SANTA MARIA, Calif. — The witnesses who were the heart of the case against Michael Jackson wound up serving as inadvertent stars for the defense, convincing jurors through their dubious credibility that the pop star was the victim of liars and profiteers.
Led by the accuser and his mother, prosecution witnesses were deemed so unbelievable that jurors determined not guilty on all counts was the only verdict they could return.
Michael Jackson wasn’t a child molester, they decided — he had been an easy mark for con artists who preyed upon his sympathy and love of children.
During their post-verdict news conference, jurors painted the mother as a charlatan who had programmed her children to lie their way to Jackson’s riches.
Midway through the four-month trial, defense lawyer Thomas Mesereau Jr. had rattled the mother and other prosecution witnesses through lengthy and aggressive inquiries that openly challenged their motives. He hauled out their pasts, portraying the mother as a welfare cheat who exploited her then-13-year-old son’s cancer to attach herself to celebrities.
The jurors weren’t impressed by her behavior on the stand either, saying they resented her snapping her fingers and winking at them. The jury foreman — who is Hispanic, like the accuser’s mother — said he was particularly put off when she singled him out.
“The mother, when she looked at me and snapped her fingers a few times and she says, ’You know how our culture is,’ and winks at me, I thought, ‘No, that’s not the way our culture is,” he said.
Jackson himself, the wraithlike figure who marched into court each day in a new costume and sat like a statue listening to the accusations against him, was no more than a supporting player to the jurors, who said they paid little attention to him.
Jackson never took the witness stand, but he did speak to jurors through a video in which he took them inside his difficult childhood as a star and explained his desire to build Neverland, a fantasy world where he said children could have the fun times he never did.
A clash of lawyers
The case was a contest between deeply committed lawyers on both sides.
District Attorney Tom Sneddon, who first pursued Jackson a decade ago, was cast as the zealous prosecutor — some said overzealous — seizing his last chance to convict an international superstar.
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In defeat, he was gracious.
“In 37 years I have never quarreled with a jury’s verdict and I am not going to start now,” he said.
Asked whether it was a mistake to go forward with a case based on the testimony of a family with a checkered history, he made no apologies.
“You don’t look at the pedigree of your witnesses,” he said. “We did the right things for the right reasons.”
Jurors paid little attention to the mountain of pornography that prosecutors confronted them with, saying they were just adult magazines that anyone could possess.
They rejected the elaborate conspiracy theory outlined by the prosecution, finding that Jackson did not lead a plot with his associates to hold the accuser’s family hostage.
They also rejected the claim that Jackson had given alcohol to children at times at his Neverland ranch.
In essence, they said they didn’t believe most of the people who came forward to testify against the pop star.
One woman on the jury joked that the telephone company executives who identified records may have been the only credible prosecution witnesses.
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