Jackson plans lavish party to thank his supporters

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Michael Jackson's diehard fans are to be rewarded for their loyalty with an invitation-only party tonight at a casino resort not far from his Neverland ranch in the rolling hill country of central California.

Ever since the 46-year-old entertainer was acquitted on all charges in his child molestation trial on Monday, the few dozen fans who stuck by him during the 15 weeks of hearings with banners, doves and endless expressions of love have been hoping their efforts would be rewarded with personal access to their idol.

Whether that is what they get remains to be seen. Mr Jackson is not throwing open the gates of Neverland, as many of his fans had hoped, and he is making no promises about a personal appearance at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, where the party will take place.

Santa Ynez, tucked into the San Rafael mountains about 15 miles from Neverland, is a stop on the Santa Barbara County wine trail. The casino, run by Chumash Indians, is a relatively new arrival but is popular with the Jackson family, many of whose members stayed there during the trial.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the party will feature some kind of live musical performance. "We don't know who will perform," a spokeswoman for the casino said. "We're just told the Jackson family is putting together an event for fans they have selected."

The likelihood of Mr Jackson himself either dancing or singing seems remote. In the closing stages of the trial and jury deliberations, he looked pale and unsteady on his feet and popped in and out of hospital to seek treatment for back pain. After his acquittal, lawyers and family members said he had barely slept or eaten during the trial and only made it through some days courtesy of painkillers.

Whatever one makes of the reports of Mr Jackson's health - he is said to have spent recent days recuperating and sleeping - he might not want to crow too loudly. He still faces the threat of civil litigation from the family who accused him of child molestation, and is considering legal actions himself, including one against the Santa Barbara District Attorney's office which indicted him.

Mr Jackson last threw a fan party in September 2003 to mark his 45th birthday, at a theatre in downtown Los Angeles where fans paid $30 each to watch dancers, singers and Jackson impersonators put on a show. Mr Jackson appeared in an opera box at the theatre and waved to his fans, but did not mingle.

Since the acquittal, details have trickled out about the jury deliberations. The eight women and four men on the panel deadlocked briefly on two lesser charges accusing Mr Jackson of giving alcohol to a minor, but quickly sent a second note to the judge saying they had resolved their differences by themselves.

Mr Jackson's lawyers have also been back in court to request the return of items seized by the prosecution including his sizeable collection of pornography and computers taken from Neverland in two raids following his arrest in 2003.

Judge Rodney Melville ordered prosecutors to return Mr Jackson's passport, but allowed them to hold everything else as they assess its potential importance in future legal actions.