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Did Fame Play a Part in the Michael Jackson Verdict?
June 14, 2005

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

After 14 long weeks of trial and another week of deliberation that involved 98 pages of complex instructions, the jury in the Michael Jackson child molestation case acquitted the pop star on all counts.

Although it's likely that the jurors talked about what the appropriate behavior of adults toward children should be, they seemed to take an all-or-nothing approach in their decision.

Almost none of the legal pundits expected the result that came down, most having predicted that Jackson was going to be convicted on one or more of the lesser charges.

Judge Rodney Melville could still be involved in Jackson's life had the jury kept with a conviction on the relatively mild charge of serving alcohol to a minor. Then the judge could have had the option of placing conditions on Jackson's probation, like maybe telling him, "No more sleepovers with little kids."

In order to come up with the verdict that they did, the jury had to reject the testimony of the young accuser and view things in the light of the bizarre testimony of the accuser's mother.

Witnesses can be particularly harmful to a case if jurors don't like them. Two of the jurors were put off when the mother of the accused snapped her fingers at the jury. One juror said that she thought to herself, "Don't snap your fingers at me, lady."

Another juror again focused on the mother, questioning why the parent allowed her accuser son to stay with Jackson for such a long time. The juror suggested that no mother "in her right mind" would let her child just go off and sleep with someone.

But does the parent's sleepover decision, ill-advised as it may have been, have any bearing on whether the child was telling the truth in the courtroom?

I know analysts will say that the burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt) was not reached by the evidence presented by the prosecution.

But in a post-O.J, post-Robert Blake and now post-Michael Jackson era, it seems that the burden of proof sure is different for celebrities than it is for ordinary folks.

In addition to the defendant being an internationally famous guy, the jury heard testimony from other celebrities, like Jay Leno, Macaulay Culkin, George Lopez and Chris Tucker. And even Larry King made it to the waiting room.

Jurors also got to see Jackson's famous siblings up close, including Jermaine, Janet, Latoya and Randy.

Reporters and TV cameras from all over the globe congregated outside the courtroom each and every day of the trial and deliberation.

M.J.'s antics at key moments during the trial seemed to be PR-inspired, especially the well-timed trips to the hospital.

Could it be that the jurors themselves caught a bad case of celebrity fever?

Do we now have a two-tiered justice system, where fame gets you a "stay out of jail" card and maybe even a "don't even think about prosecuting me" pass?

A statement of the jury was read by the judge, which indicated that the jury felt "the weight of the world's eyes" upon them.

In my opinion, that weight was there because of the defendant's name and fame. It wouldn't have been a factor if the defendant were John or Jane Q. Public.

Reproduced with the permission of . All rights reserved

Copyright © 2005
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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