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 Joseph 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 Joseph Jackson) was a 2005 criminal trial held in Santa Barbara County Superior Court in Santa Maria, California, in which American singer Michael Jackson was charged with molesting Gavin Arvizo, a cancer patient in remission who was thirteen years old at the time of the alleged abuse. Jackson was indicted on 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. The trial spanned approximately four months, from jury selection that began on January 31, 2005 to the not guilty verdict on June 13, 2005.
Jackson had previously been accused of child sexual abuse in 1993. He denied the allegations and settled with the accuser's family out of court, which ended the lawsuit. Prosecutors dropped the criminal investigation after the accuser refused to cooperate following his settlement. In the 2005 case, Jackson was accused of abusing Arvizo at his Neverland Ranch estate in Los Olivos, California. The investigation was touched off by a 2003 documentary, Living with Michael Jackson, that showed Jackson holding hands with Arvizo and defending his practice of giving his bed to children.
The trial included testimony from celebrities, like former child film star Macaulay Culkin, and drew international media attention. In 2013, Wade Robson changed his position from saying he had never been molested to saying that he had a mental breakdown from abuse by Jackson.
- 1 Background
- 2 Investigation and arrest
- 3 Trial
- 3.1 Witnesses for the prosecution
- 3.2 Witnesses for the defense
- 3.3 1994 settlement
- 4 Verdict
- 5 Media coverage
- 6 Aftermath
- 7 Further allegations
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 Bibliography
In 1993, Jackson was accused of child sexual abuse by a 13-year-old boy, Jordan Chandler. The abuse allegedly took place at Jackson's Neverland Ranch home in Santa Barbara, California. In January 1994, Jackson settled the lawsuit made against him for $23 million, with $5 million going to the family’s lawyers. Prosecutors pursued the criminal case and presented the evidence to two separate grand juries, both of which did not indict.
Gavin Arvizo was first introduced to Jackson by Jamie Masada in 2000 when Arvizo was diagnosed with cancer. Arvizo's father, David Arvizo, separated from Arvizo's mother, was persistent in begging celebrities for money to support his son's cancer treatments. Arvizo was receiving chemotherapy and required the removal of his spleen and left kidney. Jackson and Arvizo became friends, and the singer invited Arvizo and his family to Neverland Ranch. Arvizo thanked Jackson for "helping [him] be happy and beat cancer." After a few visits at Neverland, Arvizo claimed Jackson suddenly stopped calling him and felt abandoned.
In 2002, Jackson called Arvizo, now twelve years old, to be a part of an ITV documentary, Living with Michael Jackson. Presenter Martin Bashir interviewed Jackson over eight months for the film. In an interview scene, Jackson and Arvizo were seen holding hands, and Jackson was asked about the appropriateness of a grown man having sleepovers and sharing a bed with a young person. The singer insisted that it wasn't sexual. The controversial conversation went:
Bashir: But is it really appropriate for a 44-year-old man to share a bedroom with a child that is not related to him at all?
Jackson: That's a beautiful thing.
Bashir: That's not a worrying thing?
Jackson: Why should that be worrying? Who's the criminal? Who's Jack the Ripper in the room? There's some guy trying to heal a healing child.... I'm in a sleeping bag on the floor. I gave him the bed because he has a brother named Star. So, him and Star took the bed and I'm on the floor on sleeping bag.
Bashir: Did you ever sleep in the bed with them [Gavin and Star]?
Jackson: No. But I have slept in a bed with many children. I slept in a bed with all of them when Macaulay Culkin was little: Kieran Culkin would sleep on this side, Macaulay Culkin was on this side, his sisters in there.... We all would just jam in the bed, you know. We would wake up like dawn and go in the hot air balloon, you know, we had the footage. I have all that footage.
After the broadcast, Jackson called the documentary deceptive and a "gross distortion of the truth." Bashir defended his interview and dismissed accusations of distortion: "Here's an individual who is 44 years old, sleeping in the bed of children who have no biological relationship with him. I did not set out to ensnare him with a child." A two-hour special called The Michael Jackson Interview: The Footage You Were Never Meant to See, recorded by Jackson's production team, was screened by Fox Television in attempt to vindicate the singer. Jackson decided to release the tape after feeling betrayed by Bashir. Macaulay Culkin went on Larry King Live to defend Jackson and said, "Everything that's going on is unfortunate.... Nothing happened [at the Ranch]. We played video games.... I don't think [they] understand. Michael Jackson's bedroom is two-stories and has three bathrooms. When I slept in his bedroom, you have to understand the whole scenario. The thing is that, with Michael, he isn't very good at explaining himself."
