Trial of Michael Jackson
|People v. Michael Jackson|
|Court||Santa Barbara County Superior Court|
|Full case name||People of the State of California v. Michael Joe Jackson|
|Decided||June 13, 2005|
|Verdict||Michael Jackson found not guilty on all 14 counts|
|Judge(s) sitting||Rodney Melville|
People v. Jackson (full title: 1133603: The People of the State of California v. Michael Joe Jackson) was a 2004–2005 criminal trial held in Santa Barbara County Superior Court in which American recording artist Michael Jackson was charged with molesting Gavin Arvizo, a 13-year-old boy. Jackson was indicted for four counts of molesting a minor, four counts of intoxicating a minor to molest him, one count of attempted child molestation, one count of conspiring to hold the boy and his family captive, and conspiring to commit extortion and child abduction. He pleaded not guilty to all counts. The trial spanned approximately 18 months, from Jackson's arraignment on January 16, 2004 to June 13, 2005. The jury delivered a verdict of not guilty on all charges, including four lesser misdemeanour counts.
Jackson had previously been accused of child sexual abuse in 1993; he denied the allegations and settled out of court. Like the previous allegations, Jackson was accused of abusing Arvizo in his home, Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara County, California, where he often brought children and their families. A 2003 documentary, Living with Michael Jackson, showed Jackson holding hands with Arvizo and discussing sharing a bed with children, triggering a new investigation led by District Attorney Thomas W. Sneddon Jr.
With no physical evidence, the prosecution relied on testimonies from witness including the Arvizo family and Neverland employees, painting Jackson as a predator with a history of child sexual abuse. The defense, led by Thomas Mesereau, argued that the witnesses were unreliable, with histories of perjury and fraud. Celebrities including former child star Macaulay Culkin testified in Jackson's defense. The trial drew international media attention and created a media circus. In later years, more men alleged that Jackson had abused them, including Wade Robson, who had testified at the trial that Jackson had not molested him.
- 1 Background
- 2 Investigation and arrest
- 3 Trial
- 4 Verdict
- 5 Media coverage
- 6 Aftermath
- 7 Further allegations
- 8 See also
- 9 References
In 1993, pop musician Michael Jackson was accused of child sexual abuse by a 13-year-old boy, Jordan Chandler, and his father, Evan Chandler. The abuse allegedly took place at Jackson's Neverland Ranch home in Santa Barbara, California. The police investigation, led by District Attorney Thomas W. Sneddon Jr, was inconclusive and no charges were filed. In January 1994, Jackson settled out of court with the Chandlers for $22 million. In a statement, he said he was the victim of false allegations from people seeking to make money from him, and that he had settled to avoid a media circus.
In August 2000, Gavin Arvizo, a boy with cancer in remission, visited Neverland Ranch with his family. Jackson said he invited sick children to his home to have fun because he felt sorry for them; he felt he had been robbed of his own childhood.
In 2003, ITV broadcast a documentary, Living with Michael Jackson, for which journalist Martin Bashir interviewed Jackson over eight months. The Guardian described the documentary as "the fuse that ignited the case and the trial". In the documentary, Jackson and Arvizo held hands and discussed sleepovers, and Jackson said he had slept in bed with many children. He said: "It's not sexual, we're going to sleep. I tuck them in... It's very charming, it's very sweet." Jackson received criticism and some newspapers called for his children to be removed from his custody. In a press release in February 2003, Sneddon stated that under California law an adult sleeping in bed with a child was not a criminal offense unless "affirmative, offensive conduct" occurs.
Investigation and arrest
In June 2003, Sneddon reopened the investigation into Jackson. The investigation lasted two years and produced 1,900 pages of grand jury testimony. In August, authorities interviewed Gavin Arvizo, his mother Janet, and younger brother Star. In November, Gavin told police that Jackson had molested him several times in February and March 2003, when, according to Janet, Jackson had held the family captive at Neverland Ranch.
On November 18, 2003, police searched Neverland Ranch. Nothing incriminating was found. On November 23, Jackson was arrested and led in handcuffs by the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department before the media. He was released an hour later after posting a $3 million bond.
