Inside Michael Jackson's 2005 Child Molestation Trial — and Why He Was Found Not Guilty
Years after first being accused of sexual abuse, Michael Jackson faced a 2005 criminal trial for child molestation, which ended with the pop star being acquitted on all charges.
Following the release of 2003 documentary, Living with Michael Jackson — which centered on the singer’s relationship with a boy named Gavin Arvizo, who met the pop star while battling cancer — police reopened their investigations into Jackson’s behavior, according to Global News. Two days after the star’s Neverland Ranch was searched by police that November, Jackson was arrested on child molestation charges.
In the documentary, which sparked outrage, Jackson and the boy were shown holding hands, and Jackson also defended letting children sleep in his bedroom, describing it as “loving,” CNN reported.
Shortly after being released on a $3 million bail, Jackson was formally charged seven counts of child molestation and two counts administering an intoxicating agent for the purpose of committing a felony, according to Global News. The singer pleaded not guilty to all charges.
During the 14-week trial, the prosecution’s case centered around Gavin, then 15, who claimed Jackson had gotten him drunk and molested him on several occasions, the New York Times reported. The boy’s younger brother also testified having seen Jackson molest his brother.
Additionally, the boy’s mother, Janet Arvizo, testified against Jackson, alleging the singer had held her family captive at Neverland Ranch, although the jury found her unlikable and combative, the outlet reported.
Jackson’s lawyers were able to poke holes in the family’s testimonies, and were also able to convince the jury, who already found Janet unlikeable, that she was a “con artist” who had made her children lie on the stand, according to Global News.
“As a mother, the values she has taught them, it’s hard for me to comprehend,” one Santa Monica juror said after the verdict was delivered, according to the Times. “I wouldn’t want any of my children to lie for their own gain.”
Although Jackson did not testify during the trial, his lawyers portrayed the family as trying to scheme money out of the singer, according to CNN.
Also among those who testified on the singers behalf were former child actor Macaulay Culkin and Australian choreographer Wade Robson, one of two Jackson accusers featured in the documentary Leaving Neverland.
According to The Guardian, Robson, who had spent the night at Neverland Ranch over 20 times, testified during the trial that he had never been molested by Jackson.
“It’s not true,” he told jurors, the outlet reported at the time, adding that he was “very mad” about allegations to the contrary.
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Before delivering their not guilty verdict on June 13, 2005, the jury deliberated for 30 hours, according to the New York Times. Should Jackson have been found guilty, he could have faced up to 20 years in prison.
“In a case like this, you’re hoping that maybe you can find a smoking gun or something that you can grab onto that says absolutely one way or another. In this case, we had difficulty in finding that,” one juror told the Times after the verdict was delivered.
Ahead of the release of Finding Neverland, Robson, now 36, opened up about his decision to testify on Jackson’s behalf during the trial.
“Michael’s training of me to testify began the first night that he started abusing me,” Robson alleged during an interview with CBS This Morning. “He started telling me that, ‘If anybody else ever finds out, we’ll both go to jail, both of our lives will be over.’ “
“I wish that I was ready,” Robson continued. “I wish … that I could’ve played a role in, at that point, stopping Michael from abusing however many other kids he did after that.”
Robson first sued in 2013, claiming that Jackson abused him for nearly a decade. He later said in an amended complaint to his 2013 lawsuit that MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures were operations “specifically designed to locate, attract, lure and seduce child sexual abuse victims.” A probate court in 2015 rejected his claim against the estate itself, which left the two business entities as defendants.
At the time of the ruling, Jackson’s estate said in a statement, “In my opinion Mr. Robson’s allegations, made 20 plus years after they supposedly occurred and years after Mr. Robson testified twice under oath — including in front of a jury — that Michael Jackson had never done anything wrong to him were always about the money rather than a search for the truth.”
Robson said he first met Jackson when he was 5 years old after winning a competition run by MJJ Productions in his native Australia. Two years later, his family was invited to stay at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch home in California, where he claims he slept in Jackson’s bed and said he was first sexually abused by him.
He claimed the abuse continued for seven years and ended only when he “began showing signs of puberty” and Jackson was “no longer as interested in him sexually.”
In 2017, a California judge dismissed Robson’s case against Jackson’s estate and two companies it controls, MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures, and ruled that it is not liable for Jackson’s alleged childhood sexual abuse of the celebrity choreographer.
In Leaving Neverland, Robson and James Safechuck, now 40, allege Jackson repeatedly molested them as boys. The documentary garnered significant buzz upon its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and is being broadcast on HBO in two parts airing on Sunday and Monday. (The Jackson family has filed a lawsuit against HBO and in a CBS This Morning interview with Gayle King, which aired last week, the singer’s brothers, Tito, Marlon, and Jackie Jackson, as well as Jackson’s nephew, Taj Jackson — denounced the film and Robson and Safechuck’s claims.)
Jackson died in 2009 at age 50, leaving behind three children: Prince Michael, 22, Paris, 20, and “Blanket,” 17, who now goes by Bigi.
Leaving Neverland airs Sunday and Monday at 8 p.m. EST on HBO.