Jackson cleared of child abuse

Pop star Michael Jackson was tonight dramatically cleared of child abuse.

Pop star Michael Jackson was tonight dramatically cleared of child abuse.

The 46-year-old had faced up to 20 years in prison and the end of his career.

It took the jury of eight women and four men at the Santa Maria court, California, 32 hours to reach a not guilty verdict. The trial was in its 16th week.

Jackson had been accused of sexually abusing the then 13-year-old cancer sufferer Gavin Arvizo, plying him with alcohol and conspiring to hold him and his family captive.

Jackson was also cleared of all charges of giving an intoxicating agent to a minor.

He was cleared of all charges.

The investigation into the pop star was triggered in February 2003 by British journalist Martin Bashir's bombshell documentary in which Jackson admitted sharing his bed with young boys.

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 and was handcuffed under the glare of the world’s media.

In court, Gavin Arvizo claimed the singer had molested him twice and gave graphic descriptions of how Jackson had encouraged him to masturbate and had then shown him how.

His younger brother, Star, claimed he had witnessed such acts but gave conflicting testimony about the exact circumstances of the alleged abuse. Under cross-examination, their credibility came under fierce attack.

The Arvizo family claimed that when the Bashir documentary was screened in the US, they were whisked to Miami and told they were going to take part in a press conference to defend the star.

As it transpired, there was no news conference. On the flight home, Gavin Arvizo claims Jackson gave him wine disguised in Coke cans. His mother, Janet Arvizo, testified that she saw the singer licking the top of her son’s head as he slept.

Back at Neverland the family claim they were held captive and forced to take part in a rebuttal video in the middle of the night. The footage was played for jurors several times in court.

In it, the children and their mother heaped praise on the singer, laughing and joking together as they described him as a father figure. Janet Arvizo later claimed the whole thing was scripted, word for word.

During the period of so-called captivity, the family left Neverland three times. On one occasion, Mrs Arvizo managed to squeeze in a full body wax at a local salon.

The prosecution painted Jackson as a serial child molester and Neverland as a predator’s lair.

They accused him of using his celebrity and Peter Pan image to entice children while showering their mothers with lavish gifts.

The defence claimed Gavin Arvizo and his family were trying to pull “the biggest con of their careers".

Of five alleged previous victims, three, including Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin, took the stand to insist they had never been mistreated in any way.

Jackson never testified in his own defence, but out-takes from Bashir’s documentary allowed jurors to listen to him speak in his own words.

They portrayed a vulnerable, compassionate man who had been severely affected by his childhood fame and consequent celebrity status.

He discussed his overwhelming loneliness and fear of his father and said the only people in the world he felt he could trust were children.

The verdict brings to a climax an eventful four months in Santa Maria – the small town which played host to hundreds of journalists and fans from across the globe.

As cameramen trained their lenses, day in day out, on the small courthouse, scores of fans danced, sang and prayed outside the gates, loyally returning as dawn broke each day.

The trial was one of the most closely watched in recent memory, with the King of Pop remaining centre stage.

As the jury deliberated and the waiting game dragged on, the focus shifted to the singer’s ailing health and his frequent visits to a local hospital.

As the trial progressed it became hard to believe that this was the same man who not so long ago jumped on the roof of his SUV to do the moonwalk.

The singer grew visibly frailer and thinner by the day.

When his young accuser took the stand, he faced him across the court dressed in pyjama bottoms and slippers, having come straight from the local emergency ward under threat of arrest.

He made three hospital visits in recent days as jurors deliberated his fate, usually concerning treatment for back problems exacerbated by stress.

Most days Jackson made it to court on time, always flanked by his parents, Katherine and Joe.

His choice of suits, complete with matching armbands, military medals and brocade waistcoats, were the subject of much fascination, each carefully hand-stitched especially for the trial.

The 16 week trial involved some 140 witnesses and 600 pieces of evidence.

It cost Santa Barbara County an estimated $2m, not including the cost of the initial investigation of Jackson.

Much of the cost has been billed to media companies, representing 32 countries from around the world.

But as they pack up their makeshift tents and head for home, Jackson – along with his Neverland ranch, his finances and his career – will undoubtedly remain the focus of international scrutiny.

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