It was parents' night, and Anthony Johnson was supposed to be inside the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest Washington. But something more compelling was happening on his car radio: the Michael Jackson verdict.
Each of the 10 times the court clerk said "not guilty," Johnson, 53, of Capitol Heights, clenched his fists and jumped up and down.
"I really think that Michael Jackson is a victim of his own kindness," Johnson said. "He really needs to watch the kind of people that he hangs around with."
Across the Washington region yesterday, people reacted emotionally to Jackson's acquittal, reflecting on the pop star's popularity and, in many cases, their own fondness for the memories of Jackson as a little boy with a magical voice.
"I grew up listening to Michael Jackson. I used to have a poster of 'Off the Wall' in my room -- before he had all that work done," said Kent Barber, a flooring contractor from Jersey City who was in Alexandria on business and having a drink at Hops on Route 1.
"Just because he's strange doesn't make him guilty," Barber said before the verdict. "And for people like me who grew up idolizing him, part of their hearts might want him to just get a slap on the wrist, if anything." Minutes after the verdict, Barber said he wasn't surprised: "I knew he'd be found not guilty."
Bill Vaughan, 40, of Hughesville bought seven Michael Jackson albums and a DVD compilation of his videos yesterday at Roadhouse Oldies in Silver Spring. "I love this guy," Vaughan said. "I feel like he's part of my family. I support him 110 percent. He's my No. 1 entertainer. . . . All the time I thought he was innocent. I was happy to hear the verdict."
But in the small, crowded bar at King Street Blues in Old Town Alexandria, some customers reacted with muted shock.
Joseph Smith said he couldn't understand how, if Jackson were innocent, he didn't "change his behavior" after making a multimillion-dollar payout in a previous civil suit. "It makes you wonder," said Smith, who does contract work for the government and is from Columbus, Ohio. "He's a good artist, my kids love him. But -- common sense?" He rolled his eyes.
At the Red Star Tavern in Largo, Norma Ruffin saw something divine in the simulcast from California.
"Thank you, Lord!" the 29-year-old software engineer yelled after the not-guilty verdict on count seven. "This is awesome. I'm shocked," she said after count eight.
"I guess he didn't need Johnnie Cochran," she gushed after count nine.
"Oh my God," she said after the final count.
Across the bar from Ruffin, Bryan Wiggins, 40, shook his head, saying he had mixed feelings.
"I still think he's a little kid in a grown man's body," said Wiggins, who works for a technology company. "I still think some of his views are kind of off."
Even Ruffin, of Upper Marlboro, had some doubt.
"If he's not guilty, God bless him," she said. "If he is guilty, God will deal with him. . . . Americans love Michael Jackson, no matter what color you are."
One group of people smiled, perhaps predictably, when they heard the verdict: defense lawyers in D.C. Superior Court. Two levels beneath the street, word of the verdict passed from U.S. marshals in the courtroom to the arraignment room, where defense lawyers cheered.
"Michael Jackson was very lucky," said Lauckland A. Nicholas. "The state did not do the best job here . . . and the jury was a very good jury -- they were careful not to consider [Jackson's] past, which was the worst thing he had going for him."
Lawyer David Carr said the verdict was a tribute to the U.S. justice system.
The case showed that even a prosecution with "all the resources" couldn't convict someone when a jury "brought their intellect and not their emotions to the courtroom," Carr said.
For Barber, the Jersey City flooring contractor, the music still matters.
"I personally don't care," Barber said of the verdict. "But 'Thriller' is still the best album ever."
Staff writers Fulvio Cativo, Petula Dvorak, Hamil R. Harris and Nelson Hernandez contributed to this report.