By David Walsh
15 June 2005
The acquittal of Michael Jackson on child molestation and related
charges is entirely welcome. Whether it is a sign of changing
popular sentiments or a more isolated episode, the decision
by the Santa Maria, California jury to find the singer not guilty
on ten felony and three misdemeanor charges is appropriate,
both from the legal and human standpoint. In contemporary America,
unhappily, rational and civilized conclusions to such sordid
episodes are all too infrequent.
In objective terms, the jurys decision to acquit Jackson
represents a stinging rebuke to the vindictive prosecution,
led by Santa Barbara County District Attorney Thomas Sneddon
and supported by all the attack dogs of the ultra-right. The
verdict to reject even the lesser charges, whether the eight
women and four men on the jury were fully conscious of the fact
or not, stands as an indictment of the fraudulent and malicious
character of the prosecutions case. The jury decision
came in the face as well of a series of decisions by Judge Rodney
Melville that favored the district attorney.
Jacksons acquittal, moreover, stands as an indictment
of the foul role played by the American mass media, which legitimized
and sought to bolster the case against the singer. The verdict
stunned many of the media pundits, who have done everything
in their power to stigmatize and demonize Jackson over the past
In the immediate aftermath of the reading of the verdict, before
the TV anchors and assorted talking heads had a chance to get
their stories straight, a number of television reporters acknowledged
what none of them had publicly admitted beforethat there
never was a serious case against Jackson. However, the media
approach quickly shifted and attempts were made to denigrate
the significance of the verdict by emphasizing the reservations
of several jury members as to Jacksons past behavior.
Here again the media executives and pundits reveal their ignorance
of and instinctive hostility to elementary democratic principles.
Whether jury members had reservations about Jacksons behavior
or suspicions of past misconduct, they did what they were supposed
to do: they listened to the evidence, discussed it amongst themselves
and determined that the prosecution had not proven its case
beyond a reasonable doubt. It was this stubborn adherence to
juridical norms and democratic principlesincluding the
presumption of innocencethat so irked the establishment
legal and media types, who have long ago discarded any such
Even if Jackson had been guilty of molestation, he would not
have merited the savage treatment he received at the hands of
the state and the mass media. No humiliation is too great, no
debasement too complete for these forces.
Jackson appeared to be exhausted and on the verge of collapse
by the end of the trial. In the brutality of a Sneddon one sees
in microcosm the character of the American ruling elite: ignorant,
reckless, embittered, endlessly pursuing anyone and anything
that hints of opposition or the counterculture.
Why was Michael Jackson actually on trial? Because his lifestyle
is different, even bizarre; because he is perceived to be gay;
because he is black. In the paranoid, pornographic vision of
the extreme right, whose perverse mental life deserves to be
analyzed by a Freud, Jackson represents a provocation and threat
to American values.
For the mainstream media in the US, the trial of a Jackson was
a godsend. Unable and unwilling to present the truth about anything
that matters, the mass media instinctively gravitates toward
whatever will pollute the social atmosphere. With plunging support
for the war in Iraq as well as George W. Bushs domestic
policies, efforts to divert the attention of the population
from the burning issues of the day become more and more frenzied.
The general media response toward the Jackson verdict has been
spiteful, if not libelous. One guest interviewed by Fox Newss
Shepard Smith called Jackson the Teflon monster
and claimed that we need IQ tests for jurors. Numerous
commentators asked Sneddon, defense attorney Thomas Mesereau
and assorted jurors alike if they did not believe that a child
molester had gone free. Not only has the presumption of innocence
been thrown out the window, but an acquittal unanimously agreed
upon by a jury means nothing to these elements.
Nancy Grace, the former prosecutor, who nightly pours out reactionary
venom on CNN, could barely contain herself over the Jackson
verdict. Grace, who has been declaring her belief in Jacksons
guilt for months, began her program: It is a clean sweep
in a California courtroom. The Michael Jackson jury handing
down a verdict that stunned the nation: Not guilty on all counts.
... It was a 13-year-old Hispanic boy who took on Michael Jackson
in court. And tonight, its not guilty, by reason of celebrity.
Grace proceeded to hound jury foreperson Paul Rodriguez, provocatively
asking at one point, What do you think it would have taken
to convince this jury that Jackson had molested this boy?
