from Totally Fushed, Autumn 2005 (revised, September 2008)
The good are difficult to see
Though open, rare, destructible;
Always, they retain a kind of youth,
The vulnerable grace
Of any bird in flight…
- Brendan Kennelly
It was a bright April Day, and I was strolling up Dublin’s Grafton Street. The sun bounced off the rich pink pavement, and all around me people bounded one way or the other, no doubt dashing to coffee dates, rushing to meetings, or simply getting some shopping in… Amidst this sea of city bustle, however, there were islands of pause – where small crowds congregated around street performers: the mimes, the puppeteers, even one chap pressing the keys of a baby grand piano. There was also, on this particular day, a young Asian man, offering his audience dance steps, and twirling a black fedora on his skilful fingers. The music he had chosen to accompany his performance was Michael Jackson’s Blood on the Floor. As I passed him, the familiar notes blaring out from the speakers and over the road, I couldn’t but smile. It proved to me that in Michael’s most trying times, his music remains a source of happiness and inspiration to so many. And there was another reason why I smiled. It was in an interview with OK magazine in 1997, in which Michael and his then wife Debbie Rowe discussed the birth of their son, that I first read about the impending release of the Blood on the Dance Floor album. And this April 2005 day happened to be the day after Debbie Rowe’s first appearance as a witness at Michael Jackson’s trial in Santa Maria, California, on charges of child molestation, conspiracy to abduct children and falsely imprison a family, and furnishing a minor with alcohol. It was, hence, the day after Rowe dealt a vicious blow to the prosecution’s case. ‘To escape the world I got to enjoy that simple dance…’
Debbie Rowe did in fact turn up as a prosecution witness. Yet despite being divorced from Jackson, and engaged in a custody battle over their two children, during her testimony she refused to lie about the character of a man she clearly still holds deep feelings for. She described Michael as ‘generous and giving’, someone who is ‘great with kids’, a ‘wonderful person… and a great father’. One of the prosecution’s contentions was that the Arvizos – the family accusing Jackson – were held at Michael’s home, Neverland Valley Ranch, and forced to take part in an interview praising the singer. In his opening statement of the trial, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Thomas W. Sneddon, Jr. claimed Debbie Rowe would back up the Arvizos’ assertion that the aforementioned interview was scripted. She did not. On the stand, Rowe stated that her own interview (intended for the same broadcast), at any rate, was far from scripted: ‘As Mr. Jackson knows’, she said, ‘no one can tell me what to say.’ Rowe said that she was offered a chance to see the questions she would be asked in advance, but she turned this offer down. Rowe also labelled several Jackson associates ‘opportunistic vultures’, and thus distanced the King of Pop from the very ‘associates’ prosecutors were alleging Jackson conspired with to abduct the Arvizos and ship them off to Brazil. Oh, and by the way, the Arvizos never actually went to Brazil. And evidence presented at trial showed they had been quite happy about the possibility of going. Some conspiracy.
Anyway – yes, the occasion of Debbie Rowe’s testimony was not a happy one for Tom Sneddon, et al. And for the arch cynics amongst you: an investigation into whether Rowe had been bribed by MJ into saying positive things about the singer found absolutely no evidence to support that ludicrous claim. According to mjeol.com, one Fox News trial observer described Rowe’s cameo as a ‘disaster of biblical proportions’ for the prosecution. But it was not the sole disaster inflicted upon Sneddon and his posse throughout the trial. Witness after witness exploded in their faces. Metaphorically, of course. And even those who provided potentially damaging testimony against Jackson were slaughtered on cross-examination. The fundamental problem, of course, was not with any one witness or piece of evidence, but with the entire case. To paraphrase lead defence attorney Thomas A. Mesereau, Jr., it was absurd, it made no sense.
The genesis of Jackson’s recent problems was in February 2003. For those of you who’ve been hiding under the floorboards or something, that’s when British ‘journalist’ Martin Bashir’s disturbingly biased documentary Living with Michael Jackson aired on ITV in the UK, and on ABC in the United States. It was within this fantastic feat of journalistic integrity that MJ told the world he has, from time to time, allowed children to sleep in his room, even his bed. One boy appeared in the programme, holding hands with Jackson and laying his head against the singer’s shoulder. His name was Gavin Arvizo.
Several years previously, Gavin had been diagnosed with cancer. In Living with Michael Jackson, Gavin’s sister Davellin explains how her parents were told to plan for her brother’s funeral. The young man’s dying wish was to see Michael Jackson. Therefore, Gavin’s father pulled whatever strings he could, he talked to people who knew people who knew people, and one day a very sick little boy received a phone call from the King of Pop.
As Tom Mesereau explained to TV comedian Jay Leno following the trial, Michael Jackson likes to help those who are in difficulty: ‘He’s too nice to too many people, and that’ how he got in the trouble he was in.’ Michael Jackson showered the Arvizos with presents, he gave the family free reign at his beloved Neverland. For a while, this seemed fantastic. I what appeared a miracle, Gavin’s cancer went into remission, and Janet Arvizo, the youth’s mother, described Michael as her son’s ‘angel’.
But Michael Jackson remained ignorant of the darker side to the Arvizos. As came out at trial, this was a family of, again in the words of Thomas Mesereau, ‘con artists, actors and liars’. With regard to an earlier legal case, Janet was exposed as having perjured herself and committed fraud, claiming she’d been beaten up by security guards for department store JC Penney, when it now appears her bruises were the result of spousal abuse. A paralegal in that case, Mary Elizabeth Holzer, testified for the defence that in the JC Penney lawsuit, Janet seemed to have coached her children to lie. This supported statements by Janet’s own ex-husband, David Arvizo, who said he viewed scripts Janet had written for her children so they could give false testimony in the witness box. Mary Holzer also told the court in Santa Maria she recalled Ms. Arvizo telling her that the children were taking acting lessons: ‘She wanted them to become good actors so they could tell then what to say, how to behave.’ The JC Penney lawsuit was settled out of court, and the Arvizos received some $150,000. When subsequently applying for welfare benefits, however, Janet neglected to mention the settlement money. That made her a welfare cheat, and a felon.
During the MJ trial, Ms. Arvizo was also revealed as having a rather bizarre attitude to her son’s dying of cancer. Testifying for the defence, Janet’s one-time sister-in-law, Marian Arvizo, detailed Janet’s reaction after Marian held a blood drive to help her ill nephew: ‘We don’t need your fucking blood’, this concerned mother supposedly said, ‘we just need money.’ Marian Arvizo was only one of many witnesses, none of whom knew each other, who testified to Janet’s disgusting greed. A second was the editor of a local newspaper, who said she was pestered by Janet to run stories in her paper requesting funds from the public to help with Gavin’s hospital bills. One article did appear in the publication, and money was raised. The editor later found out that Gavin’s medical costs were covered by insurance. Understandably she felt duped.
This is Janet Arvizo: a welfare fraudster and an admitted perjurer, who reportedly sends her kids to acting classes so they can be taught to lie for her gain. But these traits stayed disguised from MJ until after Living with Michael Jackson aired. Seemingly, in the wake of the success of the show, Gavin’s mother demanded she be paid for her son’s part in the programme. According to Tom Mesereau in his opening statement to the jury in Santa Maria, Jackson was also concerned that the family was becoming too attached to him (in the sense of how leeches can become attached to one’s skin), and was uneasy about things such as the mother urging her children to call him ‘Daddy Michael’. Thus, MJ hired lawyer Mark Geragos to keep an eye on the Arvizos, and sought to cut his financial ties to the family. And that’s when the child abuse rumblings began. In the time leading up to the molestation allegations, evidence submitted to the California court revealed, Davellin Arvizoconfided to a worker at Neverland whom she was having a ‘pseudo-sexual’ affair with, that she considered her mother to be a ‘psycho mom’, and that something big was being planned against MJ.
In the witness box for the prosecution, Janet Arvizo certainly did come across as ‘psycho’. Roger Friedman, foxnews.com, described her testimony as ‘alternately maddening and heartbreaking. She came across… as a compulsive and pathological liar, a shrewd manipulator and a real operator… There wasn’t a single person in the room who believed her.’ On the stand, Arvizo made wild statements about ‘appeasing the killers’ (we never learned who these killers were), and called Jackson and his associates ‘masters of choreography’, who even had the power to alter shop receipts so that things she claimed she’d bought no longer appeared to have been paid for by her. At another point, Janet detailed how Michael Jackson had a plan tosteal her children away in a ‘hot air balloon’. It was just one of many methods, she said, that Michael had of taking them from her. After Janet’s testimony, one formerly pro-prosecution pundit said it suddenly hit her how the allegations against MJ could in fact be a giant fabrication. Welcome to what some of us have been saying all along.
And Michael Jackson is not the first celebrity Janet and Co. have tried to shake down. Jay Leno himself described on the stand how he had once received a phone call from Gavin i which the youth sounded ‘overly effusive’ and scripted; Leno also claimed he could hear Janet prompting her son in the background. Other celebrities too testified to the Arvizos’ sycophantically saccharine and manipulative behaviour: actor Chris Tucker, friend of Michael Jackson and former acquaintance of Gavin Arvizo, became so concerned about Janet’s goings on he warned Michael of them.
But MJ remained trusting to a fault. As I’ve alluded to earlier, in the wake of the thunderstorm of hysterical mainstream media calumnies (i.e. ‘negative publicity’) that followed the broadcasting of Bashir’s Living ‘documentary’, the Arvizos were invited to take part in a rebuttal programme which would air on Fox called Michael Jackson Take Two: The Footage You Were Never Meant To See. During the trial, it was the prosecution’s contention that Jackson was so desperate to rebuild his image he held the Arvizos at Neverland and forced them to participate in the video. But when Take Two appeared on television, the interview with the Arvizos was not even included. On the stand, Janet alleged that every word of the interview was scripted by a Jackson associate named Dieter Wiesner. This, despite the fact that Wiesner is German, and has poor command of English, according to Roger Friedman.
