Jackson A Free Man After Acquittal

Michael Jackson blows a kiss to his fans as he leaves the Santa Barbara County Superior Court, Santa Maria, California, 6-13-05 AP

A jury acquitted Michael Jackson on Monday of molesting a 13-year-old cancer survivor at his Neverland ranch - exonerating the pop star who insisted he was the victim of mother-and-son con artists and a prosecutor with a vendetta.

Jurors also acquitted Jackson of getting the boy drunk and of conspiring to imprison his accuser and the boy's family at the estate - a total legal victory. Jackson had faced nearly 20 years in prison.

Jackson looked straight ahead as the verdicts were read and showed no visible reaction as he was found not guilty of all counts.

"Jackson looked absolutely leveled" by the reading of the not guilty counts. "He seemed like he was crying a little bit," reports Jackson biographer and CBS Consultant J. Randy Taraborelli.

Jackson's attorneys "seemed a little dazed," too, Taraborelli says.

One of his lawyers burst into tears as the first verdicts were announced, and Jackson later stood and was embraced by his chief lawyer, Thomas Mesereau Jr. Some of the women in the jury also wept and passed around a box of tissues.

As he left court, Jackson, looking drawn, held his hand to his heart and blew kisses to the screaming crowd. He was escorted by his aides into a black SUV, and made no immediate public statement. Jackson later arrived at Neverland, where he was greeted by more fans.

Hours after the verdict, Mesereau posted a statement on the star's Web site, saying "Justice is done. The man's innocent. He always was."

"I would never have married a pedophile. And the system works," Jackson's ex-wife Debbie Rowe said in a statement given to "Entertainment Tonight."

Screams of joy rang out among a throng of fans outside the courthouse. Fans jumped up and down, hugged each other and threw confetti in celebration of the news. A woman in the crowed released one white dove as each acquittal was announced.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon sat with his head in his hands.

"Obviously, we're disappointed in the verdict ... but we believe in the system of justice," Sneddon told reporters. He said he had not yet spoken to the accuser's family about the outcome.

After the verdicts were announced, the judge read a statement from the jury: "We the jury feel the weight of the world's eyes upon us." They asked to be allowed to return to "our private lives as anonymously as we came."

The jurors remained guarded about details of their 30 hours of deliberations over seven days but offered some insight during a news conference, saying they were irritated by the testimony of the accuser's mother, who at one point snapped her fingers at them.

"I disliked it intensely when she snapped her fingers at us," said one juror, a woman. She said she thought to herself, "Don't snap your fingers at me, lady." The jurors were not identified.

The verdict — reached after about 30 hours of deliberations over seven days — ended a star-studded, four-month trial that offered a global audience a lurid look into the weird world of Michael Jackson and presented jurors with vastly different portraits of him: a creepy pervert who preyed on little boys, or the victim of a frame-up by mother-and-son shakedown artists.

"It ought to tell you something about how weak this case was" that a local jury would so totally reject the local prosecutor's arguments, reports CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen.

"This is one of the worst criminal cases I've ever seen" from a prosecutorial viewpoint, Cohen says.

During the trial, defense lawyers described Jackson as a humanitarian who wanted to protect kids and give them the life he never had while growing up as a child star. The boy had asked to meet the star when he thought he was dying of cancer.

The defense said the family exploited the boy's illness to shake down celebrities, then concocted the charges after realizing Jackson was cutting them off from a jet-set lifestyle that included limo rides and stays at luxurious resorts.

Prosecutors who had been pursuing Jackson for years branded him a deviant who used his playland as the ultimate pervert's lair, plying boys with booze and porn before molesting them.

The acquittals marked a stinging defeat for Sneddon, who displayed open hostility for Jackson and eagerly tried him — an opportunity denied him in 1993 when the star settled another threatened molestation case with a boy for $15 million to $20 million. Later, Jackson derided Sneddon in song as "a cold man."

Jackson was cleared of 10 charges in all, including four counts that he molested the boy in early 2003. Jackson also was charged with providing the boy with wine — "Jesus juice," the pop star allegedly called it — and conspiring with members of his inner circle to hold the accuser and his family captive to get them to rebut a damaging documentary.

In the "Living with Michael Jackson" documentary made by a British journalist, Jackson held hands with the boy and acknowledged sharing his bed with children, a practice he described as sweet and not at all sexual.

Jackson agreed to take part in the documentary because he hoped it would help his image after years of eccentric behavior that included transforming his face through plastic surgery.

  • Joel Arak

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