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Law
The Michael Jackson Trial

Jackson not guilty

Jurors acquit pop star of all molestation charges


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Jackson, followed by attorney Thomas Mesereau, leaves court after his acquittal.
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SANTA MARIA, California (CNN) -- A California jury has exonerated Michael Jackson of the child molestation, conspiracy and alcohol charges that could have sent him to prison for nearly 20 years.

The jury deliberated about 32 hours throughout the course of seven days before reaching its decision.

The clerk of court read the verdicts Monday in a packed courtroom while a large crowd of supporters waited outside. Jackson fans cheered, wept and hugged upon hearing the verdicts. (Fans react)

Courtroom observers reported that Jackson dabbed his eyes with a tissue after his acquittal.

Prosecutors had charged the singer with four counts of lewd conduct with a child younger than 14; one count of attempted lewd conduct; four counts of administering alcohol to facilitate child molestation; and one count of conspiracy to commit child abduction, false imprisonment or extortion.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Thomas Sneddon sat grim-faced during the reading of the verdict and said later that he would accept the decision.

"In 37 years [as a prosecutor], I've never quibbled with a jury's verdict, and I'm not going to start today," Sneddon said. (Legal reaction)

Asked if the acquittal ends California's prosecution of Jackson, Sneddon replied, "No comment."

Jackson's family members accompanied him to the courthouse to hear the verdict and flanked him as he exited the courthouse to the cheering of supporters.

Looking drawn and expressionless, Jackson did not address the throng before leaving the courthouse in a caravan of black sport utility vehicles.

His lead defense attorney, Thomas Mesereau Jr., told reporters on his way out of the courthouse that "justice was done."

"The man's innocent. He always was," Mesereau said.

CNN's Rusty Dornin reported that before the clerk of court read the findings, the courtroom was hushed. The only sound was that of the judge tearing open the envelope for each count.

Jackson's father, Joe Jackson, stared stiffly with hands clasped as he listened to the verdicts, Dornin said.

Jackson stared starkly at jurors with no visible signs of emotion, she said. Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville previously admonished courtroom observers to restrain themselves at the reading of the verdicts, Dornin reported.

Upon hearing the findings, Jackson's family members reached out to touch one another and to support Jackson's mother, Katherine Jackson, Dornin said.

The matriarch sobbed at hearing the first "not guilty."

After the verdicts, the judge read a statement from the jury. It stated: "We the jury feel the weight of the world's eyes upon us." The jurors asked to return to their "private lives as anonymously as we came."

They later held a news conference, identifying themselves by their juror numbers.

The attorney for Debbie Rowe, one of Jackson's former wives, released a statement from her. "Debbie is overjoyed that the justice system really works, regardless of which side called her to testify at the trial," it read.

Chain of events

Monday's verdicts capped a chain of events that began in February 2003, after the broadcast of "Living With Michael Jackson," an unflattering television documentary by British journalist Martin Bashir.

In the program, Jackson was shown holding hands with the boy now accusing him of child molestation, and he defended as "loving" his practice of letting young boys sleep in his bed.

In November of 2003, California authorities searched Jackson's Neverland Ranch, following molestation allegations against the singer. Jackson was booked on child-molestation charges that month and released on $3 million bail. Formal charges against Jackson were filed in December 2003.

A grand jury indicted the 46-year-old pop star in April 2004 on charges of molesting the boy at the center of the trial, giving him alcohol and conspiring to hold him and his family captive in 2003.

Jackson pleaded not guilty to the charges and did not testify during the trial.

Testimony and closing arguments stretched nearly 14 weeks before the jury got the case.

Prosecutors alleged that, following the broadcast of the Bashir documentary in 2003, Jackson and five associates plotted to control and intimidate the accuser's family to get them to go along with damage-control efforts, including holding them against their will at Neverland. The molestation charges relate to alleged incidents between Jackson and the accuser after the Bashir documentary aired.

Jackson's lawyers, however, consistently portrayed the singer as a naive victim of the accuser's family, who, they claimed, were grifters -- schemers -- with a habit of wheedling money out of the rich and famous.

Dramatic testimony

The Jackson trial was full of salacious testimony, dramatic moments and celebrity defense witnesses. (Key moments)

Among the more than 130 people who testified were former child star Macaulay Culkin. He disputed testimony from earlier witnesses who claimed they saw Jackson behaving inappropriately with him in the early 1990s.

On March 10, the first day Jackson's accuser testified, the pop star arrived late for court as the judge threatened to revoke the singer's $3 million bail. Jackson, claiming he had a back injury severe enough to require a hospital visit, finally came to court in pajamas and slippers, walking gingerly with a bodyguard and his father supporting him.

The accuser, now 15, testified in graphic detail about what he claims were molestations by Jackson on two separate occasions in early 2003. During cross-examination, however, the teenager admitted he told an administrator at his school that nothing happened between him and the singer.

Prosecution witnesses included the accuser's mother, who was on the stand for three days, and a former security guard who testified that he saw Jackson engaged in oral sex with another teenage boy.

That boy received an out-of-court settlement in his family's molestation case against the pop star for an undisclosed amount. Jackson was not charged in that case and denied any wrongdoing.

Testimony in the trial closed with prosecutors showing a police videotape in which the accuser tells detectives the singer gave him wine and masturbated him as many as five times.

Members of the jury came from a pool of 200 people from Santa Barbara County, just north of Los Angeles. The eight-woman, four-man jury ranged in age from 20 to 79, including a 21-year-old male paraplegic who said he once visited Neverland Ranch, where Jackson has a mansion, zoo and small amusement park.


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