In the end, the jurors said, it came down to four words: Beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution in Michael Jackson's molestation trial just never got there for them.
Meeting a phalanx of reporters from around the world yesterday, the 12 jurors and eight alternates spoke calmly -- and with some measure of relief -- now that they had ended Jackson's 31/2-month trial with acquittal on all charges. As has been the case since they were selected in late February, they were identified not by name but by number. Male and female, old and young, they agreed that they had collectively ignored the circuslike distractions outside the jury box and made the right call.
"I think we all just looked at the evidence and just agreed," said juror No. 5, a lively 79-year-old grandmother.
Several jurors were critical of the accuser's mother and appeared to have discounted her testimony as well as that of her 15-year-old son. But they stressed that they had been careful to examine every bit of evidence and follow the judge's instructions to the letter.
Nothing mattered beyond that, they said. Not Jackson's tarnished fame. Not the intermittent parade of celebrities who testified or sat in the courtroom on Jackson's behalf. Not Jackson's high-priced defense team. Not the massive media presence encamped outside the courthouse in Santa Maria, Calif., nor the fan hoopla that was evident to the jurors each morning as they filed into the jury box and each afternoon as they left in the wake of Jackson's SUV-led motorcade.
"I don't want to give the impression that this was a slam-dunk deal," said juror No. 1, an older man with white hair and brushy white mustache, who was identified in an interview with CNN last night as Raymond Hultman. "We challenged the issues and we came to the decision that pointed to reasonable doubt."
The jury largely reflected the demographics of northern Santa Barbara County. It was mostly white, and comprised eight women and four men ranging in age from 20 to 79. Eight of the jurors were parents.
All jurors who spoke attested to the cooperative spirit of the deliberations, which began on June 3 and continued for seven business days. Jurors raised their hands before addressing each other and courteously divided up the labor; one volunteered to be a recording secretary, while another took on the job of timing each day's deliberations. They were not sequestered, but they did bond. Said juror No. 7, a young man who wore a baseball cap to the news conference, "I made 19 new friends out of this."
Juror No. 10, a forty-something mother in business attire, did admit to some squeamishness over the testimony about Jackson's habit of inviting boys to sleep in his bed. "As a parent," she said, "you're protective of what happens to your children."
But she and other jurors seemed to blame Jackson's accuser, and the accuser's mother, as much as Jackson. "Speaking for myself and other jurors, we thought, 'What parent in her right mind would allow that to happen? Not just [sleeping with] Michael Jackson, but anyone?' "
The 15-year-old former cancer patient who accused Jackson "was brought up in an environment where he was taught to lie," said the foreman, identified in an interview with CNN last night as Paul Rodriguez. "It was really hard to believe anything he said."
Several said they came to the deliberations yesterday not expecting to reach a resolution. That wasn't because of deep divisions within the jury, they explained, but because of the accumulated evidence. Several had taken copious notes, with spiral-bound notebooks piling up at their feet as the trial went on. "I wrote to a point where I could hardly move my thumb," said juror No. 3, who added that the chronology of events laid out by the prosecution did not always add up. "The timeline was a concern."
What's more, they said, Judge Rodney S. Melville had given the jury 98 pages of instructions, which required their own careful consideration.
It took two ballots for them to reach unanimous agreement.
The jurors' remarks highlighted one of the most troubling aspects of the case brought by Santa Barbara County prosecutor Thomas Sneddon: Jackson's accuser, and his family, had credibility problems. Lead defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. was able to introduce evidence supporting his claim that the boy and his family were "con artists" seeking to fleece an international star.
The mother of the accuser appeared to make no friends with the jury with her histrionic performance on the stand early in the trial.
"I disliked it intensely when she snapped her fingers at us," commented juror No. 5, the grandmother. "I thought, 'Don't snap your fingers at me, lady!' "
Juror No. 2, the foreman, said that incident, and the accuser's mother's attempt to create some kind of cultural bond with him -- both are of Hispanic descent -- were upsetting, too. "She looked at me when she snapped her fingers and said, 'You know how our culture is.' And I said, 'No, that's not how our culture is.' "
Sarah Murray, a jury expert at Trial Behavior Consulting of San Francisco, said the mother's testimony and actions may have been the single most damaging factor to the prosecution's case.
"She did not respond like a typical mother would when hearing that her son was molested," she said. "She went and consulted a lawyer -- not the police, a psychologist or a counselor. . . . I think that in any criminal case, it's a high standard to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case there were major credibility issues. The defense benefits when there are dueling credibility issues because the prosecution has to meet a high burden of proof."
Asked by a reporter about Jackson's earlier "victims" -- meaning two young boys whose families settled molestation allegations in the early 1990s -- one of the jurors was quick to append a modifier to that description.
"Alleged" victims, she interjected.
Staff writer Dan Zak contributed to this report.