Fans cheer as Jackson cleared of all abuse charges

Pop star Michael Jackson has been dramatically cleared of all child abuse charges.

Pop star Michael Jackson has been dramatically cleared of all child abuse charges.

The 46-year-old singer, who faced up to 20 years in prison, remained silent and looked devoid of emotion as the verdicts were read out at the court in Santa Maria, California.

But his calm demeanour was in complete contrast to the scenes outside the court, where hundreds of fans cheered, clapped and hugged each other as they heard that their idol was a free man.

One woman even released white doves for each not guilty decision delivered.

As Jackson stepped into the sunshine having been acquitted on all charges by the eight women and four men of the jury after 32 hours of deliberations, his supporters went wild.

During the 16-week trial 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. He was cleared of all charges.

Friends of the singer greeted news of the verdicts with joy and relief.

Spoon-bending celebrity psychic Uri Geller said: “I’m just so relieved and so happy for Michael Jackson. The nightmare is over.”

An overwhelmed Liam Cassidy, speaking for the UK-based Michael Jackson worldwide fan club, said he was “ecstatic” at the verdict.

“This is a vindication for Michael but also a vindication for the fans who have stood by him,” he said.

After Jackson left the court – refusing to comment to waiting reporters – and headed back to his Neverland ranch in a cortege of black SUVs, Judge Melville read a statement on behalf of the jury.

“We the jury, feeling the weight of the world’s eyes on us all, thoroughly and meticulously studied the evidence,” they said.

“Following the jury instructions we confidently came to our verdict. It is our hope that the verdict is testament to the beliefs in our justice system and the truth.”

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 claimed 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 claimed 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 packed up their makeshift tents and headed 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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