Santa Barbara district attorney Tom Sneddon initially said, under Californian law, merely sleeping with a child without "affirmative, offensive conduct" was not a criminal offence, and "sleeping in bed with a kid is not a crime that I know of." Gloria Gruber, president of Prevent Child Abuse California, wanted state authorities to interview the children with whom Jackson shared a bed. "The fact that he sleeps with children who are unrelated to him is definitely a red flag and concern," she said. Arvizo's mother, Janet Arvizo, originally criticized Bashir's documentary as a "gross distortion of the truth" as well, and instructed Theodore Goddard, the London law firm, to file complaints against the Independent Television Commission, which oversees ITV. She later accused Jackson of holding her captive at Neverland Ranch.
The film touched off a furor and calls for Jackson's children to be removed from his custody.
Investigation and arrest
From February 14 to February 27, 2003, a few weeks after the broadcast of the documentary, the Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services conducted a preliminary investigation of Jackson and Arvizo. In a confidential report based on interviews with the Arvizos, which leaked to the media, child welfare officials stated that they believed that accusations of illicit conduct were ''unfounded.'' In June 2003, Sneddon reopened the investigation and in July and August interviewed Arvizo along with his father, mother and brother Star Arvizo. In November 2003, Arvizo claimed to police that Jackson had molested him several times between February 7 and March 10, 2003,[note 1] when, according to Janet Arvizo, Jackson held the family captive at Neverland.
On November 18, 2003, police searched Neverland Ranch with a search warrant. Jackson and his three children were not home but in Las Vegas where Jackson was shooting a music video for "One More Chance." Jackson was arrested on November 23. 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". In an interview with the news program 60 Minutes, Jackson also claimed that the police had mistreated him and 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. In August 2004, the California attorney general's office concluded, after an independent investigation, that Jackson was neither "manhandled" nor mistreated when he was taken into custody.
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 January 16, 2004, the day of his arraignment, Jackson climbed on top of his car to dance and wave to fans. On April 21, 2004, a grand jury indicted Jackson on several additional related charges, including conspiracy involving child abduction, false imprisonment, and extortion. On April 30, Jackson pleaded not guilty. He faced a sentence of up to twenty years in prison if convicted at trial. On December 4, 2004, the police raided Jackson's home for a second time.
The trial began on February 28, 2005 in the courthouse of Santa Maria, Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara County Judge Rodney Melville presided over the trial. Melville, who had a contentious relationship with the news media, banned cameras from the courtroom and put a gag order on both sides. He delayed the three-day jury selection process for a week while Jackson was hospitalized, reportedly with flu.
Melville allowed prosecutors to introduce testimony about past allegations against Jackson, including the 1993 case, to establish whether the entertainer had a propensity to commit such 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 groom 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 virtually captive at Neverland and force them to participate in a rebuttal film.
On March 10, as Gavin Arvizo was about to testify, Jackson was absent from 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 while prosecutors showed the documentary to jurors. Bashir refused to answer questions from defense attorneys.
On April 4, Jason Francia, whose mother worked as a maid at Neverland Ranch, testified that Jackson had molested him on several occasions when he was seven to ten years old. Francia said that "every time I was being tickled there was some sort of exchange of money," done with the understanding that he would not tell his mother. His mother said she had reached an out-of-court settlement with Jackson, reportedly for $2 million.
Under cross-examination, Francia admitted that in his first 1993 interview he told detectives Jackson had not molested him. He said he had denied being improperly touched by Jackson because he did not want to be embarrassed at school. After finally revealing what had happened, he said went into counseling until he was eighteen years old. Mesereau sought to establish that the Francias were goaded into their accusations by over-zealous prosecutors and tempted by money offered for media interviews.
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 Chandler 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, testified that she had seen Jackson kissing boys including the child star Macaulay Culkin, and described Jackson touching Culkin's leg and "rear end". She told the court 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 during the deposition 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 Arvizo. 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 Arvizo was demanding, complained about the food, and was 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. During cross-examination, the defense pointed out that LeMarque had tried to sell the story to a tabloid before deciding against it. “We were tempted by the money, for sure,” the chef responded. “Everybody would be tempted. But it was against our principles.” LeMarque and his wife, also a Jackson employee, considered selling the story for $500,000 but backed out after realizing the intermediary was "sleazy."
