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Jackson Case: Jurors acquit Jackson of all charges

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Editor's Note: As part of CNN.com's new Crime section, we are archiving some of the most interesting content from CourtTVNews.com. This story was first published in 2005.

(Court TV) -- Michael Jackson returned to Neverland a free man Monday.

A jury pronounced the 46-year-old singer not guilty of molesting a 13-year-old cancer survivor, not guilty of plying the boy with alcohol, and not guilty of conspiring to abduct, extort and falsely imprison the child and his family.

Jackson showed little emotion as the verdicts were read, but he hugged his attorneys and dabbed his face with a tissue when Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville announced at 2:25 p.m., "Mr. Jackson, your bail is exonerated and you are released."

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Outside the courthouse, hundreds of fans erupted in cheers. Some in the courtroom wept. Many were wearing white to symbolize their idol's innocence.

Jackson's parents, Katherine and Joe, and his siblings Randy, Rebbie, Tito and LaToya sat in the two front rows of the gallery, and accompanied Jackson and his security guards to and from the courthouse in a caravan of four black SUVs.

Jackson and lead defense attorney, Thomas Mesereau, did not comment as they left the courthouse following the verdict, but Mesereau issued a statement on the singer's Web site, www.mjjsource.com, that read simply: "Justice is done. The man's innocent. He always was."

The eight-woman, four-man jury panel deliberated nearly 33 hours over seven days before delivering its verdict Monday afternoon.

"I don't think 12 people can agree on anything except that the sun might come up tomorrow morning," Juror No. 1, a man, said at a post-verdict press conference. "Beyond that you've got to talk about it and we did talk about it, we challenged the issues and we came to the decision that pointed to reasonable doubt."

In April 2004, Jackson was indicted on 10 counts, including one count of conspiracy to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion; four counts of committing a lewd act upon a child; one count of attempting to commit a lewd act upon a child; and four counts of administering an intoxicating agent to assist in the commission of a felony.

Opening statements in the singer's trial began Feb. 28, and jurors heard from 140 witnesses over three and a half months, including celebrities such as comedians Jay Leno, Chris Tucker and George Lopez, and actor Macaulay Culkin.

Jackson's teenage accuser testified that his former idol molested him on several occasions while he and his brother were visitors at the singer's palatial home, Neverland. He also claimed Jackson had given him alcohol and showed him explicit pornography.

Prosecutors alleged that Jackson, along with his aides, conspired to keep the boy and his family at Neverland against their will to avoid a public relations disaster following the release of a revealing documentary.

The February 2003 broadcast of British journalist Martin Bashir's "Living with Michael Jackson" was deemed by prosecutors to be the beginning of a public relations nightmare for Jackson, who was seen holding hands with the child and defending his habit of sharing his bed with children.

The panel rejected the prosecution's case with a sweeping not guilty verdict on all 10 counts. They also spared Jackson from the lowest potential sentence of fines and probation when they acquitted him on the lesser-included charges of furnishing alcohol to a minor.

It was a resounding victory for the King of Pop, who, by most accounts, would have fared poorly in prison.

Wracked with back pain, frail and emaciated, the singer virtually wasted away before the eyes of the public and press, losing a remarkable amount of weight during the trial. His frequent late-night doctor visits made the 14-mile route from Neverland Ranch in Santa Ynez Valley to Cottage Hospital in Solvang a familiar path tread by paparazzi and fans, who scrutinized the singer's every move.

Santa Barbara District Attorney Thomas Sneddon, who has spearheaded the prosecution against Jackson since accusations were first lodged against him by another boy in 1993, expressed his dismay following the verdict.

"Obviously we're disappointed in the verdict, but we believe in the system of justice," Sneddon said. "In 37 years, I've never quarreled with a jury verdict and I'm not going to start today."

The verdict was a significant defeat for Sneddon, whose attempts to prosecute Jackson in 1993 went nowhere after that accuser agreed to a $20 million-plus settlement with Jackson in exchange for the boy's silence.

Timeline, credibility issues

Jackson and his current accuser met in the summer of 2000, when the boy was fighting for his life in a battle with stage-four cancer. Three years later, the teen was in remission when Jackson invited him to Neverland to participate in the filming of Bashir's documentary. A conspiracy evolved, prosecutors said, out of a desperate attempt by the King of Pop and his aides to save Jackson's recording career, his fame and his already dwindling fortune from the stigma of molestation accusations.

The boy, his two siblings and his mother were brought to Neverland by Jackson aides, where they spent most of February and March 2003, leaving once in the middle of the night, only to return later. The mother was ferried to beauty salons and her children were taken on dental visits and shopping trips. The defense argued that the ease with which they could come and go made accusations of captivity laughable.

The timing of the molestation charges against Jackson was a hurdle for the prosecution. The odd friendship between Jackson and the doe-eyed boy was the subject of intense media speculation and an investigation by the Department of Children and Family Services. But prosecutors say it was not until they were holed up at Neverland in late February and early March when Jackson caved in to his prurient impulses and masturbated the boy.

Less than four months later, the boy revealed to investigators that Jackson had inappropriately touched him about five times, that he was given wine and alcohol almost every night he stayed at Neverland, and that Jackson showed him pornographic magazines.

During interviews with media following the verdict, the panel members expressed confusion and doubt about the timeline of events. "We took notes so well that we could develop the timeline on the boards and really analyze it," said Juror No. 3, a woman. "The timeline was a concern."

The panel's acquittal also signaled doubt about the credibility of the accuser and his family. The defense painted the family as con artists looking for a payout. Before they went to authorities with the accusations, the family consulted with two attorneys, including the lawyer who had secured the 1993 settlement.

The defense revealed inconsistencies in the testimony of the current accuser when he took the stand, and the teen's younger brother was a surly and unsympathetic witness.

But the testimony of the boy's mother that was an unmitigated disaster for prosecutors, who by the end of her five-day turn on the stand began to object to their own witness's testimony. Emotionally erratic, the mother cried and argued, always facing the jury panel instead of attorneys when answering questions.

"I was very uncomfortable with that," Juror No. 4, a woman, said after the verdict. "A lot of the witnesses looked over at us from time to time, but then they'd look back, but she didn't take her eyes off of us, so that was a very uncomfortable feeling."

The defense also shed doubts about a 1998 civil settlement the family received from JCPenney, and whether the mother's bruises were inflicted by security guards, as she claimed, or her abusive ex-husband. Even her welfare applications were scrutinized, forcing prosecutors to elicit juror sympathies while conceding during closing arguments that the poverty-stricken mother committed welfare fraud. She invoked the Fifth Amendment during her testimony to avoid questioning on the issue.

Jurors ultimately disapproved of the mother's behavior on the stand.

"I disliked it intensely when she snapped her fingers at us," Juror No. 5, a woman, said. "That's when I thought, 'Don't snap your fingers at me, lady.'"

The foreman, a 63-year-old retiree, said he was able to put the defendant's fame aside.

"We did watch him sitting there when certain questions were asked," he told reporters. "It was a case where you focus on the witness and on the evidence. Whether it was Michael Jackson sitting there or someone else didn't affect me."

But after spending nearly four months together, in the insular courtroom, the panel collectively expressed concerns about how their final decision would be perceived by the world.

After the verdict was announced, the judge read aloud from a statement written by jurors.

"We, the jury, feeling the weight of the world's eyes upon us all, thoroughly and meticulously studied the evidence ... We confidently came to our verdict," the panel's announcement began. "We respectfully request the world allow us to return to our private lives as anonymously as we came." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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