Published June 14, 2005
SANTA MARIA, Calif. – Michael Jackson (search) has been acquitted of all of the charges against him, including molesting a 13-year-old cancer survivor in 2003, conspiring to hold the boy and his family captive to get them to rebut a damaging television documentary and administering alcohol to enable child molestation.
Jackson wiped tears from his eyes as the verdict was read. One of his lawyers, Susan Yu, burst into tears as the first verdicts were announced. Some of the women in the jury also wept and passed around a box of tissues.
When it was over, Jackson stood and was embraced by his chief lawyer, Thomas Mesereau Jr. (search), and Yu.
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon (search) sat with his head in his hands.
"Obviously we're disappointed in the verdict ... but we believe in the system of justice," Sneddon told reporters later. He said he had not yet spoken to the accuser's family about the outcome.
Asked whether this marks the end of his pursuit of Jackson, Sneddon relied: "No comment."
Outside the courthouse, the crowd erupted in cheers as the verdict was read. A woman in the throng released one white dove each time an acquittal was read.
However, while exiting the courthouse with his family, the former King of Pop moved very slowly, looking shaken and grim, and he didn't smile as supporters cheered him on.
Jackson's parents, Katherine and Joe Jackson, sisters LaToya and Rebbie, and brothers Randy and Jackie all looked on. His father helped guide him out of the courthouse.
He was escorted by his aides into a black SUV, and made no immediate public statement.
"Justice is done. The man's innocent. He always was," said Mesereau, on a Web site.
"I would never have married a pedophile. And the system works," Jackson's ex-wife Debbie Rowe (search) said in a statement given to "Entertainment Tonight."
One of Jackson's supporters told FOX News: "I've been with him all the way and I'm just so happy. Go touring again, Michael. We love you."
After the verdicts were read, the judge read a statement from the jury: "We the jury feel the weight of the world's eyes upon us." They said they followed the judge's instruction and asked the world let them return to "our private lives as anonymously as we came."
The jury, which listened to 14 weeks of testimony and arguments, sent word of a verdict on the 10-count indictment about 3:30 p.m. EDT.
The verdict -- reached after about 30 hours of deliberations over seven days -- ended a star-studded, four-month trial that offered a global audience a lurid look into Jackson's weird world and presented jurors with vastly different portraits of him: a creepy pervert who preyed on little boys, or the victim of a frame-up by a family of shakedown artists.
In a press conference later, jurors remained guarded about details of their deliberations but offered some insight. One said that at the outset they got beyond the fact that Jackson is a celebrity and treated him like anyone else.
Several jurors said they were irritated by the testimony of the accuser's mother, who stared at the jury and 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."
FOX News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano remarked that the jurors felt no animus toward Jackson even after all they heard about him, and said it could have something to do with Jackson's "aura." He also said the prosecution could have made a better case.
"They could have tailored the case to just molestation. They should never have put the mother on the witness stand -- she made Jackson seem normal by comparison," he said.
During the trial, prosecutors who had been pursuing Jackson for years branded him a deviant who used his playland as the ultimate pervert's lair, plying boys with booze and porn before molesting them.
Defense lawyers described Jackson as a humanitarian who wanted to protect kids 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 faced 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 -- "Jesus juice," the pop star called it -- and conspiring with members of his inner circle to hold the accuser and his family captive to get them to rebut a damaging documentary.
In the "Living with Michael Jackson" documentary made by a British journalist, Jackson held hands with the boy and acknowledged sharing his bed with children, a practice he described as sweet and not at all sexual.
Jackson agreed to take part in the documentary because he hoped it would help his image after years of eccentric behavior that included transforming his face through plastic surgery.
But the airing of the program in February 2003 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. At trial, prosecutors would allege that Jackson molested the boy in the weeks after the family recorded a rebuttal video.
The boy, now 15, testified that Jackson twice masturbated him while they were under the covers in the singer's bedroom. The boy's brother testified he twice witnessed Jackson fondle the boy as he slept.