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. When the prosecution attempted to confirm Jackson had served wine to minors, Salas added that although he brought a bottle of wine to Jackson's bedroom, sodas were also ordered for the children.
The judge ruled out 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.
Chandler's mother, June Chandler, testified that Jackson had become angry and upset when she would not allow Jordan to share his bedroom. She said 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 eleven years.
On April 28, Jackson's ex-wife Debbie Rowe was called on the witness stand by the prosecution who claimed that Rowe was forced into a scripted videotape statement made in early 2003 in support of Jackson. The prosecution had hoped Rowe's testimony would support Janet Arvizo's claim that they were held captive and forced to make supportive statements about Jackson. In her second day of testimony, Rowe said she had refused to look at the questions before the taping and was eager to support Jackson. The defense initially wanted Rowe dismissed, saying she was not providing the testimony the prosecution wanted. The judge allowed her testimony, and the defense withdrew their motion since she spoke in favor of the defense.
Rowe called Jackson's business associates and public relations aides, Marc Schaffel, Dieter Wiesner and Ronald Konitzer, "opportunistic vultures" who wanted to exploit the singer.
Gavin Arvizo was fifteen years old when he testified, telling the court that after Living with Michael Jackson aired, Jackson had begun serving him and his younger brother wine, sometimes concealed in soda cans, showing them pornography 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.
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 encouraged 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.
Under cross-examination, Mesereau questioned Star about a 1998 case in which his family sued J. C. Penny. The family alleged that Star, his brother and their mother were beaten in a parking lot by security guards after leaving with clothes they had not paid for. Janet Arvizo also claimed to have been sexually assaulted and falsely imprisoned. The family received a settlement of £75,000.[note 2] In a 2000 sworn statement for the case, Star had said his "mother and father never [fought]." Janet and her children claimed that David Arvizo physically abused them for seventeen years. Star admitted he lied in the statement. The admission was a major victory to the defense.
The defense sought to portray Janet Arvizo as untrustworthy, with a history of perjury and fraud. She admitted to having lied 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.
In regards to the J.C. Penny case, which eventually settled for $152,000, the defense brought in a welfare worker who stated that Janet had failed to disclose her receipt of the settlement that her family had received days before filling out a welfare application. A paralegal testified that Janet had lied to win that lawsuit, claiming that bruises caused by her then-husband had been caused by J.C. Penney security guards.
Editor of the Mid Valley News, Connie Keenan said she was "duped" by Janet into writing a story about Arvizo's sickness, because Janet wanted to make additional money when the original story didn't make enough. Other witnesses for the defense showed Janet had spent $7,000 shopping and dining out at the same time she alleged Jackson kept her and her family captive. Janet's sister-in-law offered to help Arvizo's treatment by holding blood donation campaigns. She said Janet swore at her and rejected the offer.
Jurors described Janet's testimony as weak and could not be believed. They also found it strange that she snapped her fingers and addressed them directly. The New York Times described her testimony as "rambling, incoherent and at times combative." One juror questioned Janet's values as a mother, believing she had taught her children to lie to gain money and favors from celebrities.
Witnesses for the defense
According to Michael Jackson's defense attorney Susan Yu, over five hundred witnesses were prepared in the case.
Former child star Macaulay Culkin testified that he had shared a bed with Jackson on a dozen or more times between the ages of nine and fourteen, but had never been molested and had never seen Jackson act improperly, contrary to many of the prosecution's witness testimonies. 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 testified as Jackson's first defense witness that he had slept in Jackson's bedroom several times but had never been molested. Robson recalled his first visit at Neverland Ranch in 1989 and had slept in the singer's bedroom on all but three or four of his twenty or so visits. He said they played video games, watched movies, talked and sometimes had pillow fights.
Barnes first met Jackson at the age of five when Jackson went to Australia during one of his tours. He shared a bedroom with the singer at least ten times but denied any impropriety. Barnes was aware of the prosecutor's witness testimonies claiming they had seen Jackson touch him inappropriately. In response, Barnes said, "I'm very mad about it. It's not true and they put my name through the dirt. I'm really not happy about it." Barnes continues to deny any molestation from the singer.
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."