It is around the point that they were ‘forced’ to make their pro-Jackson interview that the Arvizos claim they were kept against their will at Neverland. At trial, however, it emerged that the family managed to ‘escape’ their captivity at least three times, only to return to Jackson’s home. During their periods of ‘escape’, they never asked anyone for help. At Neverland, they had constant access to phones. They never rang the police. Evidence such as receipts and shop-worker testimony presented by Michael’s side also proved that during the time they were apparently imprisoned at MJ’s ranch, Janet and her children spent thousands of Jackson’s dollars staying at expensive hotels, eating at expensive restaurants, and getting expensive body waxes… Kidnapping sure has moved on from the bad old days! And Ms. Arvizo’s only defence was that Jackson had the power to alter what appeared on receipts. Good one. Azya Pryor, Chris Tucker’s former fiancé, was just one of many Arvizo acquaintances who said, on the stand, that Janet never spoke about being held against her will. Pryor smiled when she was questioned about the possibility of the Arvizos escaping from Neverland. ‘Why are you smiling?’ Tom Mesereau asked. ‘It’s Neverland’, Pryor replied. ‘I don’t know who would want to escape from Neverland.’
Thus, the conspiracy to falsely imprison charge was proven at trial to be laughable at best. But what about the other counts? The allegation MJ gave alcohol to a minor, for example. Well, as Tom Mesereau pointed out to them, in order for the jurors to accept this charge they would still have had to find the Arvizos credible beyond all reasonable doubt. No independent witness could testify to ever having seen Jackson provide a child with booze. By contrast, a Neverland security guard said he saw Gavin and his brother Star with wine when MJ was nowhere to be found. The prosecution suggested Michael had put wine in soft drinks cans, in order to coax kids into consuming it. Prosecutors alleged that, on a charter jet flight from Miami to Santa Barbara, Michael served Gavin wine in a Diet Coke can. But Cynthia Ann Bell, a stewardess on that flight, said she had never seen MJ offer alcohol to a minor, and even testified that it was in fact her idea to put the wine in the Diet Coke cans – ‘Mr. Jackson is a very private drinker…I serve other clients that way.’ She put the wine in the soda cans so that MJ could drink around his and other children without them knowing he was sipping alcohol (he got nervous on flights, sometimes, she said). Far from encouraging kids to drink, Michael wanted to protect them from alcohol! Appearing for the prosecution, Bell described Michael as ‘soft-spoken’: ‘Typically, I’d have to kneel to gain eye contact with Mr Jackson. He would touch my arm when we were communicating’, whereas Gavin Arvizo, on this flight from Miami to California, was ‘loud and obnoxious’, ‘unusually rude and discourteous’. Gavin complained about his chicken dinner, and started a food fight by throwing mashed potatoes at a sleeping doctor. ‘It was embarrassing to have him on board’, Bell said of the accuser.
The Arvizo children’s conduct at Jackson’s home became an issue at trial as well. Neverland employees testified that Gavin drove – and crashed – vehicles he wasn’t supposed to, that he and Star wrecked the rooms they stayed in, that they demanded different things to eat when their dinner was put in front of them…
Does any of this prove Michael Jackson didn’t abuse Gavin Arvizo? Of course not. But, as attorney Jonna M. Spilbor reminds us in an article at findlaw.com, ‘testimony is only as good as its source’, and the Arvizos are polluted sources if ever there were any. And when Gavin and Star actually appeared on the stand, the defence was able to highlight numerous inconsistencies in their stories. Star Arvizo, for example, claimed he had seen Michael give Gavin wine in a Diet Coke can, on that above-mentioned flight from Miami to Santa Barbara, and he said that there had been a red stain on the rim of the vessel. But in a previous statement to police, Star had said that the drink in the can was white wine. The boy blamed a stenographer for taking down his statement wrongly. The prosecution alleged MJ showed the Arvizo boys porn magazines, and in the witness box Star was asked by a prosecutor – who put up a graphic – if he’d been shown a specific issue of Barely Legal. Star said he had. The next day, Tom Mesereau came along and pointed out that Star couldn’t have seen the magazine, as it was dated August 2003, months after the Arvizo family left Neverland for good. Star then said he had seen an issue ‘like’ the one prosecutors displayed.
Star Arvizo was the only person who claimed to have witnessed the supposed molestation of his brother. Thus, his testimony was crucial for prosecutors. Star said he saw Jackson fondle Gavin on the pop idol’s bed. But it was revealed in court that when an intruder approaches Jackson’s private quarters, an alarm goes off, and its sound can be heard inside Michael’s room. Star stated that MJ continued to molest Gavin despite the alarm ringing out – on two occasions. Which, let’s face it, is fairly ridiculous. As if this weren’t enough to render useless the evidence of the sole ‘witness’ to the ‘abuse’, Star’s courtroom account of the alleged fondling was, according to prosecutor and trial commentator Jim Hammer, like ‘night and day’ compared to the account he apparently gave to a psychologist, Stan Katz. Hammer, speaking on TV show On the Record, concluded: ‘I think Star’s credibility is shot at this point. And the entire case will rest upon the accuser’s testimony.’
Roll up Gavin Arvizo! Without doubt, the accusations Master Arvizo was levelling at Michael Jackson were of the highest order of seriousness. He was alleging that a powerfulcelebrity had taken advantage of him in the most obscene way possible, sexually molesting him on a number of occasions. But once you get past the shock value of the initial accusations, Gavin’s tale begins to crumble like a cookie crushed by the Hand of Justice. Firstly, the boy did not know how many times he had been abused – the grand jury indictment which led to the trial alleged four counts, but in various interviews with law enforcement, etc. Gavin suggested anything from two to five times. Secondly, Gavin could not decide when he had been molested. The DA’s own timeline shifted radically from the initial indictment to the subsequent grand jury indictment (a grand jury, by the way, is a panel of nineteen members of the public who are presented with only the prosecution’s side of a case, and then decide whether or not there should be a trial). Originally Sneddon and the Arvizos claimed the molestation happened between February 7 and March 10 2003; then they said it took place between February 20 and March 12. One problem with this timeline was that the DA was asking the jury to believe that, during the tempests of controversy following Living with Michael Jackson (which aired on February 6 in the US), right when all the world’s eyes were upon him, accusing him of sleeping with boys for sexual pleasure – that’s when Michael Jackson decided to fondle Gavin Arvizo for the first time. Talk about picking a bad moment! And on the issue of dates, the Arvizos claimed they were not aware of the exact ones because while they were ‘imprisoned’ at Neverland, they found there was a shortage of clocks. Yet a video of MJ’s home that the defence showed to the court proved there were at least twenty-five to thirty clocks around the place, including a colossal one featuring a flower arrangement carved into a hill outside the main house. A further difficulty with the prosecution’s timeline was that, between February 14 and February 27 2003, Michael Jackson was actually being investigated by Los Angeles child welfare officers for allegedly abusing Gavin Arvizo (following a complaining phone call from a teacher in LA who’d seen Living), and the same investigation concluded that any concerns that MJ had conducted himself improperly with the youth were ‘unfounded’. Gavin himself was interviewed as part of that probe, and said nothing happened. He also, incidentally, after the ‘abuse’ supposedly took place, told his school headmaster – twice – that Michael Jackson never touched him in any sexual way.
Yet two years later, here he was, in a California witness box, saying the King of Pop had caressed his private parts. Gavin Arvizo is a kid Chris Tucker described as ‘cunning’. And, speaking to Roger Friedman, movie director Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Red Dragon) – who had some association with the boy – rubbished the idea that Gavin could have been molested: ‘He’s more street smart than I was at that age. If someone tried to fondle him, he’d punch them in the face.’ During his first day on the stand, Arvizo described how he had viewed Michael Jackson as the best guy in the world, but after the pop star molested him: ‘I don’t like him anymore.’ No kidding. Then came Tom Mesereau’s surgeon-with-a-scalpel-esque cross-examination. And this revealed that, according to CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen, ‘no part of [Gavin’s] story was immune from serious or substantial questions about its accuracy or reliability’. Master Arvizo transformed like an Animagus once someone started to dispute his tale. He was, Cohen elaborates, ‘sullen and combative, cheeky and evasive, acting more like a punk than a crime victim… the young man did little to persuade jurors that he is telling the truth and Jackson is lying about their alleged encounters together. And it wasn’t because Jackson’s attorney, Thomas Mesereau, went after the complaining witness like the pit bull attorney we all know he can be. Indeed, part of the reason why [the day of the cross-examination] was such a devastating day for the prosecution is because the accuser so often… did himself in through word and deed.’ Cohen continues: ‘On point after point, the alleged victim came across as incredible at worst, and just plain confused at best… he even seemed to suggest he was unclear about… whether [the molestation] took place before or after the family made a rebuttal video designed to respond to [Living with Michael Jackson].’
Another blow was dealt to Gavin’s believability when Mesereau unmasked this shattering inconsistency: The boy told the court Michael Jackson said to him that guys needed to masturbate or else they could get so sexually frustrated they might rape a woman. Gavin, however, had previously told the grand jury it was his grandmother who passed on this delightful advice. Andrew Cohen again: ‘The young man tried to explain away the inconsistency but it wasn’t persuasive. And from that icky start it went downhill quickly. It got so bad, in fact, that the young man’s answers to questions about his cancer made it seem like he often used the disease as a sword, not a shield, and had unrealistic and even offensive expectations about what Jackson and the rest of the world owed him.’
