Neverland’s secrets uncovered

The bizarre world of Michael Jackson was laid bare during his trial.

And the singer's unusual approach to the case only served to underline how far removed he is from what passes for normality even in California.

The one-time King of Pop turned up to court in pyjamas, sobbed into tissues, checked himself into hospital unannounced and pleaded his innocence via live web feeds.

Yet beyond the often bizarre testimony, harrowing witness allegations and extraordinary sights, the jury faced a simple choice the word of a teenage boy against that of one of the world's biggest stars.

After four months and a colourful parade of more than 130 witnesses, Jackson's public image has been battered, spun and hung out to dry.

The increasingly pale and wasted star has been the focus of international intrigue as his secret world was torn apart.

He could never have suspected this is where it would end on the day five years ago he phoned cancer sufferer Gavin Arvizo in a Los Angeles hospital making the young boy's dreams come true.

Jackson had been asked to contact the boy by a friend who ran a comedy camp for underprivileged children.

Gavin thought Jackson was "the coolest guy in the world." After they met his family was whisked about in limousines and a private jet and showered with expensive gifts.

Some three years later, in February 2003, an investigation into allegations of child sex abuse was triggered by the documentary Living with Michael Jackson, presented by Martin Bashir.

During an interview Jackson admitted, and staunchly defended, letting boys sleep in his bedroom.

Charges were brought nine months later after police raided his sprawling fairytale estate. When a warrant was issued Jackson turned himself in to Santa Barbara police.

In court, Gavin Arvizo claimed the singer had molested him twice.

His family alleged that after the Bashir documentary was screened they were held captive at Neverland, forced to film a video rebuttal defending the star and were spied on by Jackson aides.

The prosecution's case boiled down to the word of Gavin and his brother, Star, who gave conflicting testimony about the exact circumstances of the alleged abuse.

The 45-day case, spearheaded by lawyer Tom Sneddon, seemed to most observers to be an uphill struggle for the prosecution.

Key witnesses proved a huge boost for the defence, not least Jackson's ex wife Debbie Rowe, who could not conceal her affection for the star, and Gavin's mother, Janet Arvizo, who dented her own credibility with every delusional, passionate outburst.

"Neverland is all about booze, pornography and sex with boys," she declared theatrically.

Much of the case against Jackson focused on the conspiracy charge, considered by many legal analysts the weakest of all ten counts.

There was little, if any, concrete evidence to directly link Jackson to the alleged captivity of the Arvizo family.

The shock ruling that previous allegations of abuse could be admitted gave prosecutors an opportunity to turn the tide. There followed a string of former Neverland staff, most of whom had lurid tales to tell about Jackson's behaviour with five young boys in the 1990s, painting his as a serial child abuser.

In the event, only one so-called victim took the stand. Jason Francia, who received a settlement of over $2 million from Jackson in 1994, testified that he had been molested three times by the singer between the ages of seven and ten.

Now 24 and a youth pastor, his solid performance packed a strong punch but it bore no specific relation to Gavin Arvizo's case.

Prosecutor Ron Zonen claimed Jackson targeted vulnerable young boys. "At night they entered into the world of the forbidden," he said. "They went into Michael Jackson's room, which is a veritable fortress."

Jackson's lawyer, Tom Mesereau, presented a pared down, surprisingly brief, but effective case. Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin provided the much-anticipated injection of celebrity as he took the stand to calmly deny he was ever touched inappropriately by Jackson.

Culkin branded allegations that he was molested "absolutely ridiculous" and expressed disbelief that he had been named in court as a victim.

Neverland employees portrayed Gavin Arvizo and his brother as badly behaved youngsters who caused havoc at the ranch, stealing money and alcohol and breaking into Jackson's bedroom.

Mesereau accused the Arvizo family of being "con artists, actors and liars." This, he said, was the biggest con of their careers.

Michael Jackson was the target of a grand conspiracy, he argued, who was the victim of greedy opportunists out to profit from his deep pockets.

Although he was cleared on all counts, this one-time superstar has had his world and his psyche very publicly ripped apart. His musical career, finances, health and reputation have been indisputably damaged to an extent that they may never recover.

More in this section

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox