LOS OLIVOS, California — Michael Jackson's child-molestation trial ended Monday the same way it began 17 months ago: with a party at Neverland Ranch.
Although as of early Monday evening (June 13) Jackson hadn't actually welcomed fans inside his magnificent estate, as he did after his arraignment (see "Jackson Fans Binge On Candy, Slurpees, Ice Cream At Neverland"), that didn't seem to matter to the hundreds of rapturous supporters who gathered just outside the main gate. (Tell us what you think about the Jackson verdict).
People of all nationalities and ages — from the elderly woman with the Jackson puppet to the newborn with the "Innocent Like Me" headband — raced to Neverland just after the pop star was declared not guilty on all charges some 35 miles northwest (see "Michael Jackson Not Guilty On All Charges").
Much like the scene outside the Santa Maria courthouse throughout the trial, but far more numerous, the Neverland crowd came with homemade T-shirts and signs, chanting "In-no-cent!" and blaring Jackson's music from portable stereos. With nowhere to park but the side of the highway, late arrivers were forced to pull over and walk more than a mile to the action, some wheeling coolers and ready to camp out all night.
B.J. Hickman, the 20-year-old Knoxville, Tennessee, superfan who has become the face of the Jackson loyalists and a controversial figure himself (see "Jackson Superfan Served With Restraining Order"), roamed the stone driveway in an "I Love Michael Jackson" T-shirt, giving hugs and high-fives to the friends he's made since he quit his job and moved to Santa Maria.
Andre White, a 23-year-old from San Jose who spent hundreds of hours driving back and forth during the trial, painted his hand in silver sequins (like Jackson's famous glove) and showed off his moonwalk while dozens of photographers snapped pictures.
"I damn near fainted," White said of hearing the verdict. "I started crying and everything."
|Check out video reports looking back at the trial, Jackson's career and his public image.|
Regardless, whenever the gates opened — about every 10 minutes or so — the crowd went nuts, usually to be let down when a Neverland staff member drove through. (The maids, however, let their excitement about the verdict be known, cheering and high-fiving as they inched through.)
Jackson's brothers Randy, Tito and Jermaine all made appearances, the latter picking up a megaphone to thank the fans for their support. "All 10 counts!" he cheered.
Father Joe Jackson also made his way to the gate to sign some autographs, although clearly the crowd favorite was defense attorney Thomas Mesereau, who got out of his car just inside the gate to hear congratulations from family and friends.
"Mesereau for president" one fan screamed. "Thank you, Tom. You freed our hero!" yelled another, fighting back tears.
"I was worried 'cause people on the news were saying it's not good it was taking so long," said Kaitlyn Salinas, a 13-year-old from Santa Maria who visited the courthouse every day after school. "But somehow I just knew he would be innocent."
"It's like a party now, for Michael too," said Fred Maze, a 29-year-old fan from Paris, who made three trips to Santa Maria, the latest lasting more than a month. "This is good for him inside."
For the fans from around the world, the thought of the trial being done had yet to sink in.
"That's a good question," Andre White said when asked what he's going to do now. "Now, we celebrate. And then we can go home finally."
The rumor among the superfans is that Jackson has been recording, so they have faith a comeback is in the works. In the meantime, though, they have every intention of celebrating at Neverland for at least the rest of the week.
Thays Lima, a 13-year-old from Santa Maria, will be joining them, although she's also got something else to celebrate back home.
"I'm so glad to see the media's leaving," she said. "They were smelly."
For full coverage of the Michael Jackson case, see "Michael Jackson Accused."