And getting back to the issue of what Michael may have told Gavin regarding sex, well, our dear Master Arvizo was crazily inconsistent on this as well. In a police video shown tothe court, he claimed he didn’t know what an erection was. But another time he boasted to investigators that he knew more about sex than Jackson. And – not knowing what an erection is?! As Tom Mesereau exclaimed in his closing statement: ‘He’s thirteen!’ Gavin said he had no concept of masturbation or a magazine like Playboy until such things were introduced to him by Jackson. Yet, one of the defence witnesses caught Gavin and Star, sans Jackson, masturbating at Neverland. And, as Roger Friedman comments on the young man’s supposed ignorance: ‘This might be possible in a Merchant Ivory movie about a neurasthenic British lad, but hardly likely for a teen with battling parents in East Los Angeles.’
Gavin Arvizo was also unveiled on the stand as having been a dreadfully behaved child at school, and someone prone to making wild claims. He once even accused his own mother of abusing him. One of his teachers was quoted as saying the boy had ‘good acting skills’. Not good enough, it seems, to fool Andrew Cohen: ‘[Gavin] talks as though he is recalling a story he has read and not as though he is retelling his own experiences.’ The prosecutors’ final act of their case – their rebuttal case, after the defence had presented all its evidence – was to put Michael Jackson’s teenage accuser centre stage yet again. They did this by showing the aforementioned police video to the jury, wherein Gavin first spoke to the cops about the alleged molestation. It was a shocking tape. It showed a teenager making horrifying statements about what one of the world’s most famous entertainers may have done to him. Some, however, like Fox News’s Roger Friedman, could see through the shock: ‘And then there was the boy’s actual demeanor: He does not once cry or reach for a tissue. He seems embarrassed, but maybe more about selling out a friend than being molested. He is clearly upset when he talks about Jackson having changed his phone numbers in the past so the boy couldn’t reach him. After he’s finished telling his story, one of the cops hands him a soft drink and a straw and his mood brightens immediately… No one in the [courtroom] wept as the boy mumbled his story and looked at the ground.’ Prosecutor and commentator Susan Filan, speaking on MSNBC, also thought the video fell flat. She said she expected the jurors to be riveted, but instead saw them looking around as if to say ‘Yeah, yeah, we know’. Thomas Mesereau didn’t shy away either from encouraging the jury to reject Gavin’s exercise in dissemblance: ‘Watch his demeanour as he lies!’ he advised with regard to reviewing the video testimony.
At every turn during this trial, the defence was able to reveal the Arvizos as grifters, leeches, dissembling sycophants addicted to the pursuit of wealth by any means, and to associating with Celebrity. That’s why they brought this case. They wanted revenge for Michael Jackson disconnecting himself from their family, and they wanted to set themselves up for a huge payday in a civil suit by getting a criminal conviction. Where was Janet Arvizo’s first port of call when she thought her son had been the victim of child molestation? The police? Child services? No – two lawyers, one of whom, Larry Feldman, was the attorney rumoured to have reached a multi-million dollar out-of-court settlement for Jordie Chandler following his accusation of abuse against Michael Jackson in 1993. It was this image of money-hungry revenge-seekers that Mesereau hammered home in his closing argument. He told jurors to remember Gavin’s testimony on the stand. The boy didn’t get angry or upset when he relayed the supposed molestation; the only time he fired up, said Mesereau, was when he talked about how Michael Jackson had rejected his family. Mes made clear that there was no DNA evidence in this case, no forensic evidence indicating Jackson had abused the boy whatsoever. TM also offered another key point. According to the Associated Press: ‘He said that in molestation cases police typically have the alleged victim make a ‘pretext’ phone call to ask incriminating questions [of their supposed abuser] as police listen in… [But] Jackson’s accuser… refused during a police interview to make such a call.’
In the prosecution’s closing statement, Senior Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen presented the risible argument that Janet Arvizo had never asked anyone for money. True, her style was usually to harass people until she got their pity, rather than overtly ask for favours. But Mesereau countered: ‘When she took her children to The Laugh Factory [comedy club], placed them on stage, had them do skits and plays about their poverty, about how poor they were, about the part of town they came from in front of [comedian] George Lopez; when she told George Lopez a story about how her children used to dive for coins in a fountain… was she asking for money? When Janet Arvizo and Davellin kept hounding Chris Tucker, ‘When are we getting the truck? When are we getting the truck? When are we getting the truck?’ was she asking for money? When Janet Arvizo went to Miss Kennedy, who [ran a] dance class and said, ‘You know, we settled the JC Penney case. We got some money out of it, but all we ended up with were two bicycles. Please continue to give my children free lessons’, was she asking for money? When Janet Arvizo concocted the JC Penney fraud, when her lawyer was shocked, after twenty-five meetings with her, to hear her say at a deposition how she’d been fondled twenty-five times by JC Penney security guards, was she asking for money? When Janet Arvizo had her children call celebrities, constantly hounding celebrities… with her in the background scripting them and coaching them, do you think she was asking for money? When Janet Arvizo went to the editor of the local newspaper in El Monte and said, ‘We have no insurance. Chemotherapy costs $12,000 per injection. Please put the bank account number in your article. Please do an article. I know it’s against your policy to do things like this, but please do it for us, because we can’t pay our medical bills’, was she asking anyone for money? When the calls went to Jay Leno, repeated messages, ‘You’re my favourite comedian’, messages he thought were awfully effusive, sounded scripted, sounded contrived, didn’t sound like the appropriate message from a child of that age, when he called the hospital and a woman was in the background telling her son to be effusive, to be wordy, to continue to tell him, ‘You’re my favourite comedian’, when he thought they might be asking for money but they actually didn’t, what was Janet Arvizo doing?… When she fraudulently sought food stamps, when she fraudulently sought disability, when she fraudulently sought every state benefit she could get her hands on by perjuring herself and perjuring herself and perjuring herself through constant welfare applications, where she disguised settlements, disguised bank accounts, disguised benefits, was Janet Arvizoseeking money?’
Yes, it was a powerful closing argument. One former prosecutor said outside the Santa Maria courthouse that if he had been sitting at the prosecution table, he would’ve just wanted to stand up and yell ‘Stop!’ ‘You can’t count the lies’, Mesereau concluded. And he told the jury: ‘…if you have the slightest problem that’s a reasonable one, the slightest doubt that’s a reasonable one, the slightest suspicion, Mr. Jackson must go free.’
Yet lest you worry that Michael Jackson managed to wriggle off the hook only because the accusing family were a bunch of extortionists, it would do you well to bear in mind that this was a trial during which Michael’s whole life was laid bear – all the private corners he thought he had protected were revealed for the ravenous media to see, churned into headlines and punch lines for literally billions to gorge their voyeurism on. As already intimated, prosecutors were allowed to exhibit in the courtroom images from MJ’s pornography collection. Now, I wrote in a previous article that I thought MJ was ‘almost asexual’. Turns out I was utterly wrong – he is quite the testosterone-brimming male, suffering the same lustful impulses we all do. (And, just as an aside, in J. Randy Taraborrelli’s biography of Jackson, The Magic and the Madness, Michael’s first wife Lisa Marie Presley is quoted as describing her once husband as an ‘animal’ in bed. Oh yeah.) On MJ’s computer, the police discovered many images of naked women, and of heterosexual sex acts; and in his home they found several straight porn mags. That’s right: all the pornography law enforcement officers could lay their paws on was heterosexual in nature, and not one thumbnail of it was illegal. Yet Tom Sneddon and his gang came marching into court, and started flinging this filth around the place, all but screeching ‘Michael Jackson looks at porn! Michael Jackson looks at porn! He’s a pervert! He must be a paedophile!’ With some defence witnesses, the prosecution’s most imaginative tactic was to show the witness a pornographic image, and then ask if the he or she felt comfortable knowing the King of Pop possessed this stuff. Tom Mesereau was withering: ‘They have dirtied him up because he’s human. But they haven’t proven their case because they can’t.’
Ah, but Mr. Sneddon was armed with more than legal magazines – he also had art books! That’s right, prosecutors introduced into evidence two art books seized from Neverland during the 1993 investigation. Both were squeakily legal, and according to mjeol.com, one of them was at one point, and could still be, in the Library of the United States Congress. But to prosecutors, these books became ‘child porn’, simply because they contained pictures of innocently unclothed boys. One of the books, The Boy: A Photographic Essay, consists of photos taken on the set of the movie Lord of the Flies, and wasn’t even bought by Jackson, but was a present from a fan! The other, Boys Will Be Boys, was published in the 1960s, and is inscribed with the following words from Michael: ‘Look at the spirit of joy on these boys’ faces. This is the life I never had. This is the life I want for my children.’ Well, they certainly sound like the ramblings of a raving pederast, don’t they? Who is the more twisted: Michael Jackson, who looks at these books and sees the joy of innocence? Or prurient prosecutors, who see only fodder for child molesters? Savannah Guthrie of Court TV has reported that MJ may own up to a million books. Out of that immense collection, these two were the most incriminating investigators could find.
Yet, this was not merely a trial where a single family’s allegations were presented, either. Under what’s termed an 1108 ruling, Judge Rodney Melville permitted the prosecution to bring in evidence to suggest MJ molested five other boys. The idea being, if the jurors believed Michael abused these kids, they would be allowed to infer that he might have been inclined to improperly caress Gavin.
Potentially explosive stuff. But where was the bang? One of the boys refused to turn up (that’s Jordan Chandler – more on him shortly), three testified for the defence that they had never been abused. Only a single alleged prior victim, Jason Francia, appeared before the court for the prosecution. And what was his accusation? That Michael Jackson had violently raped him? That the pop star had solicited fellatio from him? No: That a couple of tickling sessions got out of hand, and Francia felt MJ touch his genitals.