Shortly after the arrest, Jackson issued a statement saying the claims were "predicated on a big lie". Fans gathered in cities around the world to show their support. In an interview with 60 Minutes, Jackson claimed that the police had mistreated him and he complained of a dislocated shoulder. He reaffirmed his innocence and said that he was determined not to settle out of court as he had done in 1993.
On December 18, 2003, Jackson was charged with seven counts of child molestation and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent for the purpose of a committing a felony. On April 21, 2004, a grand jury indicted Jackson on several additional related charges, including conspiracy involving child abduction, false imprisonment, and extortion. If convicted, he could have been jailed for 20 years.
The trial began on February 28, 2005 in the courthouse of Santa Maria, Santa Barbara, in central California. It was presided over by Judge Rodney Melville. Melville dismissed 21 motions before the trial, banned cameras from the courtroom, put a gag order on both sides, and oversaw a three-day jury selection process. He delayed the jury selection for a week while Jackson was hospitalized with flu.
Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon led the prosecution. Sneddon had a reputation as an effective prosecutor, and for being "fiercely competitive", "pugnacious", and "tenacious". Santa Barbara News-Press editor Gary Roberts characterized him as "a law-and-order guy who sees the world in black and white. There's bad guys and good guys, and he sees himself as the good guy." Some, such as attorney Gary Dunlap, alleged that Sneddon saw the trial as an opportunity for payback after his 1993 investigation was inconclusive. At a news conference shortly before the charges were announced, Sneddon was criticized for using a jovial and "cocky" tone, joking: "Like the sheriff and I really are into [Jackson's] kind of music." Jackson's legal team attempted to have Sneddon and his team disqualified on grounds of bias over the failed 1993 case, but the judge dismissed both attempts. Thomas Mesereau led the defense.
Under Californian law, previous allegations can be used to show that a defendant is a habitual sex offender, regardless of whether the allegations went to court. The judge allowed testimony about past allegations, including the 1993 case, to establish whether Jackson had a propensity to commit certain crimes. The prosecution hoped to show that Jackson had engaged in a pattern of sexual abuse with boys. They called on witnesses to describe earlier incidents, including Jackson's alleged 1993 abuse of Jordan Chandler. The prosecution argued that Jackson used Neverland, his "fantasy hideaway" with candy and theme park attractions, to lure boys and force them into sex, and flattered their parents with gifts. The prosecution also said that, after Living With Michael Jackson aired, Jackson and his entourage had attempted to hold the Arvizo family captive at Neverland and force them to participate in a rebuttal film.
In March, as Gavin Arvizo was about to testify, Jackson was late for court. Judge Melville issued a warrant for his arrest and said Jackson's $3 million bond would be forfeited if he did not arrive within an hour. Jackson arrived an hour and ten minutes late dressed in pajamas and appeared to weep in court. In an interview shortly afterwards, he claimed he had slipped in the shower and bruised his lung "very badly". He said the ongoing trial had been the lowest period in his life, and denied rumors about his financial problems, saying they had been part of a smear campaign.
Witnesses for the prosecution
On March 1, Martin Bashir, who had interviewed Jackson for Living with Michael Jackson, took to the witness stand. The documentary was played for the jury. Bashir refused to answer questions from the defense. According to the Guardian, he was "left a trembling wreck" by Mesereau, who accused him of inveigling Jackson for access.
Jason Francia, who was 24 at the time of the trial, testified that Jackson had molested him on several occasions while tickling him. Francia's mother was employed by Jackson as a maid. Francia said that "every time I was being tickled there was some sort of exchange of money", with the understanding that he would not tell his mother.
Neverland Ranch staff
In April 2005, Ralph Chacon, a former security guard at Neverland Ranch, testified that he had seen Jackson performing oral sex on Chandler in the early 1990s. He also described seeing Jackson passionately kiss him and place his hand on the boy's crotch. He said he did not report the incident to police because he thought he would not be believed.
A former maid at the ranch, Adrian McManus, alleged she had seen Jackson kissing boys including the child star Macaulay Culkin, and described Jackson touching Culkin's leg and "rear end". She also claimed that she had seen Jackson touching Chandler's genitals. Culkin denied being molested by Jackson.
