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Michael Jackson Trial Verdict

Aired June 13, 2005 - 15:35   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: I am told that we have a verdict in the Michael Jackson case. As you know, the jury began deliberations along about June 3rd. There are eight women and four men who have been discussing since June 3rd the fate of Michael Jackson. As you know, this has been a very high-profile case, Michael Jackson charged on ten counts. Some of them serving alcohol to minors, others more serious, as in molesting a child.
So we want to go right to California now and our Ted Rowlands. Ted, how did you hear and how long do we expect before we know what the verdict was?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the judge said early on that he was going to allow one hour's time from the time that the jury announced that they had come to a verdict and to the time he wanted it read publicly. And the concern was from Judge Rodney Melville that he didn't want enough time for people out of the area to converge on Santa Maria. So presumably we have begun that one-hour countdown, if you will, until the public reading of this verdict.

It's going to take some time for the attorneys and for Michael Jackson to get here to the courthouse. His whereabouts is unknown and has been for the last day or so. He had fired his spokesperson on Friday, so we're not sure if he's coming from Neverland Ranch, which is about a 40-minute drive, or from some other location. But presumably he knows that this jury has made a decision as to his fate and presumably he is on his way back here to the courthouse.

Here at the courthouse, the word has gone out. The fans that were here erupted immediately. And you can see that there's a huge, now, presence, in terms of sheriff deputies and police. They have beefed up security considerably. One of the entrances has been sealed off as everybody waits for the jury to announce this decision.

We will hear it live. The judge has allowed an audio feed from the courtroom, so we will be able to hear the ten verdicts as they are read, count by count. Starting with count one, which is conspiracy, and then it will get into the molestation, and counts two, three, four, and five. Counts two and three will be very important. When we hear those, we'll have an indication of whether or not this jury believes the accuser and specifically the family. Because count two is the direct allegation from the accuser in this case, saying that he was molested by Michael Jackson. The other counts are an attempted molestation and the alcohol charges.

CROWLEY: Ted, let me take you back, first to the scene that you're looking at right now. Have supporters been out there all along? How many are there? What's been the atmospherics over today and even since the jury started deliberating?

ROWLANDS: Well, there was a bit of a lull today. This is day seven and I think people got into their routines, waiting for this jury to come to a decision. And I can tell you personally when the word came out the heart rate just skyrocketed. And you can see the frenzy of activity now. But for the last week-plus, we have been waiting and waiting and getting little tidbits here and there out of the jury room, but not a lot of information.

This jury had a lot to mull over with the ten separate counts, more than three months of testimony, more than 100 witnesses to dissect. And we do understand that in the end, they wanted to hear from the accuser. They had the accuser's transcript read back in part on Friday. And then there was more readbacks again today. They had a question of the judge today. Clearly, they were making their decision. And one could maybe assume that over the weekend, some of these jurors came to grips with which way they were going to be going.

CROWLEY: Ted, for those of us who haven't watched it as closely as you have, does this end up a he said, he said sort of case or was there direct evidence? What kind of case was presented by the prosecution?

ROWLANDS: Well, clearly, it's a he said, he said, which is common in a molestation trial. What is very stark are the differences. The differences here are two separate stories. Now I'm being told that verdict will be read at 1:30 Pacific time. That is what the court has indicated, that at 1:30 Pacific time, this verdict will be read.

This case is unique because the prosecution has alleged that Michael Jackson is a monster, a child molester that used Neverland Ranch to lure his prey in. And then he developed his prey, if you will, and then abused them. They used accusations from back in '93 and '94 and talked about Michael Jackson and presented potential evidence of Michael Jackson fitting that characterization.

On the other side, Thomas Mesereau, the defense lawyer, presented a Michael Jackson as a victim, saying that this family, this accuser, this young boy, was trying to shake down this international superstar. And they used examples of this family's history. They really did, on the defense case, put this family on trial. This family was involved in another lawsuit against JCPenney years ago, where the defense alleged, they lied in a similar fashion.

So it's up to this jury. And this jury has mulled this over now. Which of these two drastically different stories do you believe? There's not a lot of wiggle room here at all for this jury. Either you believe this young lad or you don't. And you think that Michael Jackson is either guilty or a victim himself.

