Attorney Andrew Cohen analyzes legal issues for CBS News and CBSNews.com.
You had to see it to believe it. You had to be here in central California, in this nondescript little conservative town nestled in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, inside a Santa Barbara County courthouse. You had to watch Michael Jackson, and his accuser and prosecutors and defense lawyers and judge to truly understand how and why the King of Pop finds himself today in the position he is in.
You had to see how much paler he looks in person even than he appears on television. You had to see his entourage and the ghastly, ghostly way he walked into and out of court each day. You had to see his fans, the zealots who sacrificed the responsibilities in their own lives to come by day after day to lend support to the molestation and conspiracy defendant. And you had to see the parade of witnesses, so many of them sleazy or creepy or just downright odd who paraded in front of jurors for three long months.
You had to see what a punk the alleged victim seemed like on the witness stand and how shaky the core of his testimony was. You had to see how delusional his mother seemed in court and how much her testimony lacked in credibility and candor. You had to see how futilely prosecutors tried to convince jurors that it is a crime for a famous person, a target, to undertake good public relations or swift damage control. You had to see the evidence that piled up proving that the accusing family had a history of setting up and then hitting celebrities for payoffs.
You had to see how defense attorneys ran rings around prosecutors inside and out of court. You had to count how many times prosecution witnesses testified to facts that helped Jackson. You had to note how often both prosecution and defense witnesses told jurors that they had not been interviewed by law enforcement officials prior to the start of the case. You had notice how many times Santa Barbara Country District Attorney Tom Sneddon slumped down into his chair and pouted when a court ruling would go against him. And you had to notice how intently jurors were watching and listening to lead defense attorney Thomas Mesereau when he delivered his closing argument last week.
But you also had to see and hear about the many crazy things Jackson did and said over the past few years. You had to hear the sick things that some of the witnesses accused Jackson of doing to those little boys. You had to look at the covers and titles of those adult magazines and books found in Jackson's Neverland home. You had to hear the similarities in the alleged seduction stories told by witnesses. You had to learn in detail from the prosecution's evidence about the ways in which Jackson's entourage often acted like racketeers.
You had to close your eyes and just listen to the words spoken in court and ask yourself, based upon all those words, which version of events was the truth. Was Jackson predator or prey? Was he a serial child molester as prosecutors claimed or was the victim of a family of grifters who knew and easy mark when they saw one? Was he lying or were his alleged victim and his mother lying? And in the end you had to try to figure out on your own whether both stories could be true: whether Jackson could initially have been this family's mark but they could have ended up instead as his victims.
If you did not see these things, you no doubt will have a more difficult time this morning understanding what happened here yesterday. This is not a difficult result to analyze or explain. Jackson's jury acquitted him of molestation because the evidence simply wasn't strong enough, on all levels and in any way, to support the felony convictions sought by prosecutors. He was acquitted because the witnesses against him were among the worst I have ever seen in a court. He was acquitted because the evidence against him was too unclear, too unfocused and too susceptible of having a benign interpretation.
Even though he is a freak, even though neither you nor I would ever let our children near him, Jackson is free today because it is not against the law to sleep in a bed with young boys. If you are angry with these jurors don't be. Rest assured that as a group they were perfectly willing, perhaps even a little eager, to send the King of Pop off to jail until he'd be eligible for Social Security. Take it as a testament to the monumental weakness of the evidence against Jackson that this did not occur. Or, to put it another way, the case against Jackson was so bad that even you would have acquitted him based solely upon the evidence. Yes, it was that bad.
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