Debra Opri, an attorney for Jacksons parents, finally
put Grace in her place: Well, this is the bitter pill
youre going to have to swallow, Nancy. This is the reality,
not the reality you have created for the last year. Michael
Jackson is not guilty. Let him live his life in peace and stop
trying to retry the case, and thats what youre doing.
As noted above, the media seized on comments by one juror in
particular, Raymond Hultman, to the effect that although there
was not enough evidence to convict Jackson of the crime with
which he was charged, the singer had probably acted inappropriately
with underage boys in the past.
This exchange between NBCs Today Show co-host Katie Couric
and Mesereau was typical:
Couric: Some jurors are saying this is a not-guilty verdict,
not an innocent verdict. One juror said he believes Michael
Jackson molested other children, just not this one. So is this
really the vindication that Michael Jacksons supporters
believe it is?
Mesereau: Yes, it is. Macaulay Culkin came and testified he
was never touched. Mr. Robinson testified he was never touched.
Mr. Barnes testified he was never touched. I mean, they tried
to promote theories of Mr. Jacksons behavior that just
fell apart because they werent true.
Couric: But do you find it troubling, Mr....
Mesereau: I think its total vindication.
Couric: Do you find it troubling, though, Mr. Mesereau, that
a juror is saying, I believe Michael Jackson molested
children or has molested children before?
Mesereau: No. I dont find it troubling because we won
the case, and we should have won the case. Hes innocent.
Opinion polls register a majority continuing to believe in Jacksons
guilt. But where does the public get its information? As defense
attorney Barry Scheck noted on the Today Show, the public viewed
the trial through the prism of the media, while the jury viewed
The elaborate conspiracy charged by Sneddonthat Jackson
abducted the family of his supposed victim and plotted to ship
them to Brazilwas proven to be absurd. Mesereau had no
difficulty in demonstrating that family members had gone on
shopping sprees during their supposed imprisonment, including
body waxes for the mother of the then 13-year-old boy and orthodontic
work for the latter and his brother. Testimony indicated that
the family had escaped and returned to Jacksons
Neverland ranch three times, once in a Rolls-Royce, but never
called for help.
The defense presented evidence, unrefuted by the prosecution,
that the boys mother had received a $152,000 settlement
from J.C. Penney after she accused security guards of groping
her when, in fact, the injuries were caused by her abusive husband.
Mesereau was able to portray the woman as a con artist who had
a history of attempting to extract money from celebrities for
her cancer-stricken son.
Jury members told the press following the trial that the boys
mother had made a very unfavorable impression on them. During
her testimony, the woman alleged that killers threatened
her during her supposed captivity and schemed to carry off her
children in a hot-air balloon.
In a number of instances, prosecution moves blew up in their
faces. Called by Sneddon as a witness, Debbie Rowe, Jacksons
ex-wife, proved quite supportive of the singer. In his opening
statement the district attorney had promised jurors that Rowe
would testify that a video she recorded praising Jackson was
made under pressure and that her appearance had been entirely
scripted. When she appeared, Rowe, who is locked in a custody
battle with Jackson, repudiated this version of events and called
the pop singer my friend.
The prosecution put several former Neverland employees on the
stand who alleged that Jackson had groped a number of young
boys in the early 1990s. Most of these witnesses had either
sued or sold stories about Jackson and, as Mesereau pointed
out to Couric, the boys who testified denied any impropriety.
Jurors who spoke to the media explained that the prosecution
had simply never made a case. One of the jurors, a middle-aged
mother, told the press, The evidence said it all. We had
a closet full of evidence that made us come back to the same
thingthat there wasnt enough to convict. Things
didnt add up, she said.
In a statement they had the judge read out in court, the jury
of eight women and four men explained, We the jury feel
the weight of the worlds eyes. We thoroughly studied the
testimony, evidence, rules and procedures. We confidently came
to our verdict.
Jurors explained that as the trial proceeded, they began to
think of Jackson less as a celebrity. Even though he is
a superstar, he is a human, one female juror explained.
Seeing him throughout the trial, he is a normal person.
It made him real in my eyes.
Rodriguez told ABCs Good Morning America that Jackson
had thanked them. He looked over at us. In fact, I made
eye contact with him as the last part of the verdict was read
and he kinda just mouthed to us and openly said, Thank
Michael Jackson verdict