CROWLEY: Ted, it's been a little while since I have covered a court case, but I do remember that in the days between the end of the trial and the verdict, there was also always a lot of quarterbacking in the hallways, by the lawyers. Sometimes by the lawyers themselves. Was there a sense of who did better in this -- was it the prosecution -- the prosecuting of this case, or the defense?

ROWLANDS: Well, I tell you, there's 2, 000-plus members of the media covering this. Everything that said in court has been analyzed ad nauseum. And I would say that most people believe that the prosecution and the defense put on wonderful cases, using the evidence available. There's not a lot of evidence of the child molestation case. It's either -- it's the child's word against the adult's word.

That said, the level of prosecution, and the level that Thomas Messereau had on the defense side was incredible. And it really did make for the three months to go a little bit quicker for courtroom watchers and those of us in the courtroom. And I think that, by and large, people agree that this is a tough one.

People walked out scratching their head. It could go either way. Usually you have a sense. Usually you think, "oh, I'll be he'll be guilty," or, "I'll bet he's not guilty," and it's a surprise verdict. Either way, I think this could go not guilty or guilty on any one of these ten counts.

CROWLEY: Ted, we want to remind our viewers of what you have just said, which is that we expect to hear what the verdict is 1:30 your time out on the west coast. That's 4:30 on the east coast. Let me move you along, and ask you about what is Michael Jackson facing here? What are the punishments, in terms of these counts he is up against?

ROWLANDS: Well, he has the first count -- we'll just go one through ten -- the first count is a conspiracy charge, and the allegation here is that he and some co-conspirators tried to keep this family at bay after the Martin Bashir documentary was played. And the reason was because they were considered a public relations nightmare. A difficult charge to prove in this case because there was not a lot of evidence.

The conventional wisdom by the people covering the trial, and attorneys that are covering it, is that this is the toughest one for the prosecution, and it my go Jackson's way more so than the other ones. Then you get into four counts of molestation. Two of them were from the witness himself; the alleged victim, himself.

The accuser got up and detailed two separate molestation acts at the hands of Michael Jackson. The other two are eyewitness accounts from the accuser's brother, his younger brother who had problems on the stand in terms of contradicting himself. And whether or not this jury believes, especially the brother, will be interesting to see.

Then you have four alcohol charges which alleged that Michael Jackson used alcohol to furtherance his crime. To use alcohol to basically ply these young boys -- or this one alleged victim -- into a state of intoxication so that his job would be easier, if you will, to molest him.

That is what's alleged here. Jurors have the option on the alcohol charges to say, "We don't think it was used in a molestation scenario, but we think he gave him alcohol," and that would misdemeanor.

So, if they don't believe that Jackson is guilty of the molestation, they could still find him guilty of the alcohol. There is one other molestation charge on the table and is an attempted molestation. And that was alleged by the accuser as well. There's a gamut in terms of which way this jury could go. They could come through with a split verdict: guilty on some charges and not on others.

The bottom line for Michael Jackson, if he's found guilty of any of the sexual molestation charges, he will most likely be taken into custody immediately. His bail will be taken away, and he will go to the Santa Barbara county jail until sentencing.

There's 20 days that are allowed; a dependent has a right to 20 days before they are sentenced. Usually they wave that time, but he will not walk out of this courthouse when those black SUVs pull up here -- presumably they do. It may be the last time for Michael Jackson to be a free man depending on which way this jury goes.

CROWLEY: Ted Rowlands, who has been watching this for us throughout the trial. Ted, stand by a minute. We want to go on the phone now, we have our CNN legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin with us. Jeffrey this has got to be the time when the defense attorney's stomach is churning.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Everybody's stomach is churning, but especially the defendant. You know, there's an old line about a defendant and his client, where a defendant gets convicted and he says, "What do we do now," and the lawyer says, "What do you mean we?"

This is really Michael Jackson whose life is potentially in -- really in jeopardy. And, you know, the decision is made, and we just need to hear what it is.

CROWLEY: You know, a lot has been made -- we talked about the circus that's been surrounding this trial, but from what you've been able to see inside the courtroom, is that circus atmosphere been largely absent? has this been tried pretty much like any other case?

