GARY, Ind. — Franklin Reese pulled his pickup truck in front of Michael Jackson’s childhood home, blaring the song “Beat It” from the stereo. Then Reese got out and danced in the street.
“I knew he didn’t do it,” said Reese after learning Monday that a jury had acquitted Jackson of molesting a 13-year-old cancer survivor at his Neverland ranch, and also cleared him of all related charges.
Neighbors and Gary residents walked past the former Jackson homestead to express their support for the pop star, carrying signs reading “MJ Framed/Never Guilty” and “Michael Beat It!” Others drove past blaring their horns.
Janine Bray, who said she has known the Jackson family since childhood, was in her sports utility vehicle dancing to the song “Dangerous.”
“Michael is a good boy,” Bray said. “Michael wouldn’t hurt anyone.”
Tim Brown, a second cousin to the Jacksons who lives in the family’s former home, said he had faith Jackson would be acquitted.
“You live in this world, you go through a lot of trials and tribulations,” he said. “But if you know how to talk to God and know the words and know how to speak it, it will come to pass, you will be OK.”
While happy with the verdict, Tony Retic, 61, said he believes Jackson needs to change.
“How would you feel about Michael Jackson sleeping with your sons at your house?” he said. “He has to be more careful.”
Jackson was born the seventh of nine children in Gary on Aug. 19, 1958. He was 11 years old when the family moved out of the city after the Jackson 5 recorded their first album in 1969.
The group played two concerts at West Side High School in 1971, but Jackson never returned to Gary until June 2003.
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Some in Jackson’s hometown said they hope the acquittal will prompt the pop star to reconsider a connection with the city.
“There’s a love-hate relationship,” said state Rep. Charlie Brown, a Gary Democrat. “They love him as a performer but are really upset he has never tried to assist his hometown.”
In 2003, Jackson pledged to raise money for a Michael J. Jackson Performance Arts Center, but so far nothing has come of the deal. LaLosa Burns, a spokeswoman for Gary Mayor Scott King, said the city will pursue the performing arts venue — with or without Jackson’s help.
“With him being the celebrity that he is, certainly we like the idea, and it is our desire to have him work with us in this project,” she said. “Certainly we wish him and his family well in this time.”
Shauntell Alston, 34, said she wants something good to come out of the trial.
“I hope he comes out with a song from this,” she said.
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