Jackson walks free after child abuse trial

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The Independent US

Michael Jackson was acquitted on all 10 counts in his child molestation trial and walked out of court a free man yesterday, ending a nightmare that started more than two years ago with the airing of Martin Bashir's unflattering documentary Living With Michael Jackson and came close to condemning one of the world's most recognisable entertainers to years behind bars.

After seven days of deliberation spread over a week and a half, the eight women and four men of the jury decided there was insufficient evidence to conclude Mr Jackson had molested Gavin Arvizo, a recovering cancer patient, or that he and his staff had conspired to kidnap the Arvizo family in the wake of Mr Bashir's documentary, or that he had given alcohol to Gavin or his brother, Star, during their stays at his Neverland ranch.

Keen to play down the drama of the moment, Judge Rodney Melville chose not to call on the jury foreman to announce the verdicts, but rather opened the jury forms one by one himself and then handed them to the court clerk to read out in one go.

There was little discernible reaction in the courtroom as the first "not guilty" was read out, nor even the second, more explosive one, relating to the first count of committing "a lewd act upon a child". Judge Melville had warned the court that he would tolerate no reaction of any kind, "whether it be unhappiness or jubilance".

Mr Jackson was seen dabbing an eye and clutching his lawyer, Tom Mesereau, but otherwise barely moved as he sat back in his seat. The atmosphere was solemn and deathly tense throughout. Only once the hearing was over did the tears begin to flow ­ including one member of the defence legal team and at least one of the jurors.

Outside the courthouse, Mr Jackson blew a kiss to his cheering fans before climbing into his car and driving away. Around the world, supporters expressed their relief and their belief in US justice ­ a belief that would no doubt have been severely shaken by the opposite outcome.

Debbie Rowe, one of Mr Jackson's ex-wives and the mother of his two oldest children, said in a statement: "I would never have married a paedophile. And the system works." Her testimony in defence of her ex-husband was one of the biggest setbacks for the prosecution, which had expected her to do the opposite.

The 46-year-old entertainer and noted eccentric will no doubt feel most beholden to Mr Mesereau, who performed almost flawlessly throughout more than three months of trial hearings and succeeded in sowing doubt about almost every aspect of the prosecution's startling case.

Mr Jackson was accused ­ as he has been in the past ­ of forming an unhealthily close attachment to a pre-pubescent boy, feeding him alcoholic drinks and showing him pornography before putting his hands down his trousers. Gavin Arvizo did not talk about the alleged abuse until a few months after it had supposedly taken place, raising the first of many doubts about the plausibility of his story.

The prosecution certainly succeeded in portraying Mr Jackson as a deeply weird individual, not only because he shares his bed with children who are not his own, but also because of his possession of pornography, both gay and straight, and his apparent preference for relationships with children over adults.

There were, however, numerous holes in the prosecution's contentions, starting with the dates of the alleged abuse, which it was never able to pin down, and the odd circumstance that Mr Jackson would not have touched Gavin before the crisis over the Bashir documentary blew up in February 2003 but allegedly did so afterwards when he and his staff were in full damage-limitation mode.

The veracity of the Arvizo family was absolutely central to the case, and caused numerous problems of its own. The mother, Janet, and her three children were forced to acknowledge that they had lied under oath in the past. On the stand, they demonstrated differing degrees of evasiveness, incoherence and downright mental instability.

In the end, the prosecution's best shot was a video of Gavin, only shown to the jury in the closing stages of the trial, disclosing the alleged abuse for the first time in an interview with Santa Barbarasheriff's deputies.

Gavin's uncomfortable squirming and hesitant delivery was several degrees more convincing than anything that transpired live in the courtroom. It seemed likely, in the immediate aftermath of the verdict, that it was that video which caused the jury to deliberate so carefully and for so long.

The verdict came as a huge disappointment to Tom Sneddon, the Santa Barbara district attorney, who tried and failed to bring Mr Jackson to court on child molestation charges in 1993 ­ the casewas settled out of court for $20m ­ and had hoped to make up for that failure.

He held his head in his hands as the verdict was read, and later looked crestfallen as he addressed the television cameras. "Obviously, we're disappointed in the verdict," he said, "but we believe in the system of justice." He denied that the case had been motivated by any personal animosity towards Mr Jackson.

Mr Sneddon, who has served as district attorney for 22 years, will now go into retirement without the prize he had been seeking. He was criticised for his halting delivery in court and his sometimes injudicious comments outside ­ in contrast to Mr Mesereau's effortlessly smooth, pitch-perfect performance.

Where the case leaves Mr Jackson remains to be seen. Despite the acquittal, it seems certain his reputation has taken another major hit. Even some of his supporters said they did not approve of his behaviour around children, even if the burden of proof did not establish that he had committed crimes.

The indictments

COUNT 1

Conspiracy to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion between 1 February and 31 March 2003. Verdict: Not Guilty

COUNT 2

Lewd act upon a child between 20 February and 12 March 2003. Verdict: Not Guilty

COUNT 3

Lewd act upon a child between 20 February and 12 March 2003. Verdict: Not Guilty

COUNT 4

Lewd act upon a child between 20 February and 12 March 2003. Verdict: Not Guilty

COUNT 5

Lewd act upon a child between 20 February and 12 March 2003. Verdict: Not Guilty

COUNT 5

Lewd act upon a child between 20 February and 12 March 2003. Verdict: Not Guilty

COUNT 6

Attempt to commit a lewd act upon a child between 20 February and 12 March 2003. Verdict: Not Guilty

COUNT 7

Administering an intoxicating agent to assist in the commission of a felony (child molestation) between 20 February and 12 March 2003. Verdict: Not Guilty

COUNT 8

Administering an intoxicating agent to assist in the commission of a felony (child molestation) between 20 February and 12 March 2003. Verdict: Not Guilty

COUNT 9

Administering an intoxicating agent to assist in the commission of a felony between 20 February and 12 March 2003. Verdict: Not Guilty

COUNT 10

Administering an intoxicating agent to assist in the commission of a felony (child molestation) between 20 February and 12 March 2003. Verdict: Not Guilty

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