TOOBIN: Well, I don't think a trial where Jay Leno and Chris Tucker testifies is like any other case, but I do think the circus charge has been somewhat overstated. Judge Melville, I think, has kept a tight reign on the proceedings. Many people thought this trial would last six months, it didn't. It lasted less than four of courtroom time.

So, I think it was an orderly and fair trial. And outside, at the beginning of the trial, there was -- there were a lot of people and right now in Santa Maria, there are a lot of people. But during the trial, many days there were hardly any spectators at all. So, I think you can get a -- somewhat of a misimpression of the circus if you only focus on the most extreme elements of that charge.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about: He said, He said trials. In the case where there is no direct evidence, is there a way that a jury tends to go? has there been any sort of look at these kind of trials where the jury is more sympathetic toward the victim? or more sympathetic toward the defendant? or is it impossible to categorize?

TOOBIN: Well, the key factor in cases where there is essentially a swearing contest, people -- you know, one person's word against the other is corroboration. You know, does one side -- can they corroborate the story? And that's why the key, key part of this trial, I think, was the so-called 1108 evidence.

The California provision of evidence -- of law of evidence, which allowed the prosecution to bring in evidence of four other -- or five other boys who claimed they were molested. That was enormously important, and if Michael Jackson is convicted, that's going to be the reason.

CROWLEY: Let me bring in another legal analyst we have on the phone with us, Kendall Coffey. Kendall, when you look at this trial: 14 weeks of testimony and arguments, seven days of jury deliberations -- put me in the place of both the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney right about now. What are they doing?

KENDALL COFFEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, nervous as can be. I think the prosecution is probably cautiously optimistic that they are going to get some convictions on at least some of the major counts. I say that because, while it was a seven-day deliberation, given the kind of case it is, the number of counts, the complexity of the conspiracy count, as well as the various jury instructions on that, I can see prosecutors feeling pretty good about the prospect that this was a jury that was very, very careful, that worked its way through the evidence. And apparently, the recent read-backs that this jury was asking for were of the alleged victim himself.

And at the end of the day, this case is not about Jay Leno, Chris Tucker or even the accused victim's mom. It's about the believability of the alleged victim. If they believe the accuser, they are to convict the alleged abuser. And that may be what the prosecution is thinking right now.

CROWLEY: Let me put the same question to you, that I asked Jeffrey Toobin a minute ago and that is: In cases where there is a -- two swearing different things, do juries tend to feel more empathetic toward a victim? does that hold sway in the deliberations?

COFFEY: I think victims have an edge because you get right down to it, there's not necessarily an obvious reason for them to lie. There is always a reason for defendants to deny -- to deny. A little different here because the defense today -- very skillful job of portraying the alleged accuser, in particular the mom and the family, as basically scramming and scheming with a massive con trying to hit the jackpot for millions of dollars.

But when it's all said and done, I think that, right now, the Jackson camp's got to be even more nervous than the prosecution. Again, I think it's going to come down to the alleged victim, who seemed to be, in sort of the close of this trial, somebody that the jury was starting to believe.

CROWLEY: So, at this point If I were to ask you who you thought tried the better case, it sounds to me like you think the prosecution did a better a job of laying out it's case.

COFFEY: I think the defense did an incredible job, in terms of everything they were dealing with. And I think the prosecution made a lot of mistakes along the way. But so many times it comes to a strong close and I thought the prosecution's closing, both in terms of the oral argument to the jury, and some of things they focused on right at the very end were extremely, extremely affective.

And the one thing the defense didn't do, is really explain Michael Jackson in Neverland. He seems incredibly strange, incredibly weird and the prosecution had an explanation for that, that he's a Pied Piper leading young boys into a predator's lair. What the defense didn't really do, perhaps as much as they could've, would've, should've done, is explain why this was an innocent Peter Pan, portraying childhood fantasies. I don't think the jury necessarily got comfortable with Michael Jackson and it becomes much easier, if that's the case, to believe the prosecution's explanation for this very, very unusual person and this bizarre setup at Neverland.