According to the jury’s foreman, who was interviewed on CNN after the verdict, the twelve men and women deciding Michael’s fate found Mr. Francia’s testimony to be just as incredible as that of Janet Arvizo: ‘he was leaving too many loopholes in his statements’, Paul Rodriguez said. Contributing to this perception on the jury’s part must have been the fact that Jason’s answers under cross-examination were often almost farcical. For example, when Mesereau asked him if criminal charges had been brought once he alleged to police officers that MJ had touched him inappropriately, Francia’s response was: ‘I don’t know… I don’t watch the news.’ Excuse me? Mesereau then rephrased the question: ‘…no criminal charges were ever filed against Mr. Jackson involving anything you said, right?’ Again: ‘I don’t know.’ This guy is making these grave accusations, and he has no knowledge of whether they ever resulted in criminal charges? It probably didn’t help Jason’s case, either, that he had consistently denied anything untoward occurred between himself and Jackson until police officers used some woefully dubious methods to extract a ‘confession’ from him. The police interviewed Francia as part of their 1993/94 investigation into MJ. Court documents released as part of this case revealed that, during the 1993 interview, one of the officers explicitly stated to Francia: ‘Mr. Jackson is a child molester.’ Another mocked: ‘He makes great music, he’s a great guy, bullshit.’ The officers also lied to Francia, claiming they knew other boys were being fondled, and implying Jason could save these youths by ‘confessing’. The officers even (spuriously) asserted that one youth was now a drug abuser because MJ had molested him, and that this boy was going to die by the time he was twenty-two years old. At one point one of the policemen, Detective Neglia, said to Jason Francia: ‘Okay, but what I am getting at is maybe I’m not being obvious enough. What I am saying is maybe he put his hands someplace where he shouldn’t have. Maybe he put his hand on you someplace that made you feel uncomfortable. And that’s why you’re not remembering… And I think of what you doing is [sic] tickling and all this stuff, is trying, forcing yourself not to remember.’ The webmaster at mjeol.com comments: ‘So by telling them the truth – that he was only tickled by Jackson – the cops basically turned that into Francia’s hiding ‘molestation’. This is the kind of stuff Rodriguez and a number of the other jurors picked up on.’ In court, as well, Mesereau quoted from Francia’s own comments on that 1993 interview. The young man had said: ‘They made me come out with a lot more stuff. They kept pushing. I wanted to get up and hit them in the head.’ As hinted at above, Francia was also notoriously inconsistent and forgetful in his testimony. Prosecutor Jim Hammer remarked on television programme Studio B: ‘[Mesereau] is cross-examining [Francia] repeatedly not just about interviews twelve years ago, but about interviews late last year’ – ones done as the DA prepared his case, no doubt. ‘And about those, the kid’ – not such a kid, really, he’s now in his twenties – ‘continually claims he doesn’t remember things. It’s gonna be hard for the jury to put much weight into his testimony if they think he is selectively remembering even five months ago.’ It also most likely was of no assistance to Jason Francia that his mother, Blanca Francia – another witness for the prosecution – was revealed under cross-examination to have altered her story almost every time she told it. Plus, she received $20,000 to do a TV interview in which she made lurid claims about what she had seen at Neverland. How can you trust someone to speak the truth, when, for the right price, they are willing to tell you whatever you want to hear?
The prosecution faced a similar problem with the rest of its ‘prior bad acts’ witnesses. Jonna M. Spilbor writes at findlaw.com that in order to try and prove MJ had abused boys in the past, Sneddon et al. relied on ‘testimony the jury was unlikely to find credible, to say the least. This testimony was almost entirely provided by witnesses who, by all accounts, were former disgruntled employees of Neverland, with axes to grind.’ One of these witnesses had been previously sued by Jackson, and forced into bankruptcy ‘in the face of a judgment that had exceeded one million dollars’. Spilbor opines: ‘it’s hard to imagine a clearer example of the kind of bias that causes a jury to mistrust testimony.’ In fact, a number of the 1108 witnesses were members of the ‘Neverland Five’ – a quintet of former Neverland employees who sued Jackson claiming they were terminated because they ‘knew too much’ about MJ’s relationships with young boys. In 1995, a Santa Maria jury found that they were a flock of lying opportunists, and handed down judgement in favour of Jackson. Roger Friedman has commented on the borderline comical nature of how some of these witnesses seemed so eager to make profoundly graphic allegations during direct examination, but then totally fell apart under cross-questioning.
A phrase we heard a lot of from anti-Jackson pundits around the time these witnesses were testifying was ‘Well, they couldn’t all be lying!’ To paraphrase conservative talk radio host Matt Drudge (who, to his enormous credit, was one of few opinionists seeking truth, and not merely Michael’s head on a plate): Why couldn’t they all be lying? If you have five witnesses, and none of them pass a credibility test, the mere fact that there are five of them doesn’t make any one of them more credible. Listen, because of his wealth and his reputation as an eccentric, Michael Jackson is like flypaper for all manner of scum and schemers – as Tom Mesereau told Jay Leno: ‘He’s the biggest target in the world.’ Jackson, after all, is a man who has been sued 1,100 times. Just absorb that fact for a second before you move on to the next sentence. The real issue here is that the only witnesses DA Sneddon could find to back up assertions MJ molested boys were people who were found to have – borrowing my words from mjeol.com – ‘defrauded Jackson, stolen from him, and lied under oath in previous depositions’.
What a bummer it must have been for Sneddon and his crew, then, when three of the boys Tom judged had been abused by Michael showed up in court to strenuously deny they’d ever been touched improperly. Wade Robson, now a successful choreographer who has worked with the likes of Britney Spears, disputed absolutely Blanca Francia’s claim that he had taken a shower with Jackson. Brett Barnes said he was ‘very mad’ that prosecutors were pulling his name through the dirt: ‘I’m really, really not happy about it.’ Barnes travelled from Australia to testify in Jackson’s defence. Prosecutors had no means to attack the credibility of either of these twenty-something-year-old men. And then there was Macaulay Culkin, he of Home Alone fame, who called Sneddon’s assertions that MJ had molested him ‘absolutely ridiculous’. This led Senior Deputy DA Ron Zonen to suggest what Culkin was really saying was that he had never been molested while he was awake. Culkin’s response to the idea that he might have been fondled in his sleep was overflowing with the obvious: ‘I think I’d realise that something like that was happening to me.’ Macaulay described how, after Home Alone, his life changed: there were ‘photographers in the bushes and profiteers – people out to get you. It was something that just happened.’ In this climate, Michael Jackson was ‘just my friend’: ‘He never pressured me to do anything at all.’
Another thing that came out at this trial, is that it was not only boys who slept in Michael Jackson’s two-storey bedroom: young girls, mothers, fathers, whole families would fall asleep on his bed and in that room. Wade Robson’s older sister, Chantal, testified that she, like her brother, innocently slept in Michael’s bed plenty of times as a child. Joy Robson, Wade’s mother, recalled spending one day simply sitting on Michael’s bed, eating popcorn and watching cartoons with him and her son. The prosecution’s theory that MJ ‘isolates’ little boys from their families was proven preposterous in that courtroom. Michael Jackson has befriended many families, and when they have stayed at Neverland his room has been an open space for them. Sometimes he has held sleepovers, because his sense of fun is kindred to that of a child. But he has never done it without the children’s parents’ permission. Macaulay Culkin even testified that the sleepovers weren’t planned, and that he and others simply fell asleep in Michael’s room when they were tired. That certainly puts valuable context on the prosecution’s evidently disingenuous contention that MJ ‘sleeps with boys’.
Since 1993, Michael Joseph Jackson has been condemned as a paedophile. It was in that year that thirteen-year-old Jordan Chandler made his accusations against the pop star. Those allegations never made it to trial. They never even led to Jackson’s arrest. Then, as today, there was no actual evidence that Michael Jackson ever molested anyone, only the hysteria surrounding the shocking claims of a child. And I’m sick of hearing the juvenile argument that there’s ‘no smoke without fire’. I can go to the police tomorrow and tell them you have molested me, and they will be forced to investigate. What matters is whether or not there is any evidence. In 1993/94, law enforcement raided Neverland, they raided Michael’s parent’s house, they humiliated Michael by taking photographs of his penis. As Mary A. Fisher has written in GQ: two grand juries interviewed over two hundred individuals – including thirty children who were friends of MJ – and ‘not a single corroborating witness could be found’. And I’m sick of hearing also, the jaded and ignorant line that because MJ settled Chandler’s civil suit out of court, he ‘bought’ his way out of a criminal trial, and therefore he must be guilty of the accusations. Let’s be beautifully clear about this: settlement of the civil suit could not have prevented a criminal prosecution, had there been a shred of credible evidence against Jackson. Prosecutors themselves admitted recently that if they had this evidence, they could have forced Jordie Chandler to testify at a trial. But, like I said, there was no evidence Jackson had molested anyone. By contrast, there was plenty to suggest that, in Fisher’s words: ‘Jackson may have been the victim of a well-conceived plan to extract money from him.’ That plot is detailed in the book Redemption: The Truth Behind the Michael Jackson Child Molestation Allegations by Geraldine Hughes, who was the sole legal secretary to Jordie Chandler’s father’s attorney. Hughes, now a missionary and aspiring gospel singer-songwriter, experienced first-hand how Evan Chandler and his lawyer devised and put into action their scheme against MJ. Just one of many smoking guns from her book is a transcript of a phone conversation between Evan Chandler and Jordie’s stepfather, Dave Schwartz, secretly taped by the latter. Therein, among other things, Chandler states: ‘I had a good communication with Michael… There was no reason why he had to stop calling me… I am prepared to move against Michael Jackson. It’s already set. There are other people involved that are waiting for my phone call that are in certain positions. I’ve paid them to do it. Everything’s going to a certain plan that isn’t just mine. Once I make that phone call, this guy’ – his attorney, presumably – ‘is going to destroy everybody in sight in any devious, nasty, cruel way he can do it. And I’ve given him full authority to do that.’ So… that sounds like a father seeking justice for his abused son, right? When Schwartz asked how all this helped Jordie, Evan Chandler replied: ‘That’s irrelevant to me.’ But, you may ask, didn’t the boy back up his father’s story? According to Fisher, Jordie vigorously protested Jackson’s innocence in light of his father’s questions regarding possible molestation. Until, that is, one day in Evan Chandler’s Beverley Hills dental surgery, when – under dubious circumstances – the boy was given the controversial drug sodium Amytal. Fisher quotes psychiatrist Dr. Phillip Resnick, who says that individuals are ‘very suggestible’ under the drug: ‘It is quite possible to implant an idea [in a person’s mind] through the mere asking of a question… and studies have shown that even when you tell them the truth, they will swear on a stack of Bibles that it happened.’ Recently, Mesereau told students at a forum in Harvard that the prosecution had tried to get Jordie Chandler to testify in this, the Arvizo case, but he refused. Mesereau also said he had witnesses who were prepared to testify that Jordie told them the abuse never happened, and that he would never speak to his parents again after what they made him say. Jordie went to court and got legal emancipation from his parents, and his mother hasn’t talked to him in eleven years.
