Well, that must have been better than sweeping the Grammys: Michael Jackson, innocent on all counts. In the end, the erstwhile King of Pop showed he still has some moves, dominating prosecutor Tom Sneddon the way he used to dominate lesser rivals on the charts. I guess when you're the guy who made "Thriller," you get the benefit of the doubt.
And the remarkable thing is that it wasn't even close. By giving Jackson a clean sweep, the salt-of-the-earth jurors of Santa Maria, Calif., made clear their rejection of the prosecution's entire case. No conspiracy, no lewd acts, not even white wine disguised in soda cans and offered to pubescent boys as "Jesus juice."
Now, I guess, Jackson's life can get back to normal -- parties for kids at Neverland, footraces between the amusement park and the private zoo, the designation of one boy as Michael's special friend for a few weeks or a few months, and, of course, the sleepovers.
Sorry, Michael fans, but as you've probably gathered, the guy still creeps me out. I wouldn't let an adolescent son of mine spend the night in his bedroom, and I hope, perhaps vainly, that one salutary outcome of the trial is that other parents won't either.
In retrospect, the problem with the prosecution's case was that it was weak in the specific but strong in the general. At issue was the question of whether Jackson molested and corrupted with alcohol one young man and conspired to whisk his family off to forced exile in Brazil. But the family was, frankly, flaky in the extreme. Their history of telling the truth was spotty, to say the least.
That was why prosecutor Sneddon fought so hard to introduce the testimony of past alleged victims, and that testimony was, to my ears, devastating. It was hard to escape the conclusion that there was a troubling pattern of behavior here -- a middle-aged man inviting a succession of boys for sleepovers, showing them skin mags, finally paying them off with multimillion-dollar settlements when they threatened to file charges.
But there's no charge of "first-degree faux-juvenile dirty-old-man weirdness" in the California penal code, and the jury found reasonable doubt on the specific charges. Jackson was acquitted and may now don his single glove and walk or moonwalk to freedom.
If, indeed, you can call it freedom. From all accounts, Jackson is in something of a financial prison, spending $1 million a month on Neverland while his record sales languish. His valuable music catalogue assets are mortgaged to the hilt, and now he has defense lawyer Tom Mesereau's bills to pay. Not to mention the umbrella-holder guy who escorted him to court every day.
For a man who had just avoided a lengthy term in prison, he looked surprisingly grim leaving the courthouse. Maybe he was thinking of the civil suit his accuser's family will no doubt soon file, and he's smart enough to know there's a much lesser standard of proof in civil court. This case will continue to be expensive for him, one way or another.
But Michael Jackson is nothing if not resilient. I predict a comeback album and tour, coming soon to an arena near you.
I've written in the past that the spectacle of Jackson on trial was irredeemably sad, and that's still true. Just the other day, shopping in an international food market not far from my house that has an unusually high class of background music, I heard the old Jackson 5 hit "ABC" and was reminded again how preternaturally confident and polished Michael's singing was, how energetic, how fresh. He was the personification of youthful promise.
I've also written that whatever happened at Neverland, the parents of the young boys who shared Jackson's bed deserved a good measure of blame, and they still do. But why do I have the depressing feeling that there are other star-struck, emotionally and financially desperate families out there ready to take their place?
If so, has this trial accomplished anything? I think it has. At least we know that beneath the childlike exterior, there's a shrewd and calculating man. We know that the image of Jackson as an aging, asexual Peter Pan is a lie. We know that, surrounded by his paid acolytes and his paid "friends" and his grasping family, Michael Jackson is one lonely man.
He's not guilty on all charges. But I'll never look at him quite the same way again, and I suspect that you won't either.
The author will be available to answer questions at 2 p.m. today on www.washingtonpost.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.