SANTA MARIA, California — The jury has spoken, and Michael Jackson will remain a free man.
The 46-year-old singer was acquitted on all 10 felony counts brought against him, including four counts of lewd acts on a child under 14, one count of an attempted lewd act on a child under 14, four counts of administering alcohol to enable child molestation, and one count of conspiracy to kidnap a child, false imprisonment and extortion. (Tell us what you think about Jackson’s acquittal.)
The jury in Jackson’s child-molestation trial handed down its decision Monday (June 13), with news of a verdict surfacing around 12:30 p.m. after more than 32 hours of deliberations over seven days (see “Jackson Jurors Say Accuser’s Mother Made A Bad Impression” ). Jackson was then given one hour to return to the Santa Maria courthouse to hear the verdict read. He arrived more than 20 minutes late from his Neverland Ranch.
Pandemonium ensued outside the courthouse as news of the verdict broke. The hundreds of fans gathered outside chanted their support for the singer as they awaited his fate (see “Dirty Chants, Jackson Puppets And Boxed Birds: The Scene Outside The Courthouse” ). The gathering grew even more chaotic as Jackson’s convoy of black SUVs arrived. The singer quickly exited his vehicle and headed into court with his attorney Thomas Mesereau and several family members in tow, including his father, Joe, and mother, Katherine, brother Jermaine and sister La Toya.
Finally, around 2:10 p.m., Judge Rodney Melville was handed 10 envelopes to review — one for each count. After doing so, he handed them to the court clerk to be read to the public via an audio feed.
Before the announcement was made, Melville instructed the court that he did not want any disturbances as the verdict was read. “I will tolerate no reaction, whether it be unhappiness or jubilance. It is not allowed,” he said.
|Check out video reports looking back at the trial, Jackson’s career and his public image.|
Although Jackson kept his reaction subtle, he did react. As the verdict was being read, Susan Yu, one of his attorneys, handed him some tissues, which he put up to his face. It is not clear whether Jackson was crying or just dabbing his eyes.
As he was cleared of the charges, Jackson was seen slumping back in his chair, perhaps out of relief. After all the decisions were read, it was not until the judge told him that his bail was exonerated and he was free to go that the singer stood up and began shaking hands and hugging his attorneys.
Once the audio feed was cut, the judge read a statement the jury had prepared, which stated that jurors had “thoroughly and meticulously” reviewed the details of the case since January 31, followed jury instructions, and had confidently come to their verdict.
“It is our hope that this case is a testament to the justice system and to the truth,” the statement said. The jurors also made a request to the media that they be able to return to their private lives “as anonymously as we came.”
Melville followed up that request by encouraging jurors to speak out to the media. “I’m not saying you have to do these things, but I would encourage you to talk. The counsel on both sides may want to hear from you. The media may want to hear from you,” he said. The judge then thanked the jurors for their service and said they were free to go.
Jackson and his entourage exited the court minutes later, with Jackson on his mother’s arm, and made their way back to his black SUV to return to Neverland. Before getting in his vehicle, while in plain view of his fans, he placed his hand over his heart in thanks for their support.
Jackson arrived back at his home around 3:15 p.m. to an exuberant crowd of waiting fans. Many of them were seen jumping up and down, cheering, weeping and hugging one another as the caravan pulled through the estate’s gates (see “Neverland Ranch Swarmed By Tearful, Jubilant Jackson Fans” ).
Meanwhile, at a press conference, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon was asked whether this would mark the end of his prosecution of Jackson. “No comment” was all he would say.
On his way out of the courthouse, Mesereau told reporters he felt “justice was done.” Jackson’s lead attorney proclaimed, “The man’s innocent. He always was.”
The decision brings an end to a legal saga that began more than a year and a half ago with a dramatic search of the singer’s Neverland Ranch (see “New Allegations Spark Search Of Jackson’s Neverland Ranch” ), and which has certainly seen its share of bizarre twists and turns.
Jackson surrendered to authorities in November 2003 shortly after his home was searched, and soon found himself slapped with the 10 felony charges (see “Michael Jackson Hit With 10 Felony Charges At Arraignment” ). Jurors were later told they could consider a lesser misdemeanor charge of administering an intoxicating agent to a minor. Jackson pleaded not guilty to all charges and maintained his innocence throughout.
But the charges were only the preamble to the odd spectacle that played out in Santa Maria. A mix of rabid supporters, star witnesses and Jackson himself made for truly unique courtroom drama. Jay Leno, Macaulay Culkin, Chris Tucker, Wade Robson and George Lopez paraded past Jackson’s supporters to take the stand (see “Jay Leno, Chris Tucker Take The Stand In Jackson Case” ). Meanwhile, Jackson’s bouts of tardiness (allegedly a result of chronic back pain) drew the ire of Melville and only heightened the drama (see “Pajama-Clad Jackson Late As Accuser’s Lurid Testimony Resumes” ).
In the end, prosecutors attempted to paint Jackson as a predatory pedophile with an established history of inappropriate behavior, while the singer’s defense team portrayed his accusers as disreputable, cash-hungry opportunists (see “Michael Jackson Case Handed Over To Jury” ).
We’ll have much more throughout the day from the courthouse here on MTVNews.com, and you can check out in-depth video reports on Jackson, his career and the case against him in Overdrive, MTV’s new broadband video channel.
For full coverage of the Michael Jackson case, see “Michael Jackson Accused.”
[This story originally published at 5:18 p.m. ET]