A Low Point In Gilded Career

Notoriety Stuck, Even If Charges Against Him Didn't

The 2005 Trial

One Reporter's Recollection

June 26, 2009|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,nick.madigan@baltsun.com

Close up, Michael Jackson seemed fragile, his face a ghostly white, his eyes invariably shielded behind dark glasses, even indoors. When he spoke, the sound was an almost breathless whisper.

Occasionally, some of us who were writing about his 2005 trial in Santa Maria, Calif., on charges of child molestation would relieve the tedium of endless testimony by ruminating on what color lipstick Jackson had chosen to wear that day - peach, perhaps, or was it orange?

What struck me most was that regardless of how salacious or crude the testimony details, or how embarrassing they might appear to be, Jackson remained absolutely expressionless, his body immobile in his chair a few feet from us.

For Jackson, once a pop star of sensational talent, the trial in Santa Barbara County Superior Court was undoubtedly the lowest point of a long career. Despite the frivolity of many of Jackson's fans camped outside the courthouse - and their rigid insistence that he'd done nothing wrong - the singer faced more than 18 years in prison had he been convicted of the charges, which included conspiring to kidnap his accuser and the boy's mother and siblings.

Witnesses said that Jackson, then 46, had masturbated boys in his bed, showed them pornography and gotten them drunk. Although found not guilty, it seemed that Jackson never recovered from the notoriety of the ordeal, and certainly never regained his commercial footing as a pop star.

As he entered and exited the courtroom every day for the trial - which I covered for The New York Times - Jackson usually politely demurred when reporters asked him questions.

His low-key behavior as the trial progressed - the jury sat through 13 weeks of testimony by almost 150 witnesses - was a far cry from the moment when, after a pre-trial hearing, Jackson emerged from the courthouse, jumped atop his black SUV and urged his shrieking fans to boogie.

He was reprimanded for that episode by the trial judge, Rodney S. Melville, and settled down during most of the trial. But the judge, normally a patient sort, had to wag his finger at Jackson again, and threaten to revoke his bail, after he showed up late for court twice because of what Jackson said were medical problems. On one occasion, he was disheveled, walked with a limp and appeared heavily medicated - and was still wearing his blue pajama bottoms.

Jackson never took the stand, but the jury did get to hear him speak, in two videotaped interviews projected onto a screen. He spoke of his love of children and compared himself to Mother Teresa, Mohandas K. Gandhi, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Diana, Princess of Wales.

Because those icons had died, Jackson said, "there's not a voice for the voiceless, and I've been doing it for many years."

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