Published June 13, 2005
SANTA MARIA, Calif. – Jurors deciding the child molestation (search) case against Michael Jackson (search) may have to reach as many as 20 separate decisions because of the complicated instructions given to them by the judge. It could take them a long time to sort it all out.
A detailed study of the 98 pages of legal instructions shows the panel is facing a task that could be confounding even to people familiar with the law. One of the toughest decisions could be whether Jackson participated in a conspiracy.
"Jurors are locked in the jury room without a lawyer, and they are expected to master one of the most complicated areas of the law — conspiracy," said Jim Hammer, a former San Francisco prosecutor who is now a legal analyst for FOX News.
Within the single conspiracy count are three other allegations — conspiracy to commit the crime of extortion, the crime of child abduction and the crime of false imprisonment. Each of those crimes requires a specific intent and must be decided individually.
"I can't think of another crime with three specific intents. It requires them to look into Jackson's mind," Hammer said.
Along with conspiracy, the indictment charges Jackson, 46, with molesting a 13-year-old boy in 2003 and giving him wine. He has denied the charges.
Jurors have spent more than 28 hours since June 3 weighing the 10 total counts against Jackson. Deliberations resume Monday morning.
On most days, the panel has spent six hours in court, with three brief breaks but no lunch hour. The court has said the jury asked just one question, but the query made last Monday and its resolution were not publicly disclosed.
Jurors also have been presented with several entirely separate determinations to make on alleged crimes by Jackson that were never charged and occurred up to 15 years ago.
A unique California law lets jurors decide whether evidence involving those old allegations that was presented during trial shows a pattern of abusing children.
If the jury decides the old claims were true, the panel can use them to support a decision in the current case but cannot convict him of the old allegations.
In reaching that determination, jurors were instructed to use a different standard of proof — not the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard required in the current case. Instead they can decide whether the old allegations stand up by a "preponderance of the evidence (search)," a lesser standard that is often used in civil cases.
The law is controversial and could be a key factor in an appeal if he is convicted.
Hammer said the only area of the law as complicated as conspiracy is homicide in which many different degrees of the crime can be at issue.
Beyond the specific crimes alleged in the conspiracy charge against Jackson, the count also alleges 28 "overt acts" in furtherance of the conspiracy with a group of unindicted co-conspirators. Jurors were told to disregard the fact that the other alleged conspirators were not charged and did not appear in the trial.
To find Jackson guilty of that count, the panel must decide unanimously that one or more of the overt acts is true.
Jurors were told to decide if Jackson was a member of the alleged conspiracy and "whether he willfully, intentionally and knowingly joined with any other or others in the alleged conspiracy."
One particularly confusing instruction reads, "You are not required to unanimously agree as to who committed an overt act or which overt act was committed, so long as each of you finds beyond a reasonable doubt that one of the conspirators committed one of the acts alleged in the indictment to be overt acts."
The other issue likely to complicate matters for jurors involves the alcohol allegations.
Four charges allege that Jackson administered alcohol to assist in the commission of child molestation. But jurors can find Jackson innocent of those charges and guilty of the lesser crime of simply "furnishing alcohol to a minor," a misdemeanor.