By LINDA DEUTSCH, AP Special Correspondent
1 minute ago
SANTA MARIA, Calif. - The jury in the Michael Jackson trial reached a verdict Monday in the child molestation and conspiracy case against the pop superstar.
Sheriff's deputies and court officials said the verdict was to be read after attorneys and Jackson reached the courthouse. The singer was told earlier that he would have about an hour to arrive from his Neverland ranch.
The jury, which listened to 14 weeks of testimony and arguments, deliberated over seven days before sending word of a verdict at about 12:30 p.m. PST.
Jackson, 46, was accused of molesting the then-13-year-old boy and plying him with wine at the pop star's Neverland ranch in 2003. Jackson had befriended the boy, a cancer survivor, and they appeared together when Jackson was interviewed for the documentary "Living With Michael Jackson."
In that now-notorious interview, conducted by British journalist Martin Bashir, Jackson acknowledged that he allowed children to sleep in his bed, but that the activity was nonsexual.
Amid the stir caused by the documentary, the accuser's family claimed that Jackson conspired to keep the family at Neverland in an attempt to get them to rebut material from the documentary. Prosecutors also said Jackson's associates plotted to spirit the family away to Brazil until the controversy blew over.
In December 2003, 10 months after the documentary aired, Jackson was charged with molestation and giving alcohol to a minor. Jackson pleaded not guilty.
The three-month trial was marked by lurid accusations of impropriety against Jackson by former Neverland employees, as well as the accuser's brother. But the prosecution often was undermined by witnesses who delivered unexpected testimony that appeared to favor the defense.
Deborah Rowe, Jackson's ex-wife and the mother of two of his three children, testified that Jackson was a wonderful parent, a generous person and a victim of "opportunistic vultures" in his inner circle who were trying to take advantage of his troubles for their own financial gain.
A sheriff's investigator later testified that Rowe had privately described Jackson as a "sociopath" and said they had a "plan" always to speak nicely about their relationship in public. But Rowe's testimony in court was seen as a setback for the prosecution.
On May 11, the actor Macaulay Culkin, who met and became friends with Jackson when Culkin was a child star in the 1990s, appeared in court and adamantly denied that Jackson had ever touched him inappropriately. Culkin dismissed the molestation charges against Jackson as "ridiculous."
Perhaps the most crucial testimony came from the accuser himself, who's now 15. A few of his details were missing or somewhat inconsistent, and he turned hostile under defense questioning. But his testimony was bolstered by a videotape showing him haltingly describe the allegations to detectives for the first time.
He said on the tape, as he did on the stand, that Jackson began fondling him one night in 2003 after saying he wanted to show him how to masturbate. The boy also told investigators that Jackson kept fondling him after he asked him to stop.
The boy did not tell the detectives something that he later said both Jackson and his grandmother told him: that men who don't masturbate sometimes commit rape.
The boy said on the tape that Jackson molested him no more than five times. In his testimony, he said he remembered two times, but that there may have been more. His brother testified that he saw Jackson fondling the boy twice.
In closing arguments, the lawyers portrayed both Jackson and the accuser's family in starkly different ways: The defense characterized Jackson as a victim of grifters trying to pull "the biggest con of their careers." The prosecution said it was "unmitigated rubbish" that the family could have made up the allegations.
Jackson did not testify, but the jury heard him on a videotape making such remarks as "I'm not a nut" and "I haven't been betrayed or deceived by children. Adults have let me down."
Jackson's health has been a hot topic throughout the trial. He has been plagued by back troubles since it began, and he was taken to the emergency room at Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital for treatment on June 5, and he returned for follow-up on June 8.
Prior to last week, Jackson's case was interrupted twice by hospital visits, once for treatment of flu symptoms. He first reported a back problem in early March, when he went to an emergency room on one of the days his accuser took the stand. Jackson arrived late, dressed in pajama bottoms, after the judge ordered him to come to court.
Regardless of the outcome, a big question about the trial would be its outcome on Jackson's career. Since he was first accused of molestation more than a decade ago, his record sales have plummeted, and he has performed in concert infrequently.
Many details about Jackson's finances remained sketchy during the proceedings. But forensic accountant John Duross O'Bryan testified that the singer had an "ongoing cash crisis" and was spending $20 million to $30 million more per year than he earned.
A balance sheet dated June 30, 2002, indicated Jackson had assets of $130 million and liabilities of $415 million, O'Bryan said.
The testimony included references to memos by Jackson financial managers warning that to balance the books and clear huge loans held by Bank of America Corp., he might have to sell his share of up to 50 percent of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which owns and administers copyrights to thousands of songs — including the words and music to 251 Beatles tunes.
Jackson's career spiral has been startling in light of his enormous popularity stretching back to the early 1970s, when he was a child superstar with his brothers in the Jackson 5. He made an easy transition to solo act in 1971 and had the smash hit album "Off the Wall" in 1979. His follow-up to that was the monumentally successful "Thriller," which went on to become one of the hottest-selling pop albums of all time.
While he couldn't repeat the success of "Thriller," his hit singles and videos remained a strong presence on the airwaves with the albums "Bad" (1987) and "Dangerous" (1991).
Then came the allegations, as well as other odd behavior, and his popularity slumped, except for a tight circle of hard-core fans. The "Number Ones" compilation album released in 2003 sold 903,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But his box set, "The Ultimate Collection," sold just 57,000 copies last year.