Host of NBC's The Tonight Show Jay Leno was called in to testify for the defense in regards to his relationship with the Arvizos. Leno made approximately twenty phone calls to sick children each week and began receiving voicemail messages from Gavin, then a ten-year-old cancer patient, in 2000. Gavin referred to Leno as his hero. Leno said, "It seemed a little unusual." The comedian was contacted by the Santa Barbara police and questioned about Gavin. Leno admitted his misgivings, saying, "It sounded suspicious when a young person got overly effusive. It just didn't click with me." During a phone call from Gavin once, Leno said he heard a voice in the background but was unsure who it was. The defense argued that it was Janet Arvizo telling her son what to say. Leno said the boy never asked him for money; the defense argued that Jackson was merely one of many celebrities that the Arvizos sought to profit from.
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 judge allowed investigation evidence from Jackson's previous allegations to be used in trial, but the 1994 settlement initiated by the Chandlers was deemed "irrelevant and inflammatory." The prosecution[note 3] attempted to subpoena evidence from the settlement as an indication of guilt. Mesereau argued that Jackson was not liable for any of the claims compromised by the arrangement, because Jackson's insurance company, Transamerica Insurance Group, was responsible for it. The insurance company negotiated the settlement over protests from Jackson and his legal counsel. The settlement included no admission of wrongdoing or guilt, otherwise it would violate the California Insurance Code. The insurance company had "the right to settle claims covered by insurance where it decides settlement is expedient and the insured may not interfere with nor prevent such settlements," a practice established by several precedents in California. Evidence of insurance settlements would deprive Jackson of due process of law, proper cross-examination and violate Evidence Code 352 as he would not be able to verify the agreements made in the settlement. The settlement cannot be used as evidence of guilt in future civil and criminal cases.
The settlement cannot prevent criminal investigation or criminal proceeding, neither can non-disclosure agreements. Bribery to not testify in a trial is felony, and accepting such bribes is also a felony.
The jury deliberated for about thirty-two hours over seven days. On one initial vote, nine jurors voted to acquit Jackson, while three voted guilty. On June 13, 2005, they returned a verdict of not guilty on all charges.
Jurors found the prosecuting case weak and the timeline of accusations problematic, because they had claimed the molesting happened after the broadcast of the documentary when the world's attention was on Jackson and Gavin. One juror believed the mother was a scam artist. In a news conference held after the trial a juror said, "We expected better evidence, something that was a little more convincing. It just wasn't there.''
Sneddon suggested that Jackson's celebrity status and the media may have influenced the verdict, but jurors said they often forgot Jackson was in the courtroom. The jury foreman, a retired high school counselor, said, "We looked at all the evidence and we looked at Michael Jackson, and one of the first things we decided was we had to look at him just as another person and not a celebrity."
The trial attracted international media attention, and several commentators described it as a media circus. When news of the raid on Jackson's home broke, many channels switched to 24-hour rolling coverage; CBS, NBC, ABC and VH1 produced television specials. The media covered Jackson's poor health, dress and behavior, such as when he hopped on top of a car and waved to fans. 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.
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.
Following the trial Mesereau said he had told Jackson to stop having boys sleep in his bed: "He's not going to do that any more," Mesereau said.
Jackson moved to the Persian Gulf island country 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 of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication at his home in the Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles .
In 2013, choreographer Wade Robson, who had testified in the trial that Jackson had not molested him, filed a $1.5 billion dollar lawsuit against Jackson's estate, claiming Jackson had molested him over seven years when he was a child. In May 2015, Judge Mitchell Beckloff dismissed the lawsuit, saying Robson’s claim was "untimely and should be dismissed."
In 2014, another man who had spent time with Jackson as a child, James Safechuck, filed suit with the same lawyer as Robson. Safechuck previously gave sworn testimony during Jackson's 1993 allegations that he had never been molested. He claimed that he realized he had been abused when he heard Robson's allegations. He alleged that he had been sexually abused by Jackson over a hundred times in a four-year period, and had been "brainwashed" into believing the incidents were "acts of love." In 2017, his lawsuit was dismissed by a probate court as time barred.
- Rolling Stone says the alleged molestation happened from February 21–March 12, while The New York Times says February 7–March 10, according to case files.
- The case was in America, but the source was from England, hence the amount in pound sterling.
- The document says plaintiff for the People of the State of California, but in criminal law, it should be prosecution.
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