SANTA MARIA, Calif. — Michael Jackson left the courthouse Monday just as he entered it, a free but somber man waving to fans and blowing a kiss, after a jury rejected charges that he repeatedly molested a 13-year-old boy, gave him alcohol and held him and his family captive at Neverland ranch.
The jury of eight women and four men concluded that the evidence was not sufficient beyond any reasonable doubt that Jackson was a predatory child molester who groomed the boy with liquor and porn and then groped him. The jurors found him not guilty on all 10 counts.
“The evidence said it all,” said one of the jurors, a middle-aged mother. “We had a closet full of evidence that made us come back to the same thing — that there wasn’t enough” to convict. “Things didn’t add up,” she said.
In comments after the verdict, the jurors did not call Jackson’s young accuser a liar, but the foreman described the teen as programmed by his mother.
It was a stinging rebuke against the case brought by the Santa Barbara County prosecutors and sheriff’s investigators, but it was a virtual moment of rebirth for the pop singer, who had faced the possibility of leaving the courthouse in a sheriff’s van on his way to jail or prison for as long as 18 years if he had been found guilty on all charges.
Jackson returned to his ranch, a 2,600-acre estate in the nearby foothills, as fans and the media trailed behind and camped out at its gates.
What Jackson will do next is unknown. The taint of the charges may linger, but his attorneys and entourage have repeatedly described the case against him as an attempt to shake down the singer for money by a family of, according to Jackson’s defense attorney, “con artists, actors and liars.”
The sensational 15-week trial ended in the early afternoon as the court clerk read the verdicts and repeatedly stated that the jury found the 46-year-old Jackson “not guilty.”
In the courtroom, fans openly wept, and so did several of the jurors, who later described the scene as filled with emotion and a release of pent-up tensions. Jackson’s mother wrapped her arms around Tito, one of her sons. The prosecutors leaned back, as if stunned.
Throughout, Jackson remained seated and still, as he has through the entire trial, and only toward the end did he raise a tissue to his face and dab at his eyes. Afterward, he hugged his defense attorneys and left the courthouse in one of the entourage’s four black SUVs parked outside, surrounded by his family and bodyguards, one holding the now trademark black umbrella above the entertainer’s head.
Outside, the fans erupted in cheers, screaming, “We love you Michael,” and jumping excitedly. One woman released a white dove each time a not-guilty verdict was announced, and others let balloons sail aloft in the warm breeze.
Jackson’s lead defense attorney, the silver-maned Thomas Mesereau Jr., walked back inside after Jackson’s retinue headed back to Neverland. Mesereau beamed, and said simply, “Justice has been served.”
In his remarks after the verdict, a glum Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon said, “Obviously we’re disappointed in the verdict,” but went on to add that “we did the right thing” in pursuing Jackson. “We thought we had a good case.” He denied — again — that he had a vendetta to pursue against the pop star.
In the news conference in the courtroom after the verdict, the jurors, who were only identified by their assigned numbers, described a case that was weak and an accuser and his family, especially his mother, who could not be believed.
The jurors said they found the mother odd, and thought it weird that while on the stand, she snapped her fingers and tried to address them directly.
They said their deliberations were calm and confident, that they raised their hands when they wanted to speak in the jury room, and that they remained on good terms. There were “no screaming matches,” one of them said.