Philip Hensher: The real victim of this sordid case

I keep thinking of poor Gavin Arvizo, his body and its sicknesses exploited by everyone
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The Independent Online

Surely nobody can be all that surprised at the outcome of the Michael Jackson trial. You wouldn't even have to have heard details of the case to have worked out that he was not going to be found guilty. Confusion arose to such a degree that no one can blame the jury for dismissing the charges. It tells us rather a lot about the US criminal justice system.

Surely nobody can be all that surprised at the outcome of the Michael Jackson trial. You wouldn't even have to have heard details of the case to have worked out that he was not going to be found guilty. Confusion arose to such a degree that no one can blame the jury for dismissing the charges. It tells us rather a lot about the US criminal justice system.

A large question arose, for many people, 12 years ago when Mr Jackson's relationship with a 13-year-old boy called Jordy Chandler came to public notice. Chandler, with his mother and sister, were regular guests at Jackson's Neverland ranch. Chandler, too, shared a bed with Jackson in hotels. The matter came to light when Chandler, reportedly, told his therapist - this is California, remember - about sexual incidents with Jackson.

The authorities, with Tom Sneddon, the local District Attorney taking the lead, launched a criminal investigation. However, the case collapsed when the Chandler family withdrew all allegations, in exchange for a sum of money from Jackson reported as anything up to $25m. Many outside America, and rather a lot of people inside, thought it decidedly odd that criminal charges could be avoided by the application of a large sum of money; indeed, that the fact of the pay-off didn't constitute, in itself, a damning piece of subsidiary evidence.

Over the years, we learnt an enormous amount about Jackson, and, during the case, we learnt still more. He liked to share his bed with pre-pubescent boys. His ranch was entirely designed to delight children, including a funfair. He kept a large collection of printed pornography and pornographic figurines where they could be seen by his young guests. Drinking heavily himself, he left alcohol where it could be taken advantage of by pre-teens.

None of this is under dispute, although there were many more questionable allegations; the staff, for instance, who claimed to have witnessed acts of abuse, without, however, making any attempt to contact the police. Those have now been dismissed by the court, and perhaps it was right to do so. They certainly came from some dubious witnesses.

Even without that, some large questions remain over Jackson's conduct. In part, his life is one of eccentricity of no interest to the law - allowing a pet chimpanzee to roam the house, excreting wherever it chose. In part, his conduct towards his own family seems so dubious that it ought to attract the attention of the authorities; his children, who may well be adopted or, in some manner, acquired, have been veiled and confined and dangled over balconies in public. Their welfare ought to be the concern of American child protection agencies.

And, in part, his behaviour towards children is so evidently driven by self-gratification, even if it cannot be proved that direct, forcible sexual gratification took place, that a prosecution was more or less inevitable. It is not normal to share your bed with a child not your own, or to take no precautions against children seeing your pornography or drinking alcohol in your house. At the very least, Jackson is guilty of failing a duty of care.

The prosecution failed for several reasons. In part, it tried to demonstrate a pattern of abuse by bringing up old cases. Jordy Chandler refused to testify; I think we can probably guess at one reason for that.

Jackson's ex-wife provided a glowing testimony, as did the former child star Macaulay Culkin. The prosecution did not consider that, in the American way of doing things, Jackson had ensured silence over previous incidents; if these people were, indeed, hiding anything, as the prosecution seemed to believe, there was no reason to suppose that they would break their silence now.

The Arvizos, too, proved terribly unsatisfactory witnesses, changing their story and irritating both authorities and the jury beyond measure. It appeared to many people that there was, at least, a possibility that this was a case of attempted extortion, and the boy's mother seemed not to place a high value on simply stating the truth for the purposes of justice. That alone discredited much of their evidence; the possibility that Jackson's conduct had been such as to make him subject to extortion was not really considered.

If the Arvizos hoped to make money out of Jackson, that seemed to demonstrate that they were making everything up. The question of what Gavin Arvizo was doing snuggling up to Jackson in Martin Bashir's documentary while Jackson explained how beautiful a bed-sharing relationship they had was not faced.

Irrelevancies such as Jackson's disastrous financial position were extensively aired in the media. Behind it all was the unspoken suspicion that Tom Sneddon, an elected official, had been pursuing Jackson in a vindictive manner with the intention of "making his name" with the electorate.

In the end, the motivation of all those bringing a prosecution against Jackson was thoroughly ripped apart. The motivation of a 46-year-old man who shares his bed with boys was not, in my view, sufficiently explored. It is not the threat of the revelation of mere eccentricity which leads someone to give an adolescent boy $25m. In short, they were wrong, but they were on to something with Jackson.

But money came into the business, and, to a lesser extent, race, and the whole issue became impossible to see clearly. Jackson's financial state seemed to become crucial to the case, though goodness knows how it was relevant. And race, of course, raised its head. There was no difficulty in finding innocent bystanders willing to say, on camera, that the authorities were prepared to pursue any successful black man with trumped-up allegations. In the event, they were not trumped-up allegations. But, given the long history of the US authorities' manner of dealing with racial groups, they were placed in the Jackson case, as in the OJ Simpson case before it, in the position of the little boy who called "Wolf", and were not, in the end, believed.

Does anyone come out of it with credit? Not Jackson, near-bankrupt, and looking unforgettably sordid and pathetic; we will soon see whether Fitzgerald was right when he said there are no second acts in American lives. Certainly not the authorities, who acted recklessly without really checking the soundness of their case.

But I keep thinking of poor Gavin Arvizo, his body and its sicknesses exploited by everyone, chewed up and spat out at the whim not only of a pathetic celebrity, but by platoons of celebrity lawyers in their celebrity courtrooms. Confused, powerless and frightened, if he was ever an innocent he certainly is one no longer. We ought to think about what his life will be like from now on.

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