Jackson Acquittal Means Victory for Law His Team Feared

Michael Jackson's acquittal was a victory for a law that could have helped convict him in his child molestation trial.

Some members of the jury, which acquitted "The King of Pop" of all 10 charges related to allegations that he molested a now-15-year-old boy, said they suspected the singer had molested other children but that prosecutors had not proven he had done anything illegal to the accuser in his trial.

During deliberations, jury foreman Paul Rodriguez said, he and other jurors frequently discussed the testimony they had heard about past allegations that Jackson had molested or behaved inappropriately with five other boys, including two youngsters who reached multimillion-dollar settlements with the singer in the 1990s.

But, Rodriguez said, the jurors knew they could not convict solely on the basis of past allegations.

"We couldn't weigh that with this case in particular," he said. "We all felt that he was guilty of something. But we feel that if he didn't learn from this experience, then it's up to another jury to convict him."

The defense tried unsuccessfully to bar Santa Barbara County prosecutors from presenting testimony about the prior allegations, arguing that the singer had never been criminally charged for those accusations and that the evidence would unfairly prejudice the jury.

However, the verdict in Jackson's trial showed that propensity evidence in sex crime trials does not necessarily lead to an automatic conviction and jurors can fairly evaluate the evidence.

"You've got to really hand it to the jury in Jackson's case," said Ronald Carlson, a professor at the University of Georgia School of Law. "In most cases, jurors are less likely to separate the past allegations from the present case before them and merge the prior accusations with the case before them. They decide to convict someone based on past similar [alleged] acts and not evidence in the current charges. Jurors in Jackson's case didn't do that."

Key Ruling Wasn't That Pivotal

Many court observers believed Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville's decision to admit the testimony was going to help prosecutors win a conviction.

"I admit, I thought the admission of the prior bad acts was going to be the end of Jackson," said California-based defense attorney Steve Cron. "I thought his defense would be hard-pressed to overcome that."

Prosecutors used the testimony to portray the singer as a pedophile whose actions were part of a pattern of behavior and tactics he allegedly used to seduce and groom young boys. The prosecution argued that Jackson won the trust of his current accuser, a cancer survivor who was 13 at the time of the alleged molestation, by showering him with attention, lavish gifts and accommodations.

Though he negotiated settlements for boys who accused him of molestation in 1990 and 1993, Jackson has always denied any wrongdoing. Three young men the prosecution had alleged were molested by Jackson -- including actor Macaulay Culkin -- testified for the defense and denied the accusations.

The Legal Debate Over Propensity Evidence

A change in California law in 1995 regarding sex crime cases allows prosecutors to present testimony on alleged prior bad acts or propensity evidence. The use of such evidence has long been a source of legal debate.

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