Michael Jackson not guilty

A jury on Monday cleared pop star Michael Jackson of child sex abuse and other charges that could have seen him jailed for more than 18 years at the end of a sensational 14-week trial.

Prosecutors had sought to portray the 46-year-old King of Pop as a sexual predator of boys but Jackson’s defence had insisted throughout that the accuser’s mother was an extortionist who had trained her children to lie.

But the jury, after seven days of deliberations, rejected all of the accusations against Jackson giving the star a stunning victory over his main prosecutor, Tom Sneddon, who has been pursuing Jackson for the past decade.

Jackson shed tears as each not guilty verdict was read out by the jury forewoman. Afterwards he walked out of the court to his waiting car but said nothing to his screaming fans.

Hundreds of Jackson fans, many who have been present throughout the trial, erupted in cheers and tears of jubilation as the 10 not guilty verdicts were announced on loudspeakers.

There had been rising tension outside as fans waited for Jackson to arrive for the verdict. “MJ Innocent!” shouted some.

With television helicopters following overhead, a convoy of four black four wheel drive trucks took Jackson and his family from Neverland Ranch, where the offences were alleged to have taken place, to the Santa Maria courthouse.

The star was accompanied by his parents Joe and Katherine as well as some of his siblings, including his singer sisters Janet and LaToya who have been with him most days throughout the trial.

Wearing a black jacket, tie and dark aviator glasses and surrounded by body guards, the singer looked somber as fans screamed support for him as he stepped out under his trademark black umbrella.

The crowd went silent as broadcast accounts of the proceedings were played.

The jury reached its verdict on the seventh day of its deliberations.

Jackson had denied all 10 charges that he sexually molested a 13-year-old cancer survivor, served him alcohol and conspired to hold him and his family captive two years ago.

Jackson’s action-packed trial started on January 31 with jury selection.
The eight women and four men in the panel withdrew after 66 days of hearings spread over nearly 14 weeks. The prosecution case lasted more than two months while the defence took just three weeks.

About 140 witnesses testified, including 85 for the prosecution. Some 662 items of evidence were submitted.

The panel saw a tumultuous trial in which Sneddon and other prosecutors used witnesses to represent Jackson as a serial molester. It was even allowed to present in evidence accusations against Jackson from 10 years earlier for which no charges were ever laid.

The courtroom drama reached a peak when Jackson was late for the hearing on the day his young accuser was to testify against him and the judge threatened him with arrest and detention.

Jackson eventually turned up late dressed in slippers, faded blue pyjama bottoms, a white t-shirt and a black jacket—his usually-immaculately tended hair uncombed following a pre-dawn visit to a hospital emergency room. Jackson’s lawyers said the star had been rushed to hospital in “terrible pain” after tripping while getting dressed.

The boy, now aged 15, alleged in graphic detail how he was molested at least twice on Jackson’s bed at his Neverland Ranch in February or March in 2003.

“He told me that males have to masturbate,” the soft-spoken boy told jurors.

“He said if I didn’t know how then he would do it for me. He put his hands in my pants and he started masturbating me.” The alleged incident took place under the covers in Jackson’s bed after the pair returned from drinking alcohol in Neverland’s amusement arcade, the boy said.

The defence portrayed the accuser’s mother as an extortionist who had trained her sons to lie to get Jackson convicted.

“They are waiting for the biggest con of their careers,” lead defence lawyer Thomas Mesereau told the jury in his summing up as he urged them to find Jackson not guilty.

The court heard that the accuser told social workers in early 2003 that the star had never fondled him or shared his bed with him. The boy said he had been too scared to tell anyone. - Sapa-AFP