Michael Jackson should not have settled the Chandler case, his warrior/lawyer Tom Mesereau indicated in a statement outside the Santa Maria courthouse in September 2004: ‘Mr. Jackson has been repeatedly advised by those who stood to make fortunes in his business affairs to pay money, rather than face certain false allegations. As a result, many years ago, he did pay money, rather than litigate, two false allegations that he harmed children’ – the Francia accusations and the Chandler ones. ‘People who intended to earn millions of dollars from his record and music promotions did not want negative publicity from these lawsuits interfering with their profits.’ Remember, Michael Jackson was forced to cancel the concluding concerts of his Dangerous World Tour (which was breaking records to become the most successful concert tour of all time) because of Chandler’s lies. He spent time in a rehabilitation clinic due to an addiction to painkillers. This was a vulnerable man who wanted to progress with his extraordinary life and phenomenal career. As he himself declared in September ’04: ‘I reluctantly chose to settle the false claims only to end the terrible publicity and continue with my life and career.’ Michael Jackson has never admitted any wrongdoing, has always vehemently defended his innocence. As Mesereau continued that September day: ‘Michael Jackson now regrets making these payments… He was advised that while the sums of money appeared large, they were actually very small compared to the money he could make in his music. Mr. Jackson has earned well over one billion dollars in his career. Placed in this perspective, they were very small sums indeed.’ In the end, Evan Chandler got the cash he so desired. But: ‘Greed begets greed. Mr. Jackson now realises that the advice he received was wrong. He should have fought these actions to the bitter end and vindicated himself.’ The King of Pop indeed learned a powerful lesson after 1993: If you appease extortionists, others who wish to extort money from you will scuttle out of the woodwork. If you come after Michael Joseph Jackson – it should be war. Mesereau concluded: ‘The false charges he is [now] facing will be battled in a court of law within our justice system. He is innocent and will be vindicated.’
Between 1994 and 2004, DA Sneddon held what our Mes has referred to as an ‘open casting call’ for ‘victims’ of Michael Jackson to step forward. And who did come forward? No one, until the Arvizos concocted their yarn in 2003. At one point, the esteemed District Attorney even looked as far away as Australia for victims. He found none. Why is it that the only people who have accused Michael Jackson of child abuse are people whose credibility crumples with even a cursory glance at the facts? Could it be because the King of Pop never has, and never could, harm a child? And if MJ has such a pattern of molestation behind him, as prosecutors claimed at trial, why is it that so many children who have shared Jackson’s room and his bed have taken every opportunity to say nothing untoward took place? Not just Mac Culkin, Brett Barnes and Wade Robson, but others too, including Frank Tyson, who described Michael Jackson as ‘a father figure, a brother’ to him. Sleeping in Jackson’s quarters was as innocuous as ‘sleeping with your college roommate’, Frank told ABC News’s Primetime Live during the trial. He went on: ‘I’m going to tell you something… If Michael Jackson ever laid a finger on me I would not be in this chair [defending him]…’ Tyson, now twenty-four, was the son of an employee at a hotel where MJ stayed. The two became friends, and Tyson ended up working for Jackson. ‘[It’s] hard for me to see this’, he said. ‘To see how they’re trying to destroy him, I’m just not going to sit… in my home and watch this affect him.’ Incidentally, Tyson, who interacted with the young man regularly while he stayed at Neverland, reiterated the following point about Gavin Arvizo: ‘He was from the street, this kid… And he is not a shy little boy… He is tough… If anyone pushes him the wrong way… he is the first one, to push back…’ If Jackson actually tried to fondle him, Tyson continued, Gavin ‘would be the first one to knock Michael out and say, ‘To hell with this. I am not doing this’.’
How is it prosecutors managed to ignore the colossal heaps of exonerating evidence placed before them, and proceed with their case against MJ regardless? This trial has done little to dispose of the theory that Thomas Sneddon has harboured a vendetta against Jackson since the DA failed to nail the Gloved One in 1993. At the press conference in November 2003 where he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for MJ, Sneddon grinned gleefully and joked with reporters. ABC News later obtained documents which showed Sneddon had taken upon himself for this case tasks usually handled by police investigators or junior prosecutors. From ABC: ‘A startling fact raised within [one] memo was that Sneddon met the mother of the accuser on more than one occasion. They met in places like parking lots, behind buildings…’ As I wrote in a previous piece: ‘Well, that all sounds perfectly above board and un-conspiracy-like, doesn’t it?’ In addition, during the search of Neverland in November ’03, seventy officers were sent in, including twenty armed members of the FBI, though MJ was not charged with a federal crime. Now that, by any sane individual’s standards, is a tad excessive. This, after all, was an ongoing child molestation investigation, not a raid on the purported hideout of Osama bin Laden and half his al Qaeda henchmen. Welcome to celebrity justice. Subsequently, in an article headed ‘All the little voices deserve equal attention’, Santa Maria Times reporter Steve Corbett wrote about how Sneddon had declined to prosecute a former detective in the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department who faced child sex charges, despite the fact that the evidence in that case appeared significantly more solid than in the case against MJ. Bonnie Barker, who worked for Sneddon as a Senior Deputy District Attorney until 1999, has commented on Tom’s conduct in the Jackson case: ‘The Prosecutorial Code of Ethics (or something similarly named), says a prosecutor’s obligation is not to convict but to seek justice. All Tom wanted to do was convict.’ In an interview with mjjforum.com, Jonna M. Spilbor stated the following: ‘The worst crime in the world… is not child molestation, which is certainly terrible, it’s not murder, it’s not rape… The worst crime in the world is to knowingly convict an innocent person… Everything else pales in comparison. Even the worst crimes of the worst. I really see the case against Michael Jackson as one of those cases.’ If you wish to view Tom Sneddon as having a vendetta against the King of Pop, the evidence is undoubtedly present.
Of course, complicit in Sneddon’s trumped-up case against Jackson were the majority of the world’s media, who adopted – as some more balanced commentators have opined – a ‘guilty until proven guilty’ attitude towards MJ. Prior to the trial, New York Post writer Linda Strasi, speaking on Sky News, declared something like: ‘Without being libellous, he’s guilty’; and that pretty much typified the mood. How can anyone expect the public to have a fair view of Michael Jackson, when the mainstream press are simply shills for the prosecution? And then, in the United States, there is even this sickening phenomenon of ‘journalists’ who have basically made careers out of trashing MJ. And they seem to be mostly women, for some reason: the triumvirate of Diane Dimond, Nancy Grace, and Maureen Orth is often mentioned by fans. But there are others.
Before the first day of trial, we heard that Michael Jackson was going to flee America, to escape prosecution. Michael Jackson did not flee. Instead, he announced: ‘Lies run sprints, but the truth runs marathons. The truth will win this marathon in court.’ When the trial opened, Michael Jackson marched into the courthouse every day, waving and raising a victory fist to his assembled fans, flanked by his attorneys, each of whom believed unshakably in the fight to clear their client’s name. This defiant display passed over the media, and when Michael Jackson fell and hurt his back one day – and was forced to rush from hospital to court, still wearing his pyjama bottoms – they said he was afraid to face his accuser. Eventually, as the trial dragged on, the ordeal did begin to take its toll on the Gloved One – as it would on anybody: imagine having every organ of your private life dissected before billions, having shocking and cruel lies about your character perpetuated day after day, week after week, for four months in a court of law. And when they saw Michael’s fragile state, elements of the media engaged in some of the most disgusting schadenfreude I have ever been exposed to.
