In a slam-dunk against the prosecution, Michael Jackson was vindicated in his child-molestation trial in a Santa Maria, Calif., courtroom Monday afternoon.
The jury found the pop star not guilty on all 10 counts, including charges that he molested a then-13-year-old cancer patient and plied him with wine at Neverland Ranch in 2003. Jackson, 46, also was cleared on charges that he conspired to hold the accuser’s family captive to get them to rebut a damaging British TV documentary, in which Jackson appeared with the boy and said he frequently welcomed children to sleep with him in his bed.
Fans cheered outside the courtroom as Jackson’s victory was announced, and the star was said to be dabbing an eye inside the courtroom, according to CNN.
He walked out of the courtroom with an emotionless expression on his face and held up a hand to the crowd as he walked outside and climbed into a SUV.
Following the verdict, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Thomas Sneddon told reporters: “I’m very proud of our office. Obviously we’re disappointed in the verdict. We believe in the system of justice. In 37 years I’ve never quarreled with a jury’s verdict, and I’m not going to start today.”
Jackson’s ex-wife Debbie Rowe said in a statement released to Entertainment Tonight on Monday: “I would never have married a pedophile. And the system works.”
The jury had listened to 14 weeks of testimony and arguments and deliberated more than seven days before sending word of a verdict on Monday at about 12:30 p.m. PT. Jackson arrived in court just before 2 p.m. PT, escorted by his lawyers and family members including his parents and several siblings.
During the span of the trial, which began in February, the prosecution called the accuser and several members of his family to the stand as well as a variety of former Jackson employees. The accuser’s 14-year-old brother gave some of the most graphic testimony, saying he saw the singer fondling the sleeping boy, then 13. “I saw Michael’s left hand in my brother’s underwears,” he testified, “and I saw his right hand in his (own) underwears.”
The accuser himself testified that Jackson plied him with wine and hard liquor during his visits to the Neverland Ranch and showed him “adult” magazines. When asked if Jackson had touched him inappropriately, the boy said: “I was sitting there a while and then Michael started to talk about masturbation. He told me men have to masturbate … that it’s okay and natural.”
The defense, led by attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr., built its case on portraying the young accuser’s mother as a shakedown artist out to take Jackson’s money and the children as pawns who were manipulated by her. During cross-examination of the accuser’s brother, Mesereau caught him in some factual errors, and when Mesereau grilled the accuser’s sister about details of her experience at Neverland, she suffered repeated bouts of hazy memory, saying “I don’t know” or “I don’t recall.”
Several former Neverland employees gave often-graphic testimony about witnessing acts they claimed occurred between Jackson and the youngster – and with other young boys who’d spent time with the pop star, including child star Macaulay Culkin.
The 24-year-old Home Alone actor, however, testified for the defense, denying anything sexual ever happened between them. Asked by Mesereau what he thought of the charges against Jackson, Culkin responded: “I think they’re absolutely ridiculous.”
Tonight Show host Jay Leno also lent his star power to the defense, recalling phone conversations with Jackson’s accuser at the time the boy was being treated for cancer. Leno testified that, at the time, he thought the boy’s words sounded as if they had been “scripted.” Of the boy’s enthusiasm in talking to him, Leno said on the witness stand: “I’m not Batman. It seemed a little unusual.”
Michael Jackson, who was constantly surrounded by family members since the trial began, never took the stand to testify. While awaiting the jury’s decision – the eight women and four men were handed the case on Friday, June 3 – Jackson was described by his friend, Rev. Jesse Jackson, as “amazingly optimistic … a.) declaring his own innocence, b.) declaring his confidence in the jury.”