CROWLEY: It's pretty obvious that there is -- if there is a finding of not guilty that Michael Jackson walks free and that's the end of that. Walk me through what legal remedies are still open to a defendant should there be any kind of guilty verdict on any of these ten counts.

COFFEY: Well, the first issue is going to be whether he's immediately remanded. That means straight to jail, as opposed to being at liberty while the judge deals his sentencing and even while, perhaps, the Jackson defense team pursues an appeal. That's a very large issue, and I think the judge is going to listen closely to the prosecution's position on that, if they very heavily insist that Jackson be immediately remanded, making the argument that that's normally what is done with convicted child molesters.

By the way, Jackson is an international figure with international access and Roman Polanski, as we all recall, another alleged child abuser, has been in Paris lo these many years. So, I think if the prosecution makes a strong enough push that Jackson could very well be remanded if convicted of some of the serious charges.

Beyond that, there's going to be motions for a new trial. If the defense loses, there's certainly going to be huge issues at sentencing. The way California law works, if Jackson were convicted of multiple charges -- again, nobody has any idea what this jury's going to do at this point -- but if he were convicted of multiple charges, the judge has what lot to say about whether particular sentences run consecutively which means more time is added on for each sentence, or whether they run concurrently which means during the same period he is effectively serving one sentence, he will simultaneously be serving other sentences, obviously a huge difference in terms of the ultimate amount of prison exposure and something which the judge has a lot of discretion to decide. CROWLEY: We want to remind our viewers, first of all, you have been partaking of the wisdom of Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. attorney, a legal analyst.

Kendall, though, let me ask you to stand by just a second because I want to go to CNN's Brooke Anderson who is standing outside Neverland. We know that Michael Jackson was given an hour after the time that the jury announced it had a verdict to go from wherever he was, to the court house.

Let me ask you, Brooke, is there any sign that Michael Jackson is indeed at Neverland?

BROOKE ANDERSON, NEVERLAND CORRESPONDENT: Candi, that's a great question, and we have been monitoring the gates at here at Neverland, the front gate. We have seen no comings and goings of his motorcade this morning. We have been told all along that Jackson is waiting here for the verdict with his friends and family but we were told that by his former spokeswoman Raymone Bain, and she was fired over the weekend. So, it's been difficult to get information.

It has been between 15, 20 minutes since it was announced the verdict has come down. Like you said, the judge has given him one hour to get to the courthouse, the courthouse in Santa Maria, about 30 miles away. That's about a 30 to 40-minute drive, so we do expect, if he is here, he does need to be leaving pretty soon.

Candi, if he leaves, it could be a really long time if he ever comes back to Neverland. If he does come back to Neverland, if he's sentenced on any of the charges, the punishment could vary widely from probation to 18 years and 8 months in prison. The judge could remand him immediately into custody if he assumes he is a flight risk or a danger to the community.

But, again, we don't know if he is here for certain, and then, if he is and he goes to the courthouse -- if he's acquitted, he could be back later on this afternoon.

CROWLEY: So, what sort of activity have you seen throughout the day? I'm not even sure how long you've been out there, if you've been out there ever day since the trial started. Has he been coming in and out over the past week while the jury has been deliberating?

ANDERSON: I have been here since during the closing arguments so a week-and-a-half or so, and he has been back and forth, especially during the closing arguments. We would see, when his convoy would arrive, he would roll down the window and wave to fans as he came in and out, but during jury deliberations, when the motorcade would leave and when it would come back, the windows were rolled up, very tinted. We could not see in -- in the windows.

Activity as far as fans -- a handful of fans here now behind me. As the days progresses, as we've seen, more and more fans would come here after the jury would go home from deliberations, but I believe the activity with the fans is at the courthouse right now as they await for Jackson's arrival from wherever he is. It could be here, it could not be.

CROWLEY: Brooke Anderson, who is standing outside Neverland, home of Michael Jackson. I am sure you will stand by since you have been there for a week-and-a-half. I want to go back to the courthouse now where we have CNN's Ted Rowlands.

Ted, have you seen any of the principals coming into the courtroom? What's changed since last we talked?

ROWLANDS: Just a few minutes ago. I saw Mag Nicola, the assistant district attorney, arrive in his vehicle. They had to part the waves of crowds to allow him to come in and get inside the courthouse.

