Jackson thriller ends in acquittal

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- The drumbeat of verdicts jolted the deathly still courtroom -- not guilty, not guilty, not guilty.

Fourteen times the court clerk read the words.

Revealing no emotion, Michael Jackson sat motionless at the defense table for five of the most important minutes of his dizzying life as the threat of nearly 20 years behind bars was finally lifted.

Instead of reacting jubilantly, Jackson left the courthouse slowly and solemnly, waving weakly and blowing kisses to his shrieking fans.

He went back to Neverland, a free man.

Jackson, 46, was cleared on all counts Monday, exonerated on charges he molested a 13-year-old cancer survivor at Neverland in 2003.

"Justice is done. The man's innocent. He always was," his chief attorney, Thomas Mesereau Jr., said on a Jackson Web site.

Jurors also acquitted Jackson of getting the boy drunk and of conspiring to imprison the accuser and his family at Neverland, bringing an end to a four-month trial in which the pop star insisted he was the victim of mother-and-son con artists and a prosecutor with a vendetta.

The jurors remained guarded about details of their 30 hours of deliberations over seven days but offered some insight during a news conference, saying they were irritated by the testimony of the accuser's mother, who at one point snapped her fingers at them.

"I disliked it intensely when she snapped her fingers at us," said one juror, a woman. She said she thought to herself, "Don't snap your fingers at me, lady." The jurors were not identified.

The acquittals marked a stinging defeat for Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon, who displayed open hostility for Jackson and had pursued him for more than a decade, trying to prove the rumors that swirled around Jackson about his fondness for children.

Prosecutors branded Jackson a deviant who used his playland as the ultimate pervert's lair, plying boys with booze and porn.

Defense attorneys described Jackson as a humanitarian who wanted to protect children and give them the life he never had while growing up as a child star. The boy had asked to meet the star when he thought he was dying of cancer.

The defense said the family exploited the boy's illness to shake down celebrities, then concocted the charges after realizing Jackson was cutting them off from a jet-set lifestyle that included limo rides and stays at luxurious resorts.

Jackson was cleared of 10 charges in all, including four counts that he molested the boy in early 2003. Jackson also was charged with providing the boy with wine and conspiring with members of his inner circle to hold the accuser and his family captive to get them to rebut a damaging documentary.

The case was set in motion by the 2003 broadcast of "Living With Michael Jackson," a British TV documentary that Jackson had hoped would improve his image. In the program, Jackson held hands with the boy who would later accuse him, and he acknowledged sharing his bed with children, a practice he described as sweet and not at all sexual.

The program triggered intense media scrutiny of Jackson's relationship with the boy, as well as calls for investigations. Authorities interviewed the boy, and Jackson was charged before year's end.

Under an unusual California law, prosecutors were allowed to introduce evidence of other instances of molestation on Jackson's part that never resulted in any charges, to prove that the alleged crimes were part of a pattern of behavior.

Jackson's "Thriller" album from 1982 is one of the best-selling albums of all time, but his dominance of pop music eroded around the time molestation allegations began to arise in the 1990s.

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