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Jury goes home for weekend without verdict

Police beef up security as tensions run high outside courthouse
/ Source: Reuters

Jurors in Michael Jackson’s child molestation trial completed a full week of deliberations without reaching a verdict Friday, prolonging the culmination of a bitter trial that could send the pop star to prison for nearly 20 years.

The eight women and four men on the jury, who have spent some 30 hours hashing out the question of Jackson’s guilt or innocence behind closed doors, must meet until they reach verdicts on all 10 criminal counts against the 46-year-old entertainer or become deadlocked and a hung jury is declared.

The jurors were driven off in two white vans under police escort after leaving the central California courthouse from behind a newly erected barricade to keep the crowd at bay.

Several hundred Jackson fans from around the world have kept an increasingly anxious vigil over the past week, and police said they were beefing up security for the verdict.

There are also more than 2,000 journalists from 32 countries accredited to the growing media encampment outside court, making the case one of the largest celebrity trials ever.

“Any time there’s a crowd gathering in anticipation of a verdict like this, we know there is a potential for unruliness,” said Sgt. Erik Rainey of Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

While there were about 30 or so deputies around court during the trial, that number has now more than doubled. “We have planned on any number of contingencies and Jackson being remanded into custody is one of those contingencies,” he said.

Restraining orderOne outspoken Jackson supporter has been served with a restraining order prohibiting him from speaking with Court TV correspondent Diane Dimond or coming within 20 yards of her.

The network also hired two guards for Dimond, who has emerged as a target of hostile criticism by some fans who say the media has not covered the trial fairly.

In the restraining order, Dimond said B.J. Hickman had subjected her to “emotional and physical intimidation for three months.”

Hickman, an 18-year-old who came from Tennessee to attend the trial, denied that. “I simply disagree with how she represents the case,” he told reporters outside court.

Jackson, who has been awaiting a verdict at his nearby Neverland estate, has made two visits to the hospital in the past week to treat what his publicist has called a recurrent back problem.

On Friday morning, a caravan of five black sport utility vehicles pulled out of Neverland, prompting speculation that Jackson could be leaving or that there was some development with the jury.

But the cars came back after two hours and the pop star did not appear to be among the passengers.

When a verdict is reached, Jackson will be summoned from Neverland about an hour before it is read out to give all of the parties time to assemble in court.

Jackson is charged with molesting a then-13-year-old boy at Neverland in February or March of 2003, plying the boy with alcohol in order to abuse him and conspiring to commit child abduction, extortion and false imprisonment.

Prosecutors argued that Jackson was a serial pedophile who preyed on young boys over a decade at Neverland.

Jackson’s lawyers countered that it was the pop star who was the naive victim of a family of con artists, led by a greedy mother who persuaded her son to make up the accusations against Jackson in anticipation of a potentially lucrative civil lawsuit against him.