Presumably Tom Snedden, the district attorney here, is already inside along with the other district attorneys, because they have had some conferences. In fact, there was one today, this morning, with both sides, So only one new face if you will in the last few minutes.

The crowd seems to be not at its highest level but definitely at one of its highest frenzied levels if you will. There's obvious -- a lot of anticipation here and a sense of nervousness as well outside the courthouse to see what happens here. After waiting and waiting, the time is fast approaching where these Michael Jackson supporters will see whether or not their idol is going to be found guilty or not guilty.

The media is penned up. The folks that will be going into the courtroom off to the right here -- you won't be able to see it -- but they will be going in, in the next few minutes, all trying to get a good seat so that they can document this and document the reaction of all of the players as the verdicts are read.

CROWLEY: Ted, let me ask about some of those people that we're seeing. Is this essentially the same crowd that comes every day? Who are these people?

ROWLANDS: There are a core group that -- in fact, one individual left his home in Tennessee and has been here every day since Michael Jackson made his first court appearance -- but the bulk of the folks are coming on vacation. They're coming from all over the world. People will spend a week here, maybe a few days here, or maybe a few hours here. People are just sort of stopping by to get a glimpse of it and then there are the hardcore base groups of the Michael Jackson supporters, the locals that have been here with regularity and then the folks that do spend considerable time here and have made multiple trips.

Clearly, 95 percent of the people outside this courthouse on any given day are pro-Michael Jackson supporters. They bring signs. They chant. They can't wait for him to get out of his black SUV. They go crazy and he always turned and waves to them, one quick acknowledgment, and that seems to be enough for them. They're fenced off. They're barricaded off and today there is a line of police officers that will between them and the courthouse when this is read. CROWLEY: And Ted, let me remind our viewers, that you have told us you expect the verdict to be given roughly half hour from knew, 1:30 your time, 4:30 on the east coast. So, we are waiting for that in roughly a half hour, let's recap again -- can you walk me through the ten counts that are against Michael Jackson at this point.

ROWLANDS: Well, assuming the court is on schedule, and the don't allow for any sort of delay, at 1:30 Pacific Time there would be an audio feed we will be able to hear outside the courtroom and broadcast. The judge allowed for this audio feed. We will hear the court clerk, Lorna Frye detail each and every count. She'll go, starting with count one, which is conspiracy. She's say, we the members of the jury find that Michael Jackson is guilty or not guilty of conspiracy and then she the go on.

If he is found not guilty, that will be it. If he's found guilty of conspiracy, she will then detail whether or not he's guilt toy of child abduction, false imprisonment or extortion as an arm of that conspiracy charge.

Next up will be count two. And this really will tell us whether or not this jury believes the defense or if they believe this young man who has accused Michael Jackson of molestation, counts two, three, four, and five are all counts of lewd acts on a child. Two of the counts, counts II and III are alleged by the accuser. Counter Three and four are alleged by the accuser's Brother. He says he saw Michael Jackson with his hand touching his brother one late evening while his brother was sleeping. That accounts for three and four.

Count five is an attempted commitment of a lewd act on a child, and then counts, six, seven, eight, and nine have to do with alcohol. They are administering alcohol as an agent to further the lewd acts. Jurors have a choice with the alcohol charges: they could either friend Michael Jackson not guilty on all counts, or they could find him no-guilty of using alcohol to commit molestation but guilty of providing alcohol to someone who is underage. That is a misdemeanor, and many people think that if this jury finds him not guilty across the board, they may find him guilty of providing alcohol to minors. The sentence there is a year in county jail. The prospect -- the chance that the judge would remand him to custody on just that would be very slim. He would most likely be able to go free on bail until he is sentenced. There's a wide range, in terms of what this jury could do and what this judge could do when it comes time for sentencing.

CROWLEY: Ted Rowlands, I know you will stand by for us. Kendall Coffey, legal analyst, also standing by. And, of course, our Jeffrey Toobin, our CNN political analyst.

And what we want to do is continue with CNN's live coverage. That verdict in about half an hour. Our coverage continues right now with Wolf Blitzer.



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