Michael Jackson Case: Not Guilty

Michael Jackson found not guilty of molestation, conspiracy, booze raps

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Michael Jackson Case: Not Guilty

JUNE 13--In a stunning and sweeping victory for Michael Jackson, a California jury today acquitted the singer of charges that he molested a teenage cancer survivor and conspired to falsely imprison the boy and his family at his sprawling Neverland Ranch estate.

Jackson sat motionless as court clerk Lorna Frey read the jury's decision. As the not guilty verdicts piled up, his mother Katherine wept as she rested her head on son Tito's shoulder. Also crying were at least two jurors, Jackson lawyer Susan Yu, and many fans who packed Judge Rodney Melville's courtroom.

A rigid Jackson stared at Frey as she read the jury's verdict. The singer, who held a tissue to his face during most of the court proceeding, only stood after Melville ordered him released him from his $3 million bail package. At that point he hugged members of his defense team.

After the verdict was read, Melville read a statement from the jury, the members of which never looked at Jackson as their decision was announced. The panel, Melville stated, had felt the "weight of the world's eyes on us" and now wanted to return to the anonymity of their private lives.

The eight-woman, four-man jury deliberated for about 33 hours over seven days before reaching its verdict, which was read to a packed Santa Maria courtroom--and to millions listening worldwide via a live audio feed‹by clerk Lorna Frey. The not guilty verdict came after a 14-week trial that included testimony from 140 witnesses, including the teenage accuser, now 16, and the Los Angeles boy's erratic mother and two of his siblings.

District Attorney Tom Sneddon said he was "disappointed" with the verdict, but would not quarrel with the jury's decision. Asked if the loss marked the end of his office's pursuit of the entertainer, Sneddon replied, "No comment." He gave the same response when a reporter asked if a child molester had escaped unpunished.

Jackson was arrested in November 2003, days after sheriff's deputies executed a search warrant at his Los Olivos ranch. The entertainer was tried on a 10-count indictment returned in April 2004 charging him with four counts of child molestation, four counts of providing alcohol to a minor to facilitate that molestation, one count of attempted molestation, and one count of conspiring to hold the boy and his family captive at the sprawling 2700-acre Neverland compound.

During the trial, prosecutors painted Jackson as a textbook pedophile, a man who stocked his home with alcohol and pornography and used Neverland--with its amusement park, go-karts, and zoo--as a lure for underage boys he sought to molest. In his closing argument, prosecutor Ron Zonen described Jackson as a predator who carefully targeted his victims, often those from broken or impoverished homes. "The lion on the Serengeti doesn't go after the strongest antelope," Zonen said. "The predator goes after the weakest."

For their part, Jackson's lawyers described the accuser and his family as con artists who fabricated the abuse tale in a bid to extort millions from the singer. The ringleader of this supposed scheme, attorney Thomas Mesereau told jurors, was the alleged victim's 36-year-old mother, whose testimony was marked by bizarre claims and strange outbursts.