Michael Jackson Acquitted of Child Molestation Charges

ByABC News
June 3, 2005, 10:56 AM

June 13, 2005 — -- Michael Jackson, the legendary "King of Pop" who has been dogged for years by accusations of child molestation, was acquitted today of all charges related to allegations that he molested a boy who spent time at his Neverland ranch and appeared with him in the 2003 British documentary "Living With Michael Jackson."

The panel of eight women and four men acquitted Jackson of molestation, attempted molestation, plying minors with liquor, and conspiracy stemming from an alleged attempt to hold his accuser and the boy's family virtual hostages of Neverland after the documentary aired. Jurors deliberated for slightly more than 24 hours over seven days before announcing they had reached a unanimous verdict. They had reportedly asked for a readback of the testimony of Jackson's accuser before reaching their decision.

Courtroom observers said Jackson brought a tissue to his eyes and his lead attorney, Thomas Mesereau Jr., put an arm around him as jurors read the verdict. Fans gathered outside the courthouse in Santa Maria, Calif., cheered wildly as they learned about Jackson's acquittal. With his entourage of relatives, bodyguards and attorneys around him, Jackson walked slowly out of the courthouse and waved at his cheering fans weakly as he ducked into his waiting SUV, a free man.

After the verdicts were announced, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville, who presided over the trial, read a statement from the jury: "We the jury feel the weight of the world's eyes upon us." Jurors asked to be allowed to return to "our private lives as anonymously as we came."

District Attorney Tom Sneddon said he was disappointed in the verdict but he was proud of his office and the work on the case.

"I've been a prosecutor for 37 years, and in 37 years, I've never quarreled with a jury's verdict and I'm not about to start now," Sneddon said.

Sneddon, who was involved in the 1993 molestation investigation of Jackson, said his history with the singer never influenced his decisions in the case. He had no comment on whether his office would continue to pursue other investigations against Jackson and declined to say whether he believed a child molester got away with a crime. Sneddon insisted his office did the "right thing for the right reasons" and said he had not talked to the alleged victim and his family after the verdict.

Neither Jackson nor his family commented immediately after the verdict. In a statement released on Jackson's official Web site, Mesereau said, "Justice is done. The man's innocent. He always was."

Jackson, 46, was accused of molesting a now-15-year-old boy, who spent time at his Neverland ranch and appeared with him in the documentary. He faced 10 charges that included felony conspiracy with 28 overt acts involving child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. Jackson denied all the charges, and his defense argued that the alleged victim and his family made up the allegations in an attempt to get money.

In "Living With Michael Jackson," which was broadcast in February 2003, Jackson talked about his fondness for having innocent sleepovers with children. While holding hands with his accuser, he said, "Why can't you share your bed? The most loving thing to do is to share your bed with someone." The documentary sparked the events that ultimately led to the police raid on Neverland and Jackson's arrest and trial.

Prosecutors argued that Jackson molested his accuser, a cancer survivor who was 13 at the time of the alleged molestation, after showering him with lavish gifts and accommodations. The prosecution claimed Jackson showed the boy adult magazines and Web sites and served him wine, which he allegedly referred to as "Jesus juice."

"At night they entered into the world of the forbidden, they went into Michael Jackson's bedroom, which was a veritable fortress," Senior Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen said in closing arguments. "They learned about human sexuality from someone who was all too willing to be their teacher. ... Are you comfortable with a middle-aged man getting in bed with a teenage boy as he possesses material like this that excites him?"

Prosecutors said Jackson's alleged actions with his accuser were the latest in a pattern of bad behavior. They presented testimony that Jackson molested or behaved inappropriately with five other boys, including two youngsters who reached multimillion-dollar settlements with the singer in the 1990s. The judge ruled that jurors could not hear the amounts of the settlements.

Jackson was never criminally charged for those allegations and has always denied any wrongdoing.