Throughout the trial, the cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses was scarcely reported. Yet each salacious allegation was tossed about as if it itself was proof of guilt. And virtually no tabloid banner was not misleading. The morning after Macauley Culkin testified, for example, the headlines in the British red-tops did not proclaim: ‘Culkin Devastates Prosecution Case’, or even ‘Culkin: ‘Michael Never Touched Me’’, but instead read something like: ‘Culkin: I Slept With Jacko’. The Stateside TV pundits were often even worse than the UK gutter press. Tom Mesereau, after the case concluded, denounced America’s famous Court TV as having essentially become an appendage of the prosecution. Speaking to Larry King and echoing the opinions of Mark Geragos (who, despite being replaced as MJ’s lead attorney, remained one of the singer’s strongest allies during the trial), Mesereau termed the way the US media have deteriorated in their coverage of certain trials ‘the theatre of the absurd’: ‘I think that we have developed an industry of would-be experts who are not professional, who are not experienced, who are very amateurish about their comments about what’s going on in courtrooms and who are willing to give opinions when they’re not even there… and I think it reached its lowest level in this case.’ And when the jurors in the MJ trial retired to consider their verdict, anti-Jackson pundits were still deluding themselves into thinking the DA had put on a strong case. ‘On Court TV’, writes Tim Rutten at theday.com, ‘those one-time prosecutors turned Valkyrie anchors, Nancy Grace and Kimberley Guilfoyle, unhesitatingly predicted conviction.’ According to Rutten, on CNN, defence attorney Robert Shapiro stated: ‘He’s going to be convicted’; Wendy Murphy told Fox News: ‘there is no question, we will see convictions here.’ The theday.com writer concludes: ‘Nobody who does not sit through every day of every witness’s testimony has an opinion about it worth hearing.’ And he quips: ‘people willing to predict a jury’s verdict are the sort who take stock tips from their barbers.’
I followed all this media coverage with a mixture of disdain and addiction. I forced myself to endure the often dreadful acting of Sky’s courtroom reconstructions. Every evening, I went on the Internet and copied and pasted all the relevant news articles I could find, till I had seven files containing over a thousand pages of information. In the time since November 2003, when those handcuffs were slotted around my idol’s wrists, I have snapped at parents and put up with the taunts of friends. But I never abandoned my absolute belief in Michael Jackson’s innocence. And yes, as every new prosecution witness spewed more lurid lies, a certain part of me did grow apprehensive. But my main attitude could be summed up in that famous phrase, made even more famous by a certain GW Bush: Bring it on!
Each day, as well, I watched the coverage of MJ’s fans gathered outside the courthouse. His staunchest fans certainly are an obsessive crowd. And a vocal crowd. I wouldn’t agree with everything they say and do. My love for Michael Jackson is more private than theirs. When they shout their slogans, when they scream at reporters, when they brandish their banners: that’s me inside. On verdict day, one Irishman told Sky News he was a supporter of Michael Jackson first, and a fan second. Me too. Yes, the music is wonderful. But it’s the man behind the music that’s the wonder. We are people whose lives have been changed for the better because of Michael Jackson. You can call that sad or pathetic however many times you desire, it won’t negate the fact.
On the evening of Monday June 13 2005, I was out playing tennis with my sister. When I returned, sweat-soaked, from our session, I switched on Sky News and learned that a jury of eight women and four men had reached its verdict on Michael Jackson. Sky was estimating an hour until the result was read. I sat on my bed, with the TV at the end of it, for what turned out to be over an hour and a half, while Sky News interviewed fans, and its anchors made vague commentary. I watched Tom Mesereau arrive at the court, I watched the aerial shots of Michael Jackson’s convoy of black SUVs leaving Neverland – and lining the road on the way out of the ranch: Neverland employees, their arms aloft, in support of their employer.
At the courthouse, the Michael Jackson that stepped out of his SUV was the mere dregs of a man. The nightmare of it all had exacted its price. He had lost weight he didn’t need to lose. The reports were that he wasn’t eating, was dehydrated, and that he was still suffering severe back pain. As he weakly walked, surrounded by his brothers, sisters, mother and father, to the courthouse doors, there was only the meekest of waves to his hollering fans. Then he disappeared inside. He had asked only for justice. This was to be his moment.
The journalists continued to jabber for a short while longer, until out of the blue a Sky News presenter said something like ‘Here we go’, and the nervousness inside me swelled to such intensity that I could barely see… Then, over the audio feed from the courtroom, the twang of the clerk’s voice became audible: ‘We the jury in the above entitled case find the defendant Not Guilty…’ And just like that the Conspiracy charge was gone. The fans’ stillness exploded into ecstatic cheers, and one woman set free a resplendent white dove.
Count Two – Lewd Act Upon a Minor Child: ‘We the jury in the above entitled case find the defendant Not Guilty…’ The scene among the fans, right down to the dove, was repeated.
Inside the courtroom, reports said, Thomas Mesereau gripped his client’s hand, as Michael Jackson was found Not Guilty of all fourteen counts – ten felony and four misdemeanour – against him. Susan Yu, Mesereau’s co-counsel, cried. Michael also had to dry his eyes, as did his mother, Katherine.
Thousands of miles away, in Kilmacanogue, Co. Wicklow, my own tears hid behind my eyes; I was afraid to let them fall, lest someone realise I had wept for a man I had never met. As the jury’s last judgement was handed down, the vulture that had been gnawing at my insides for nineteen months transformed into a swallow, and breezed beautifully away…
The last words of the trial were left to the man at its centre: ‘Thank you’, said Michael Jackson simply, as Judge Rodney S. Melville told him his bail was exonerated, and he was free to go. When the King of Pop emerged from that California courthouse, there was only the most elusive look of relief in his features. He put his hand on his heart, and blew kisses to those fans who had stayed so loyal; but this was a man shattered, and rebuilding himself would surely take more than vindication. As someone who had defended him and defended him and defended him, and had predicted all along this would be the outcome of his trial, I would have loved Michael Jackson to serve up a thundering victory speech, or do something spectacular, like when he stood atop his car at one pre-trial hearing, and danced. But the King of Pop, wisely, said nothing, and did nothing, except bow his head and climb into his vehicle. His response to the trial came nearly two weeks later, once the world’s media were feeding on some other story. It arrived via his official website, and was addressed to his fans: ‘Without God, my children, my family and you, my fans, I could not have made it through. Your love, your support, your loyalty made it all possible. You were there when I really needed you. I will never forget you. Your ever-present love held me, dried my tears, and carried me through. I will treasure your devotion and support forever. You are my inspiration. Love, Michael Jackson.’ One of my friends told me he thought MJ had lifted himself with astonishing dignity through the trial. I could hardly agree more. For his part, Tom Mesereau had less than ten words for the media as he returned to the Santa Maria courthouse after leaving Michael to his SUV: ‘Justice was done. The man’s innocent. He always was.’
So, if he is none of the things prosecutors tried to paint him as, what kind of man is the King of Pop? Tom Mesereau told Larry King he considers Michael Jackson ‘a friend’; ‘He’s very kind. He’s very gentle. He’s very cooperative. He’s a very, very honourable, decent person.’ In a statement, Susan Yu also spoke about getting to know MJ: ‘People don’t know who Michael Jackson is. I spent a lot of time with him. I’ve never seen anybody so vulnerable. This person is totally incapable of doing any of the things they said.’ Mesereau informed Jay Leno: ‘The Michael Jackson I know is… very sensitive, honest, down-to-earth… much more simple in his tastes than you probably think… loves people… he’s one of my favourite human beings.’ Another of Michael’s attorneys at this trial, Robert Sanger, who has represented the star for twelve years, told mjjforum.com: ‘Michael Jackson… is extremely well-read and conversant on topics and to depths that most people would not imagine… he has been grossly mischaracterized as a person.’ What I can’t grasp is why the media, the detractors, and the idiots who have maybe worked at Neverland for five minutes think they know MJ better than those who have been so close to him – from his family, to friends like Elizabeth Taylor, who once described Michael as ‘one of the finest human beings to hit this planet’. Karen Faye, Michael’s make-up artist, wrote in an article at mjjsource.com that she was ‘filled with rage’ during the trial: ‘my friend [went] slowly from a vibrant, creative, loving man, to a frail, broken hearted human being’. Then there are those who have worked intimately with MJ, like Mesereau, Yu, Sanger, or legendary music producer Quincy Jones, who calls Michael ‘part of my soul’. Not long after Living with Michael Jackson aired, another Gloved One special was shown on Fox in the States, and then on Sky One here. It was dubbed Michael Jackson’s Private Home Movies, and it featured assorted clips from MJ’s collection of camcorder tapes: footage of Michael interacting with his family and friends. These clips displayed for the world a childlike, yes, but also deeply intelligent and, indeed, funny man. Not funny in the sense of bizarre, but as in someone who says funny things. During one clip, Michael is in a car with his brothers, and they laugh when he suggests going to buy things from the Salvation Army. He warns not to disrespect the Salvation Army: ‘You gonna be hittin’ them soon when the depression hits you.’ At another point, he is explaining how he doesn’t like to tour, because, although it’s great to see his fans, ‘I go through hell touring’. Someone unseen then tells him he can’t say on camera that he doesn’t like touring. Michael accepts this, and says to the crew: ‘You know the truth.’ They go for a re-take, and MJ is effusive, gesturing with his hand: ‘I love to tour!’ Everybody erupts in laughter. Michael smiles: ‘Why’d you all start laughing?! I was ready to get into it…!’
And do you want to know about Michael’s kindness? He’s on record as the celebrity who has given the most to charity, and who supports the most charities. He has won awards for his contributions, including the African Ambassadors’ Spouses Association Humanitarian Award in 2004, for his help combating AIDS in Africa. Michael Jackson could have stopped there. Doling out money to worthy causes is, after all, the easiest thing an ultra-rich celebrity can do. But he didn’t. He has established several of his own charities, including the Heal the World Foundation, and visited children in hospitals all over the globe when, as Damien Noonan puts it in Michael Jackson: The Unauthorised Edition, ‘even his closest travelling companions admit exhaustion and take a rest’. And the King of Pop built his glorious home, Neverland Valley Ranch, complete with theme park and zoo, not simply to quench his own childlike sensibilities, but also to share with children who didn’t often get to share in such things. On a monthly basis, hundreds of kids came to Neverland to experience the rides, gaze in awe at the animals, or just watch movies in the specially designed cinema. Their lives were changed, they saw the magic of this reclusive man’s vision, when all most of the world could think was ‘What a fucking weirdo’.
