But in interviews yesterday afternoon, jurors said they did not believe testimony from the mother of Jackson's accuser.

Defense lawyers produced testimony that the woman had committed welfare fraud and fabricated evidence to win a settlement in an unrelated case. Jurors found it strange that the woman would let her son spend so much time with Jackson.

"As a parent, you're constantly protective of what happens to your children," said one juror, who declined to give her name. "What mother in her right mind would allow that to happen - just volunteer your child to sleep with someone?"

Two jurors said they were offended when the mother snapped her fingers at them during testimony. Legal experts said yesterday that Jackson's lawyers succeeded at highlighting elements of reasonable doubt that were abundant in the case, and that most problematic was the mother.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon disputed claims that the accuser's mother hurt the case against Jackson. Sneddon said that his office does not choose its victims or discriminate based on their background.

"Obviously, we're disappointed in the verdict," he said. "But we work every day in a system of justice, and we believe in the system of justice. I've been a prosecutor for 37 years. I've never quarreled with a jury's verdict. I'm not going to start today."

Another juror said in a CNN interview that testimony about Jackson sleeping with boys made him believe the singer probably was a molester, but it wasn't proved in this case.

"I feel that Michael Jackson probably has molested boys," Raymond Hultman said. "I cannot believe ... this man could sleep in the same bedroom for 365 straight days and not do something more than just watch television and eat popcorn.

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