The People of the State of California v. Michael Joe Jackson was a criminal trial held in Santa Barbara County Superior Court and drew the eyes of the world.
Michael Jackson had been plagued by rumors of sexual misconduct of a minor child ever since a civil lawsuit was filed in 1993. But it wasn’t until 2003, when Jackson faced a criminal court to deal with his alleged crimes. District Attorney Thomas W. Sneddon Jr. led a new investigation into Jackson after Martin Bashir’s 2003 documentary, Living with Michael Jackson, showed Jackson holding hands with young boy and discussing sharing a bed with children. Sneddon’s investigation lasted two years and produced 1900 pages of grand jury testimony.
On Nov. 19, 2003, a warrant was issued for Jackson’s arrest on charges of child molestion.
Jackson was indicted for four counts of molesting minor Gavin Arvizo (whose name was not available to the public at that time), four counts of intoxicating a minor to molest him, one count of attempted child molestation, one count of conspiring to hold the boy and his family captive, and conspiring to commit extortion and child abduction. Like the 1993 allegation, Jackson was accused of molesting the child at his Neverland Ranch home.
At his arraignment on Jan. 16, 2004, Jackson pleaded not guilty to all counts. From the arraignment to the verdict, the trial, dubbed a “media circus”, spanned 18 months.
On April 21, 2004, a grand jury indicted Jackson on several additional related charges, including conspiracy involving child abduction, false imprisonment, and extortion. Jackson faced 20 years of prison if convicted.
The trial began on February 28, 2005 at the courthouse of Santa Maria, Santa Barbara. Judge Rodney Melville presided over the case. Before the trial, the judge dismissed 21 motions, banned television cameras from the courtroom, put a gag order on both sides, and oversaw a three-day voir dire.
There was no physical evidence in the trial connecting Jackson to the molestation accusations, so the prosecution, led by Sneddon, relied heavily on testimonies from witness. Multiple members of the Arvizo family and Neverland employees painted Jackson as a predator with a history of child sexual abuse.
However, the defense team, led by Thomas Mesereau, argued that the witnesses were unreliable, some of them admitting they’d gotten payouts for tabloid interviews. The accuser’s mother Janet, who was intended to be the prosecution’s star witness, turned out to hurt the prosecution. At the time, The Guardian described her testimony, explaining that she was “talking over lawyers, extemporising, and turning dramatically during cross-examination by Mr Jackson’s lawyer to address the jurors … Her appearance was a disaster for the prosecution, but if not called by the prosecution, she would have been called by the defence to even worse effect.”
Jackson’s defense sought to portray Janet as untrustworthy, with a history of perjury and fraud. During the trial, she admitted to lying under oath in an earlier lawsuit.
Former child star Macaulay Culkin, George Lopez and Chris Tucker testified in Jackson’s defense. Dancer Wade Robson testified that he was five years old when he met Jackson and that he had slept in Jackson’s bedroom several times but had never been molested, despite the claims of some witnesses. Years later, Robson changed his position, saying Jackson had in fact abused him.
The jury deliberated for about 32 hours over seven days. Initially, nine jurors voted to acquit Jackson, while three voted that he was guilty. On June 14, 2005 returned a verdict of not guilty on all charge, including four lesser misdemeanour counts.
Jackson moved out of the country and never returned to Neverland Ranch again. Preparing for his American comeback tour, Jackson died in Holmby Hills, Calif., on June 25, 2009 from acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication.