A raucous crowd greeted Michael Jackson when he returned to his Neverland Ranch after being acquitted on all counts in his child molestation trial, ending his latest legal and emotional odyssey, and triggering jubilation among the pop star's fans and embarrassment for the district attorney's office.
On Monday, a jury acquitted Jackson 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.
When the convoy of black SUVs carrying the entertainer and his entourage pulled through the gates of Neverland, his sister La Toya rolled down a window, smiled widely and waved. The crowd responded with a wild, euphoric cheer.
"All of us here and millions around the world love and support you," proclaimed a banner strung across a fence by the amusement park-like compound in Los Olivos that Jackson said he created to provide himself with the childhood he never enjoyed.
"My family was very excited," said his brother Jermaine Jackson on CBS News' The Early Show. "And in the very beginning we always said that Michael was 1,000% innocent."
Jermaine Jackson told Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm that his brother was very happy and finally smiled the first time he saw him after the verdict.
"He was just so beat up for so long, for just to sit there and hear things said about you that you know are totally false. And then to have to go through this," he said.
In the courtroom, Jackson looked straight ahead as the verdicts were read and showed no visible reaction.
"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.
The acquittals marked a stinging defeat for Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon, who displayed open hostility for Jackson and had pursued him for more than a decade, trying to prove the rumors that swirled around Jackson about his fondness for children.
Sneddon sat with his head in his hands after the verdicts were read.
"We don't select victims of crimes and we don't select the family. We try to make a conscientious decision and go forward," Sneddon said afterward, adding "I'm not going to look back and apologize for anything that we've done."
"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 theI've ever seen" from a prosecutorial viewpoint, Cohen says.
Jurors may have acquitted Jackson of all charges of molesting a 13-year-old cancer survivor, but not all of them were convinced the King of Pop had never molested a child.
"He's just not guilty of the crimes he's been charged with," said Ray Hultman, who told The Associated Press he was one of three people on the 12-person panel who voted to acquit only after the other nine persuaded them there was reasonable doubt about the entertainer's guilt in this particular case.
"Everybody has beliefs, and I think what was challenging to all of the jurors in this case was to be able to separate our beliefs from what the evidence showed," Hultman said on The Early Show. "And in the end, we had to weigh the evidence and if there was any reasonable doubt, that was the decision that we needed to make."
The verdict means Jackson will be free to try to rebuild his blighted musical career. But his legal victory came at a terrible price to his image.
CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales reports that Jackson will take some time to recuperate with his family. This trial has really taken a toll on him over the past few months. But eventually his famous brothers would like him to join them in a worldwide victory tour to celebrate his acquittal.
Prosecutors branded him a deviant who used his playland as the ultimate pervert's lair, plying boys with booze and porn. Prosecution witnesses described other bizarre behavior by Jackson: They said he licked his accuser's head, simulated a sex act with a mannequin, kept dolls in bondage outfits on his desk.
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.
"He's a wonderful person, and he's innocent. I'm so happy he's home with his children," said chief defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. on The Early Show. "I always thought it would be a not guilty verdict. I always had a good feeling about these jurors. I felt they were very independent minded, very courageous people."
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 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. Jurors also had to consider four lesser charges related to the alcohol counts, forcing them to render 14 verdicts in all.
According to his family, a weary Jackson went straight to bed after he arrived at Neverland. The entertainer, who appeared exhausted as he shuffled out of court, is "trying to get back his strength," said his father, Joe Jackson.
"I feel justice was done," Jackson's father said. "We thank the fans for supporting us."
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