Sometimes, though, it’s the tiny kindnesses, rather than the grand gestures, which tell the most about a man’s character. While he was facing into his trial, the greatest challenge of his life, when Thomas Mesereau’s sister died, Michael Jackson still found time to pen a poem for the funeral, and send it along with a massive bouquet of flowers. Mesereau informed Larry King one of his sister’s last messages to him was that she thought they were going to win their case. At trial, when one witness could not read something he had been presented with, as he did not have his spectacles, Michael Jackson offered this police officer – who was testifying against him – his own pair of reading glasses. After the trial, a private investigator who had helped the defence team said Michael Jackson was one of only three people to ever thank him for his work. ‘He doesn’t sound like a freak to me’, Scott Ross told Celebrity Justice, ‘he sounds like a decent human being.’ And one final piece of proof towards MJ’s startling humanity: Q. Allen Brocka, in an article called ‘A stranger in Neverland’, from the June 7 2005 edition of The Advocate, writes this: ‘Last month I filmed a young woman who approached Jackson’s SUV on his way home from court. She was struggling with cancer and afraid the accusation that Jackson had molested a 13-year-old cancer survivor might frighten Jackson from ever reaching out again. But Jackson held her hand tightly and gave her encouragement as she told him of her impending bone-marrow transplant.’
I’m troubled, often, by people who say Michael Jackson cannot be at once childlike and a genius, who say that a man cannot enjoy pornography and alcohol, and also cherish children and their innocence. Within each of us there is a universe of varied and vying thoughts, emotions, and tendencies. And within the most brilliant of us, surely those contradictions and complexities must be greater still. I have little doubt that Michael Jackson possesses some less pleasant sides to himself. Yet it’s not the dark murmurings in all our souls, or our human weaknesses and quirks, but what we bring to the world, what we offer to others, that marks who we really are.
Since the 1980s, when his success was at its highest, Michael Jackson has been labelled a freak, a weirdo… No man has been lied about in the tabloids more than this one. Much of the untruth telling, the blowing things out of proportion, the selective interpretation of facts, occurred purely because of our ever-present need to speculate on Celebrity; a lot of it came about because MJ seemed to prefer the company of children and animals to adults, because he guarded his privacy, because he fell short of what Tom Utley of the UK Telegraph has termed the ‘suburban English ideal of morality’.
Yet why is there surprise that Michael is different? Even if we set aside his terrific talents, he is peerless in his life’s experiences. He grew up in an impoverished town in Indiana, on a street, remarkably, called Jackson Street. Yet while other kids frolicked in the playground, Michael worked in the recording studio. He was on stage from the age of five, and a superstar from the age of eleven. Then, as now, three and a half decades later, he could not walk down any street without fear of being mobbed. In Living with Michael Jackson, he describes how when on tour as a boy, he would lie awake at night listening to the sounds of his brothers having sex with groupies in the same room as him. Those were the days of the Jackson 5, when Michael was beaten by a father seeking faultlessness from his sons; beaten so badly the mere sight of his dad would cause him to vomit. Yet even at such an early point in his career, Michael’s generosity was clear: ‘I’d give him his share of a night’s earnings’, his dad recalled once, ‘and the next day he’d buy ice cream or candy for all the kids in the neighbourhood.’ MJ’s professionalism was apparent from that early on as well: ‘Whatever it took to get the song done right, he was willing to go the distance’, producer Hal Davis remembers in Michael Jackson: The Unauthorised Edition. ‘And that was impressive, since he was still a little kid.’ This ethic of the constant bettering of one’s abilities and achievements has stuck with Michael all through his life. In an interview just before the trial, he told Fox News’s Geraldo Rivera that, for all the awards he has won, not a single trophy or gold disc is displayed in his house, because he doesn’t want to feel accomplished: ‘I don’t want my subconscious mind to think, I’ve done it all. ‘You are done now.’ There’s so much…’
Michael Jackson is often accused of exploiting his past in order to summon forth sympathy from others, when all he has done is speak and sing about it honestly. At an awards ceremony in 1993, he said he would not ‘change any part of my life’; ‘Today, when I create my music I feel like an instrument of Nature. I wonder what delight Nature must feel when we open our hearts and express our God-given talents – the sound of approval [rises] across the universe, and the whole world abounds in magic. Wonder fills our hearts, for we have glimpsed for an instant the playfulness of life. And that’s why I love children, and learn so much from being around them… The magic, the wonder, the mystery and the innocence of a child’s heart are the seeds of creativity that will heal the world. I really believe that.’ Michael has also spoken about how adults had often betrayed him, but a child had never let him down. Is it really so hard to believe, that a man who never had a conventional childhood, and who always yearned for one, might build his home as a shrine to childhood – and might find the company of children more enjoyable than that of adults, and might hold sleepovers and have water balloon fights in an attempt to get back what he lost? Is Michael’s wish to be twelve again really so different from the desire of any number of forty-somethings to be twenty-one again? Of course, MJ has three children of his own now. And he wrote on 2001’s Invincible album sleeve that his kids have given him ‘the greatest joy I have ever known…’ If you were to accept the assessment of the tabloids, these young ones are already so warped by Jackson’s parenting (such as this insane idea MJ has that his kids need to be protected from the prying media), that they will never become worthwhile individuals. I wouldn’t bet on Michael’s children growing up disturbed, however. MJ’s comedian friend Steve Harvey, during a radio interview, once gave Michael the considerable compliment of saying MJ’s kids didn’t behave ‘like little rich kids’. Geraldo Rivera revealed on his show on Fox News that when he was at Neverland, Michael had been mediating as the pop star’s offspring bickered over which TV station to watch: a dully ordinary parenting affair. Jonathon Margolis, who spent four months in the company of Jackson and his children, writes in a 2002 Mail on Sunday article that MJ’s kids are ‘among the best behaved, least spoilt and most balanced of children’. He describes Jackson as a loving, and disciplined yet fair, father, who does not permit his kids to overly indulge in their position of privilege: ‘At home in Neverland he rations their toys. They are not allowed to refer to toys as ‘mine’ when they have friends over and have been taught that the only reason to have money is to share its benefits with others.’ Margolis comes to the conclusion that Michael is determined his children ‘should have the most normal upbringing possible’. There is a gorgeous moment in Michael Jackson’s Private Home Movies, as well, when Michael’s daughter, Paris, is asked what she wants to be when she’s older, and she says: ‘I’m going to be like my daddy.’
But getting back on track… Another colossal reason why Michael became the object of so much spite through the years, was his changing appearance. Because he chose to have cosmetic surgery (driven to it, perhaps, by jeers of ‘big nose’ as a youngster, and virulent adolescent acne, as well as that unending struggle for perfection); and because his skin gradually lightened until he no longer looked like an African-American. Columnist and blogger Andrew Sullivan, in a recent Sunday Times piece, rolled out that corpse of an argument that MJ bleached his skin in order to make himself white. He called Jackson ‘a racist in the most profound sense’, because he is ‘a black man reincarnated through surgery as a white…’
No. Michael Jackson suffers from vitiligo, a skin-pigment-destroying disease. His dermatologist has admitted he diagnosed the singer with the illness sometime after the Thriller album went on the market. I don’t think I can improve upon what I wrote in a past article, so I’ll simply quote from that: ‘Oh sure… you could throw aside the truth that many MJ trademarks – the wide-brimmed hat, the long-sleeved shirt, the ubiquitous umbrella – are common among vitiligo sufferers, to protect them from the adverse effects of sunlight. You could also cast off as coincidence the reality that brown blotches can be clearly seen on Michael’s otherwise white skin in many photos, or scoff as Jackson continues to call himself a black man. But then you, my friend, and not I, would be the naive one… MJ’s having vitiligo, though, does not mean that he didn’t ‘whiten’ his face, or the rest of his body. Indeed, individuals with vitiligo often use depigmenting medicines, in order to even the tone of their splotchy skin. Much make-up wearing is also not unheard-of among vitiligo sufferers, in order to disguise the blemishes left by the illness.’ Anyone who says Michael Jackson whitened his skin so he could appear Caucasian is either ignorant of the facts, or too blinded by cynicism to accept them. A fellow sufferer of vitiligo, Pierre Bourgeault, once wrote in the Canadian newspaper Le Journal de Montreal (the original article was in French, the translation here comes from Laura Bless, mjfanclub.net): ‘It was dreadful for me. It’s even worse for Michael Jackson. In my situation white became white. He has white patches on black skin. Awful. Thoughts of suicide probably. Jackson tries all the remedies (there are none), tests all the therapies (none are successful). He goes for plastic surgery (that doesn’t change anything). He uses make-up and everyone laughs. He becomes whiter and whiter. And finally he is all white.’ Bourgeault finishes his moving piece: ‘I don’t need anything and I ask nothing of you. But… I would be grateful if you laughed a little less when you think of Michael Jackson.’
Michael has never stopped saying he’s proud of his black heritage. Not too long ago he told Steve Harvey live on air: ‘I’m proud to be black. I’m honoured to be black.’ MJ has never ceased supporting African-American organisations; he continues to work with African-Americans in everything he does. He was the first black artist to appear on MTV, where he basically invented the modern music video – and his music has crashed through racial barriers like that of no one else, mixing ‘white’ and ‘black’ styles as well as bringing people together in his audiences. Michael Jackson, racist? Don’t make me laugh.