The defense sought to portray Chacon and McManus as unreliable. According to the Guardian, each witness had a "horrific story ... Yet, rather than calling the police, each appears to have sold that story to a supermarket tabloid." McManus had previously denied witnessing misconduct from Jackson in a 1993 court deposition while under oath. In the 2005 trial, she said she had lied because she feared Jackson would report her to her superiors if she told police about the incident.
In the 1990s, both Chacon and McManus had been part of a lawsuit filed against Jackson for wrongful dismissal. After Jackson counter-sued, their lawsuit was thrown out as fraudulent and malicious. According to testimony, Chacon and McManus had been found guilty of stealing items from Jackson's house amounting to more than $50,000, and ordered to pay more than $1 million in legal fees. Under cross-examination from Mesereau, the pair admitted that they had been paid thousands of dollars to give a tabloid interview. McManus admitted that she and her husband were found to have defrauded a relative's children of money from their estate, and that she had stolen a sketch by Jackson worth $35,000. Mesereau accused the pair of attempting to "get even" with Jackson for the failed suit and characterized them as money-seekers.
Housekeeper Kiki Fournier testified that the Arvizo children became unruly at Neverland Ranch without authority figures. She said the Arvizo boys "trashed" their guest rooms, and that at one point Star had pointed a knife at her in Jackson's kitchen. She said that although the boys had guest rooms they would often stay with Jackson. However, she said she never saw Jackson giving the boys alcohol and never saw them drunk.
Cynthia Bell, a flight attendant who had served Jackson, testified that she never saw him share his drink with Gavin. She said she had devised the custom of serving Jackson wine in soda cans because Jackson did not like to drink alcohol in front of his children. Bell said she had not seen Jackson "cuddling" with Arvizo during the flight, but testified that she had seen Jackson put his arm around him while he was listening to music. She said that Gavin was demanding, complained about the food, and were unruly during the flight.
Phillip Lemarque, Jackson's cook, said he entered Jackson's room and saw Jackson with his hand in Culkin's underpants. Jesús Salas, a former Neverland house manager at the Neverland ranch, testified that he often saw Jackson drunk, and sometimes saw children emerging drunk from the wine cellar with Jackson. The judge ruled out lurid testimony from a former security guard who alleged that he saw Jackson in his bedroom with a boy.
Jordan Chandler, the alleged victim in the 1993 child abuse allegations, left the country rather than appear as a witness. He had been legally emancipated from his parents. In the event that Chandler gave evidence, Mesereau said that he had prepared witnesses who would say Chandler had told them the abuse never happened and that he would never talk to his parents again for forcing him to lie.
Chandler's mother, June Chandler, testified that Jackson had become angry and upset when she would not allow Jordan to share his bedroom. She claimed Jackson told her: "We're a family. Why don't you allow Jordie to be with me... Jordie is having fun. Why can't he sleep in my bed. There's nothing going on. Why don't you trust me?" She relented, and in return received a gold Cartier bracelet from Jackson. She told the court that she had not spoken to her son in 14 years.
Gavin Arvizo was 15 when he testified. He claimed that, after Living with Michael Jackson aired, Jackson had begun serving him and his younger brother wine and making sexual advances. He said that Jackson had masturbated him to ejaculation after they drank alcohol, and then told him that if men do not masturbate, they "might rape a girl". Challenged by Mesereau, who said that Gavin had told sheriffs that his grandmother had said this, Gavin said "I'm not exactly sure what my grandmother told me". Gavin admitted that he had told his school administrator that Jackson had not molested him.
The prosecution alleged that Jackson had exposed Gavin to pornography. Fingerprints from Gavin and Jackson were found on pornographic magazines belonging to Jackson. Mesereau countered that Jackson had caught Gavin reading them and locked them in a briefcase.
The trial heard that Gavin's father had persistently begged celebrities for money after Gavin had been diagnosed with cancer.
Gavin's younger brother, Star, told the court that he had twice seen Jackson molest Gavin. He also said that Jackson had displayed his erection and masturbated in front of them, telling them that "everyone did it" and encouraging them to try it. Star testified that Jackson had given the boys alcohol, sometimes in soda cans, and which Jackson called "Jesus juice". Star also said Jackson had showed the brothers internet pornography on his computer. The Guardian described Star as a "hapless witness for the prosecution, forgetting crucial details that he had revealed to the grand jury, even when prompted by the prosecution".
Gavin and Star's mother, Janet, was the star witness. The Guardian described her as eccentric, "talking over lawyers, extemporising, and turning dramatically during cross-examination by Mr Jackson's lawyer to address the jurors ... Her appearance was a disaster for the prosecution, but if not called by the prosecution, she would have been called by the defence to even worse effect." The BBC described her testimony as "combative and rambling". According to the BBC, Janet Arvizo was an "explosive" witness who made erratic outbursts, rarely gave straight answers, and used the same phrases repeatedly. The jurors said she would "stare down at them" and snap her fingers at them.
The defense sought to portray Janet as untrustworthy, with a history of perjury and fraud. She admitted to lying under oath in an earlier lawsuit. The prosecution planned to have an expert on domestic violence testify that she may have lied because she had been beaten by her ex-husband, but the judge did not allow it, saying it would be irrelevant. The defense also presented evidence of Janet having committed welfare fraud, for which she was later convicted.
Witnesses for the defense
Former child star Macaulay Culkin testified that he had shared a bed with Jackson on a dozen or more times between the ages of 9 and 14, but had never been molested and had never seen Jackson act improperly. He said that his parents had known he was in Jackson's bedroom and "never saw it as an issue". He described shock at hearing the allegations that Jackson had molested him, and dismissed them as "absolutely ridiculous". Culkin said they had bonded over their shared experience of child stardom.
Wade Robson was five years old when he met Jackson. He testified that he had slept in Jackson's bedroom several times but had never been molested, despite the claims of some witnesses. Years after the trial, Robson changed his position, saying Jackson had abused him.
Comedian George Lopez testified that he had given the Arvizo family money when Gavin was fighting cancer, but came to believe that Gavin's father was more interested in money than helping his son. Lopez cut ties with the family after the father became more demanding. Lopez also said that the father had accused him of stealing $300 from Gavin's wallet. When the father asked what he was supposed to tell his son, Lopez testified that he responded: "Tell him his father’s an extortionist."
Comedian Chris Tucker claimed he had felt sorry for the Arvizos and bought them gifts and given them money. He felt the Arvizos expected too much, calling him their "brother" and taking advantage of him. He testified that he had warned Jackson about the family, whom he called "cunning."
The jury deliberated for about 32 hours over seven days. On the initial vote, nine jurors voted to acquit Jackson, while three voted that he was guilty. On June 14, 2005, they returned a verdict of not guilty on all charges. Years later, one juror said his "gut feeling" was that Jackson had molested children, but supported the not-guilty decision as he felt that the prosecution had not proved this beyond reasonable doubt.
Sneddon said the jury had been blinded by the "celebrity factor". Legal commentator Nancy Grace also blamed Jackson's celebrity, but also felt that Janet Arvizo's testimony had been the "weak link", saying: "Apparently the defense overwhelmed them with the cross-examining of the mother. I think it boils down to that, plain and simple."
The trial attracted international media attention, and several commentators described it as a media circus. According to Forbes, "no allegations have been more publicly scrutinized than those against Michael Jackson". When the news of the raid on Jackson's home broke, many channels switched to 24-hour rolling coverage. CBS, NBC, ABC and VH1 rushed out television specials while the investigation and trial were still in their early stages.
Daily Variety described the case as a "godsend" for media outlets, "particularly cable news channels and local stations looking to pump up Nielsen numbers in the final week of the all-important November sweeps". Viewing figures for Access Hollywood rose 10%, Celebrity Justice 8%, and Entertainment Tonight and Extra achieved season-best audience numbers. Court TV reported a 150% increase in subscriptions.
The Guardian described "row upon row of TV cameras camped outside [the courthouse] like an occupying army". According to Fox News reporter Aphrodite Jones, 2,200 members of the media attended the trial. Judge Rodney Melville had to instruct the excitable reporters to "restrain themselves". Jones said that, as there were no cameras in the courtroom, the media was able to cherry pick which elements to report, creating a biased presentation.
