Jackson free Verdict clears the pop star of all 10 charges
SANTA MARIA, Calif. (AP) -- Wanly blowing kisses of gratitude to his screaming fans, Michael Jackson left court a free man Monday and went back to Neverland to pick up the pieces of his shattered career and image.
Jackson, 46, was cleared of all charges in his child-molestation trial, hearing the words not guilty uttered 14 times in a deathly still courtroom. The Peter Pan of pop music could have gotten nearly 20 years behind bars if convicted of charges that he molested a 13-year-old cancer survivor at Neverland in 2003.
A motionless Jackson dabbed at his eyes with a tissue as the verdicts were read, and he later was embraced by his chief lawyer, Thomas Mesereau Jr. Another member of his defense team burst into tears, and some of the women in the jury also wept and passed around a box of tissues.
Jackson, looking drawn, walked out of court minutes later to shrieks from fans, waved weakly and was driven home to his Neverland ranch, where applauding fans ran after his caravan as it disappeared behind the bunting-decorated gates.
"Justice is done. The man's innocent. He always was," Mesereau 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.
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 Atty. 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.
Sneddon sat with his head in his hands after the verdicts were read.
"We don't select victims of crimes and we don't select the family. We try to make a conscientious decision and go forward," Sneddon said afterward, adding "I'm not going to look back and apologize for anything that we've done."
Fans outside the courthouse jumped up and down, thrust their fists in the air, hugged each other and threw confetti. A woman in the crowd released one white dove as each acquittal was announced. News of the verdict was broadcast worldwide, triggering jubilation among Jackson's fans across the globe.
The verdict means Jackson will be free to try to rebuild his blighted musical career. But his legal victory came at a terrible price to his image.
Prosecutors branded him a deviant who used his playland as the ultimate pervert's lair, plying boys with booze and porn. 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.
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 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 -- "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.