You have only to look at the audience of the average MJ concert to observe how his entertainment transcends race. Michael’s gift of music to the world is not a cheap one – every day it makes living easier for millions. And it has taken its creator to unparalleled peaks: the biggest selling artist of all time, winner of the most awards, Thriller – the world’s best-selling album. His inspiration stems from and his influence extends into all musical genres. Tom Utley has written in the Telegraph: ‘To see [MJ] dance, and hear him sing, is one of the most exciting experiences that Western showbusiness has to offer.’ Witnessing Michael perform live in 1997 made up possibly the most electrifying two hours of my life. And still when I watch his DVDs at home, I am relieved of my sorrows. When his feet glide, when his fingers snap, when those arms lash out into the darkness, I fall in love with the world all over again. Thank you, Michael, for giving me such a perpetually uplifting gift.
So… what now for the major player in this drama that was billed as the Trial of the Century? Michael Jackson is recovering. But what about when he’s ready to return to work? He has fulfilled his contract with Sony, hence he is a free agent musically. There have been rumours of a world tour with his brothers, a new album… Some reports have suggested Michael has met with a documentary-maker about creating a programme to re-launch his career. The appetite for his music undeniably remains. Following the trial, a re-packaging by Sony of old MJ hits entitled The Essential Michael Jackson rocketed to Number Two in the UK charts, and sales of the King of Pop’s back catalogue increased multiple fold in record stores around the globe. There were even whisperings that he might have popped up at Live 8. But long-time supporter Sir Bob Geldof was not in favour: ‘Musically he is a genius; humanely, I believe he is innocent’, the Sunday Times quoted Bob as saying. ‘But he has been through a terrible time. He needs tranquillity, not to return under the spotlight in an event like this.’ One thing is assured, though: Michael Jackson will not disappear. True, he faces financial difficulties, as was maliciously brought out by prosecutors at trial, but his assets (including the Beatles catalogue and Neverland itself) are many, and his earning power – as indicated by the above – is not to be underestimated. Michael’s friend Uri Geller (who, by the way, once hypnotised Michael, and under hypnosis MJ assured Geller he had never molested anyone) writes in the Telegraph: ‘This comeback of his is going to be the most dramatic thing ever seen in showbiz, more seismic than Elvis Presley’s return from the US Army. In fact, the only thing that could beat this would be if Elvis came back from the dead.’ So there.
And what of the trial’s supporting cast? Thomas Mesereau is currently hailed as the top criminal defence attorney in the US. He is leaving his old firm to start a practice with Susan Yu. But he says the newfound fame won’t change him. He says he will still travel once a year to the Deep South to defend at his own expense a client facing execution. He says he will still volunteer at the free legal clinic at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Los Angeles, a clinic he helped found. ‘…I don’t want to be known as a celebrity lawyer, and I don’t want to be known as a Hollywood lawyer’, Mesereau told David Houston of the Daily Journal. ‘I want to be known as a civil rights lawyer who fights for justice.’
As for that other Tom, Mr. Sneddon, he is due to step aside as Santa Barbara County District Attorney in the not too distant future. Yet, there are storms of criticism stirring about the effort and resources he expended attempting to prove the unprovable. As Tom Mesereau told BBC Radio 5: ‘…Santa Barbara County basically went bankrupt trying to convict [Jackson].’ But, you know, I’m going to do what few fans would here, and give Sneddon the benefit of the doubt. I believe he genuinely thought he was pursuing a child molester, a criminal. This is a man who has nine kids, and wants to do pro bono work with children once he retires. He’s not the devil. But he was wrong about Michael Jackson. Profoundly wrong. He let his personal beliefs, and the ‘big fish’ factor, blur his judgement; and he used questionable tactics in going after his target. Those things are not what’s expected of a fighter for justice.
And what of Martin Bashir – you know, the guy whose deceptive documentary fuelled this runaway train? Well, he was threatened with charges of Contempt by Judge Melville, for refusing to answer Thomas Mesereau’s queries. He never ended up being punished. Still, one wonders what kind of individual would trust him as a journalist after what he has unveiled himself to be. To me he is one of the biggest villains in all of this.
Following closely behind Bashir are his Big Media pals. What was their response to the verdict? Sorry for their sins – and their massive errors in judgement? ‘The reaction…’ writes Tim Rutten at theday.com, ‘was rage liberally laced with contempt and the odd puzzled expression. Its targets were the jurors.’ ‘Not guilty by reason of celebrity’ was a line thrown around; ‘We need IQ tests for jurors’, said Wendy Murphy on Fox News, according to Rutten, as she termed Jackson ‘the Teflon molester’. A Newsweek article reported that the head of CNN, Jonathon Klein, told his deputies on verdict day: ‘We have a less interesting story now… What is there original to say about Michael Jackson at this point?’ Commenting on the response to the jury’s decision, Matt Drudge had this to say: ‘It was one of the darkest hours of modern media in my opinion. Just missed it, missed it, missed it… [Michael Jackson] was wronged. He was wronged. I don’t care what all those witches say over on Court TV.’ A minority among the media, of course, were actually happy with the MJ verdict. Fox’s Geraldo Rivera – who, before the trial, declared: ‘Michael Jackson did not molest this kid. Period.’ – had threatened to shave off his trademark moustache if the King of Pop was convicted. He was understandably pleased when his precious facial feature was saved from the chop!
This was, after all, an astonishing vindication of Michael Jackson. At the jury’s press conference after the verdict had been announced (one of the oddities of the US system), a young female juror appeared very sad as she told how she would never want her children to be taught to lie for their own gain, as the Arvizo kids apparently had been. Another juror said on CNN’s Larry King Live: ‘…we had a closet full of evidence. There was nothing in that closet that was able to convince any of us of the alleged crimes… He’s absolutely innocent of all these… accusations.’ True, in August 2005, a duo of jurors, both with book and movie deals before them, did the rounds on TV talk shows, claiming they thought MJ guilty of something. But a fellow deliberator, on MSNBC’s Abrams Report, described this position as ‘absurd’. One of the pair, Eleanor Cook, has trademarked a phrase she uttered at that aforementioned press conference (‘Don’t Click Your Fingers At Me, Lady’™), and plans to sell it on a line of t-shirts. Cook, along with her dissenting pal, Ray Hultman, seemed to support the (unanimous) verdict in the days subsequent to the trial; but two months later, she told MSNBC’s Rita Cosby she regrets voting Not Guilty, ‘But God has forgiven me’. You know, I think I might just vomit. Here is another example of individuals willing to exploit their association with Michael Jackson in order to advance their own egos or increase their own wealth. If Ms. Cook and Mr. Hultman feel MJ molested Gavin Arvizo, then they are entitled to that view (though it is in no way an opinion borne out by the balance of trial evidence). The manner in which to make their point, however, would have been voting to find the megastar Guilty. Cook says she only elected to acquit the singer because of the ‘atmosphere of hate’ among her fellow jurors (in another interview, on CNN, by the way, she said she was only writing a book in order to wax lyrical about the nice people she had met while serving on the panel), but if she or Ray had any true conviction, they would have held their ground. As Gannett News Service columnist DeWayne Wickham argues: ‘If the pressure in the jury room was too great for them to show that much backbone, they could have recanted their vote in open court when the judge asked if all the jurors agreed with the verdict.’ Still, the risible conduct of Cook and Hultman doesn’t alter the fact that a jury with no African-American faces on it, in a supposedly starkly conservative area of California, could not find evidence to convict the King of Pop of any of the fourteen counts in front of it. And one of Eleanor and Ray’s more consistent colleagues told the Santa Maria Times’s Quintin Cushner: ‘I wish Michael Jackson a speedy healing from this experience.’ Astonishing vindication, indeed.
But will the outcome of the trial actually alter the public-at-large’s perception of MJ? Regrettably, no. I accept that most people will never look beyond their prejudices. Certainly – as has been outlined above – the mainstream media were not instantly enlightened by the Not Guilty verdicts. But it’s hard to care about that anymore. To those of us who always believed, it’s still okay to believe. As John Karrys has opined in a piece at mjjsource.com: ‘Michael Jackson’s symphony of innocence is… a blaze of hope.’ Reacting to the victory, Pete Townsend of The Who posted this about Michael on his website: ‘My only experience of his dealings with children is that he has unselfishly helped every cause, and individual child, I have sent his way. In one case he hired a circus for the Down’s Syndrome children of a special school of the daughter of a friend of mine, and showed up to happily, and – yes – in childlike enthusiasm – watch the show with them. This little girl believed she was Michael’s future wife, and he so kindly allowed her to sit next to him, as his future bride. His feathers may be badly burned, and he may be damaged in other ways too, but he is something of an angel.’
Indeed he his. And I believe angels walk alongside us. They don’t have wings, and may not even be sent by any god. But they are here to make humanity better. No matter what is flung at him, and no matter how overwhelming his own loneliness (which he has spoken and sung about openly), Michael Jackson persists in giving of himself to this world. Because, for all life’s raging complexities, the pillars of human-to-human existence are simple: hope, faith, love – these are the gifts each human spirit can impart to another, and they are eternal and vital. Every day, Michael Jackson offers these gifts to so many. Through the entertainment he provides for us, and through his humanitarian efforts. He has changed our world; and his courtroom victory of June 13 2005 means he can continue to do so.
In that classic fable Peter Pan, JM Barrie gives us directions to Never-Neverland: second star to the right, and straight on till morning. Here was a paradise where you didn’t have to grow up; and Michael Jackson’s Neverland, too, was to be a place of perpetual childhood, where cares could be forgotten and dreams fulfilled. There is a Neverland in all our hearts; Michael Jackson knows this, and it will take more than the calumnies of prosecutors and perjurers to shatter his beautiful vision.
It’s been a long night for Michael Jackson. But he has found his morning.
Let the man dance on.