Prosecutors hauled out bag after bag of adult magazines found in Jackson's home and projected explicit images onto a large screen, saying Jackson showed boys the material to arouse them. Prosecution witnesses described other bizarre behavior by Jackson: They said he licked his accuser's head, simulated a sex act with a mannequin, kept dolls in bondage outfits on his desk.
Prosecutors said kids were allowed the run of Neverland -- a fantasy land of amusement park rides, golf carts and exotic animals about 110 miles northwest of Los Angeles -- before being molested in Jackson's bedroom.
"They rode rides, went to the zoo, ate whatever they wanted -- candy, ice cream, soda pop," prosecutor Ron Zonen said in closing arguments. "And at night they entered into the world of the forbidden."
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.
A parade of servants and other Neverland staff members described seeing Jackson grope or otherwise molest boys, with a one-time security guard saying he saw the singer shower with and perform oral sex on a boy who later received a settlement with Jackson.
The defense systematically portrayed the household help as disgruntled employees who were angry about being fired and peddled gossip about the pop star to the supermarket tabloids.
The defense also relentlessly attacked the credibility of the accuser and his family, namely by focusing on a $152,000 settlement they received from J.C. Penney after the mother accused store security guards of roughing up the family and groping her.
Jackson's lawyers said it was a trumped-up lawsuit and suggested that the woman's injuries were actually caused by her abusive then-husband. The defense also portrayed the mother as a welfare cheat for obtaining benefits after winning the settlement.
Witnesses for the defense testified that during the weeks the boy and his family were supposedly being held against their will by Jackson's associates, they were taken on shopping sprees, the mother went to a spa for a body wax, and the children had an orthodontist appointment -- all paid for by Jackson.
In his closing argument, Mesereau called the family a pack of scam artists trying to pull off the "the biggest con of their careers."
Jackson never took the stand, but spoke on several videos played in court.
The case unfolded at times like a circus. After his arraignment, Jackson jumped atop an SUV and danced for cheering fans. He failed to show up for court one morning and was nearly jailed before he shuffled in wearing pajama bottoms, suffering from what aides said was a back injury. Often, he came to court in dark jackets and a rainbow of vests and matching arm bands.
The jury got a look at Jackson's strange world when the documentary was played in court. Jackson said he would often hug or play with his chimp Bubbles to relax after a hard day's work. He also said he once considered having a celebrity animal party for Bubbles.
Several celebrities testified for Jackson, including Macaulay Culkin (search ) and comedians Jay Leno and Chris Tucker. Tucker said he felt used by the family and warned Jackson to beware. Culkin said he slept in Jackson's bed as a child but nothing improper ever happened, contradicting testimony that Jackson put his hands up the "Home Alone" actor's shorts.
In jumbled and tearful testimony, the accuser's mother claimed that Jackson's associates held her against her will, warning her that killers were after the family and that they might somehow disappear from Neverland in a hot-air balloon.
"Please don't judge me!" the mother implored jurors, holding out her arms. "He's wrong!" she said, pointing at Mesereau, an aggressive defense attorney with a mane of pure white hair and the build of a prize fighter.
The prosecution was led by Sneddon, who displayed open hostility for Jackson and eagerly tried him -- an opportunity denied him in 1993 when the star settled another threatened molestation case with a boy for $15 million to $20 million. Later, Jackson derided Sneddon in song as "a cold man."
The trial seemed to wear Jackson down. He lost weight, and the artist known for his electric, moonwalking performances was rendered motionless, seemingly frozen in his courtroom chair as his private world became utterly public.
Prosecutors portrayed Jackson as being in dire financial straits because of heavy spending. 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.
Although Jackson did not take the stand, the defense used a powerful tape of him shot by his own video cameraman. The jury saw nearly three hours of introspection during which the star talked about his troubled childhood.
"I haven't been betrayed or deceived by children," he said. "Adults have let me down."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.