After fourteen weeks of testimony, more than 100 witnesses and over thirty-two hours of jury deliberation, Michael Jackson was found not guilty today. The pop star, 46, charged with molesting a then-thirteen-year-old cancer patient who stayed at his Neverland ranch, was cleared of a total of ten counts -- including committing lewd acts upon a minor, giving an intoxicant to a minor to assist with committing a felony, and conspiracy to abduct a child.
The verdict was reached by the Santa Maria, California, jury at 12:30 p.m. PT, leaving more than 2,200 accredited journalists and hundreds of Jackson fans waiting on-site for the singer's arrival. It took approximately an hour for his caravan of black SUVs to make the trip to the courthouse. Upon arrival, Jackson, his parents, his sisters La Toya and Janet, and his brothers (former members of the Jackson Five) entered en masse.
Just after 2 p.m. PT, a court clerk read the verdict via a live audio feed from the courthouse. Fans cheered, hugged and even wept as each count was met with "not guilty." Many continued to pump handmade signs and banners in the air, ranging from "Michael Jackson Es Inocente" to "Trust Jesus: Repent."
During ten weeks of arguments, the prosecution tried to establish that Jackson had a pattern of inappropriate behavior towards children. Witnesses were permitted to discuss previous allegations against Jackson, including the son of the singer's former maid, whose 1994 claim of molestation by the pop star had resulted in a $2.4 million settlement. The housekeeper herself and other former Jackson employees -- a security guard and cook -- claimed that they had seen Jackson behaving improperly with different child visitors, from showering naked with one boy to performing oral sex on another. The defense attempted to discredit the witnesses, depicting them as disgruntled ex-employees, and underlining the fact that Jackson's maid had sold her story to the National Enquirer and the television show Hard Copy for $20,000.
The defense, helmed by Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., spent only three weeks calling witnesses, focusing on casting the accuser's mother as a con artist with a pattern of targeting celebrities. A welfare case worker stated that the mother had failed to declare $32,000 she had received in a civil settlement before applying for welfare and food stamps.
But perhaps most persuasively, the defense successfully called three celebrities to the stand: actor Macaulay Culkin, late-night talk show host Jay Leno and comedian Chris Tucker. Culkin, who befriended Jackson as a child actor in the early Nineties, maintained that Jackson had never molested him during his numerous sleepovers in the singer's bed and called the charges "absolutely ridiculous." Leno and Tucker served to paint the accuser's parents as manipulative, with Leno describing flattering phone calls from the boy, apparently being coached by his mother. Tucker stated that the family followed him to a film set in 2001, where he helped them with room and board. Weeks later, he grew suspicious when they would not leave, cutting off all contact because they made him "nervous."
Jackson, who had faced more than twenty years in prison if convicted, left the Santa Maria courthouse with his family at about 3 p.m. PT.