After 13 weeks of testimony and two days of contentious closing arguments by prosecution and defense lawyers -- including the playing of videos by each side -- the Michael Jackson molestation case went to the jury Friday afternoon. The eight women and four men on the panel deliberated for two hours, then recessed until Monday morning.
Jackson, 46, is accused of molesting a 13-year-old cancer victim in 2003. He faces four counts of molestation, four counts of providing liquor to a minor for purposes of aiding in the molestation, one count of attempted molestation and one count of conspiracy to falsely imprison the alleged victim and his family. If convicted on all counts he faces as much as 20 years in prison.
After court adjourned, the gaggle of lawyers who gather at the courthouse every day -- within earshot of the protesters shouting, "Michael's innocent" -- to offer expert analysis to the media began speculating on the trial's outcome.
"Both sides did a very good job on closing arguments," said Craig Smith, a Santa Barbara College of Law professor and a former prosecutor in this court.
Smith predicted that Jackson would be convicted of molestation and acquitted on the conspiracy charge -- which is what many other observers predict.
Daniel Horowitz, an Oakland, Calif., defense attorney, disagreed. "I'm expecting not guilty on all counts," he said. But, he added, it may take awhile to come to that conclusion. "A certain number of jurors are going to be absolutely convinced that Michael is a molester -- and they'll have a hard time being convinced that reasonable doubt should apply."
"I think both sides could be right here," said Michael Cardoza, a San Francisco defense attorney and former prosecutor. "The prosecution might have proven that Michael Jackson is a pedophile. But did they prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt?"
If jurors believe the prosecution's evidence that Jackson molested boys in the 1990s, Cardoza speculated, they might find Jackson guilty even if they are unconvinced by the current accuser's testimony. "So we may very well have a conviction or a hung jury."
In court, Friday began the way Thursday ended -- with defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. jabbing away at the believability of Jackson's accuser and his family, whom Mesereau described with a repeated refrain of "con artists, actors and liars."
Using a courtroom screen, Mesereau pointed out alleged inconsistencies in the testimony of the accuser and his brother, who claimed he had witnessed the abuse. Mesereau said the accuser and his family concocted the charges to sue Jackson later.
"This is the biggest con of their careers," Mesereau told the jury. "They just need you to help them."
Mesereau also denounced the prosecutors: "Why did they bring this case against Michael Jackson? Because he's a mega-celebrity and they thought they could get away with it. The only hope they have is throwing dirt everywhere and hoping it sticks."
At the conclusion of his closing argument, Mesereau replayed a tape that the jury had already seen -- a 2003 interview with Jackson done by British journalist Martin Bashir for the controversial TV documentary about the pop star. In the tape, Jackson wears a fluffy green shirt and speaks in his unique soft voice -- he explains that he's a "tenor" -- about his love for animals, books and trees. He compared himself to Mother Teresa and Princess Diana and explained his fondness for children.
"They need love," he said. "They need to be held. They need to know that somebody cares."
When the video ended, Mesereau delivered his final line: "Under the law and the facts, you must return a verdict of not guilty on all counts. It's the only right one."
When prosecutor Ron Zonen stood up to deliver his rebuttal, Jackson's sisters -- pop stars Janet and LaToya -- got up and walked out of the courtroom. Later, Raymone Bain, Jackson's spokesman, explained why: "They don't like hearing these [bad] things about their brother."
In that case, it's good they left because Zonen immediately ripped into Jackson's admitted fondness for sleeping with boys. He cited testimony that Jackson shared his bed with one boy for a full year during the 1990s.
"In your whole lifetime, you never heard of another middle-aged man doing that with a child," Zonen said. "Are we supposed to believe he's nonsexual?"
Zonen added: "This man has never had adult companionship for that amount of time."
He asked jurors what they would do if a man in their neighborhood slept with boys, gave them alcohol and showed them pornography. Then he answered his own question: "You'd be on the phone with the police in a minute."
Like Mesereau, Zonen ended his summation with a videotape -- in this case, a seven-minute excerpt from a police video of the accuser reporting the alleged molestation in 2003. First shown to the jury last Friday, it shows the boy, dressed in shorts and sneakers, haltingly recounting how Jackson allegedly gave him alcohol, told him about the psychic benefits of masturbation, then reached into his pajamas and fondled him.
"You just witnessed the seven worst minutes of that boy's life," Zonen said when the video ended.
"Mr. Mesereau has told you that that child made all that up," Zonen said. "You will find when you deliberate that these accusations are not false. These accusations are entirely accurate and truthful."
Outside the courthouse, Anne Bremner, a Seattle defense attorney and former sex crimes prosecutor, said: "I thought Zonen's closing was brilliant -- a middle-aged man doesn't have sleepovers for 365 days. It showed the jury the reality -- that sleeping with a boy isn't innocent."
Bremner said the prosecution had turned the trial around in the last two weeks with the accuser's police video and Zonen's closing statement. "For most of the trial, I thought it would be a hung jury or an acquittal," she said, "but now I think there will be a conviction on molestation."
Smith, the Santa Barbara law professor, said: "If I was sitting on the prosecution side, I would have been squirming during Mesereau's closing. He went through the transcript with a fine-tooth comb and brought up every inconsistency in the accuser's testimony."
But Mesereau may have erred by replaying the Bashir interview with Jackson, Smith said. "It made the jurors uncomfortable because, let's face it, he's very strange. I don't think the jury will be accepting of it."
After Judge Rodney S. Melville sent the jury off with 98 pages of instructions, Jackson left the courthouse, accompanied by his family, his bodyguards and Dick Gregory, the comedian-activist-health food guru. Last night, according to Bain, Gregory told Jackson that he looked dehydrated. Jackson visited a local hospital emergency room during the night; it's unclear whether dehydration was the reason.
"When you drink carrot juice and celery juice, you don't gain weight," Bain said. "But Mr. Jackson is healthy. He is healthy and I want to assure you of that."
She said Jackson would spend the weekend at his Neverland ranch with family. "He's just going to be trying to relax. . . . This is the hardest part now -- the waiting."
Jackson fans and others air a variety of grievances as they wait for the singer to arrive at the Santa Barbara County courthouse for closing arguments.