The networks E! and Sky TV collaborated to produce re-enactments of highlights from the trial, which were broadcast daily. The re-enactment used look-alike actors, with impersonator Edward Moss portraying Jackson.
Tabloid newspapers such as The Sun and the New York Daily News ran sensational stories describing Jackson as a "sicko" or "freak". Many commentators, including lawyers Robert Shapiro (who had once represented the Chandler family) and Wendy Murphy, appeared on news outlets confidently predicting a guilty verdict. Jones said: "I went into that trial 1,000 percent convinced this man molested children his whole life ... The media pressure was such that there was a desire for them to have a guilty verdict, and when they didn’t, it was like, 'how dare you find Michael Jackson not guilty?'"
In 2010, the British journalist Charles Thomson wrote an article for The Huffington Post in which he described the trial as "one of the most shameful episodes in journalistic history". He described the media coverage as "out of control ... the sheer amount of propaganda, bias, distortion and misinformation is almost beyond comprehension." In the same journal, Luka Neskovic wrote that the trial "displayed media at their worst. Sensationalism, exclusivity, negativity, excentricism, chaos, and hysteria were some of the features." For example, according to Neskovic, when pornography was found in Jackson's home, many media outlets misreported it as child pornography. Neskovic observed that the media was more interested in reporting the prosecution than the defense, and that, for example, the Hollywood Reporter chose not to report two weeks of the defense case. Mesereau, Jackson's lawyer, told Neskovic: "It was horrible. I learned very quickly that the media was the enemy, that the media had an agenda, and their goal was not justice, it was not fairness, it was not truth."
After the trial, Jackson moved to the Persian Gulf island of Bahrain as a guest of Sheikh Abdullah. According to Jackson's brother Jermaine, unbeknownst to Jackson, the family had intended to send him to Bahrain had he been convicted. Jackson then lived in Ireland. He never returned to Neverland Ranch, saying it had been despoiled by police searches. In June 2009, he died from cardiac arrest while on several prescription medications. In 2011, Universal Pictures released a documentary directed by David Gest, Michael Jackson: The Life of an Icon, arguing that Jackson was innocent.
In 2017, the documentary series The Jury Speaks (2017) covered the trial with four members of the jury. Some reported receiving anonymous threats, and one said someone had loosened the wheels on her car. All said they would acquit Jackson again, even in the wake of fresh allegations. One juror said: "It was pretty obvious that there was no molestation done. It was pretty obvious that there were ulterior motives on behalf of the family. And the mother, she orchestrated the whole thing…that’s my opinion. But there wasn’t a shred of evidence that was able to show us or give us any doubt in voting guilty."
In 2011, choreographer Wade Robson, who had testified in the trial that Jackson had not molested him, approached the Jackson estate to direct the theatrical production Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour, but was not selected. In 2012, his career began to "crumble" and he had a breakdown. He failed to find a publisher for a book alleging that Jackson had abused him. In May 2013, he filed a $1.5 billion dollar civil lawsuit against Jackson's estate, claiming Jackson had molested him over seven years when he was a child. During the trial, Robson, as an adult, had testified under oath that Jackson had never molested him. After Jackson's death, he wrote a tribute describing him as "the pure goodness of humankind". In May 2015, judge Mitchell Beckloff dismissed the lawsuit, saying Robson had waited too long to make it.
In 2013, another man who had spent time with Jackson as a child, James Safechuck, filed suit with the same lawyer as Robson. Safechuck claimed he realized he had been abused when he heard Robson's allegations. He alleged that he had been sexually abused by Jackson over 100 times in a four-year period, and had been "brainwashed" into believing the incidents were "acts of love". The lawsuit was dismissed by a probate court in 2017.
Robson and Safechuck's allegations are the focus of a 2019 documentary film, Leaving Neverland. The Jackson estate denounced the documentary as "yet another lurid production in an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in". According to Forbes, "While the documentary is obviously emotionally disturbing given the content, it presents no new evidence or witnesses."
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