The documentary “Leaving Neverland” has revived interest in Michael Jackson’s 2005 sexual molestation trial, and raised questions about how the jury could have possibly found the singer not guilty. The answer is simple: You had to be there.
I was there, for six months, covering the trial for The Associated Press. You can listen to a deep-dive into my trial memories on the latest “Shoot This Now” podcast, available on Apple or right here:
What did we see at the trial? We watched the prosecution’s case fall apart thanks to Jackson’s skilled legal team, and their efforts to discredit the family of Jackson’s accuser, Gavin Arvizo, who was 13 when he first accused Jackson.
It didn’t help that Wade Robson, one of the men who accuses Jackson of molesting him in “Leaving Neverland,” testified in 2005 that Jackson didn’t do it. (Robson explains in the documentary that he lied, in part, out of fear for Jackson’s life.)
But Robson’s testimony was one of many dramatic moments at the trial. Here are some key takeaways — ten bizarre details about the trial you didn’t know or have totally forgotten.
1. Michael Jackson once halted court proceedings so he could go to the bathroom. That isn’t, generally speaking, something that criminal defendants can do. We talk about my awkward men’s room exchange with Jackson at the 36-minute mark of the podcast.
2. After one court date, Jackson welcomed his fans to Neverland — which prosecutors said was the scene of the crime. To thank fans who came to the courtroom to support him, Jackson opened the gates of Neverland Ranch — the same ranch where he was accused of molesting Arvizo and holding his family against their will. Guests could wander the grounds, poke through Jackson’s collection of videos and mannequins, and play video games in his arcade — all under the watchful eye of the Nation of Islam. We talk about it at the 32-minute mark of the podcast.
3. The accuser’s mother was named Janet Jackson. Janet Arvizo’s marriage to U.S. Army Maj. Jay Jackson gave her the same name as Jackson’s sister.
4. She may have cost prosecutors their case. The defense made the case that she was a grifter with a history of using her children to try to extract cash from celebrities. She denied it, but wasn’t the best witness for herself or her children. She interrupted lawyers, gave rambling, confusing answers, and scolded jurors. One juror later said: “I disliked it intensely when she snapped her fingers at us.” She recalled thinking, “Don’t snap your fingers at me, lady.”
5. Prosecutors showed off Jackson’s porn collection to everyone in the courtroom — including his mom. They projected the covers of many magazines up onscreen for all to see, in order to argue that Jackson had shown porn to Gavin Arvizo and his younger brother, Star Arvizo, to “groom” them. It was a humiliating moment for Jackson, whose mother Katherine Jackson was among the people barraged with the magazine. But it may have backfired in two ways: First, Jackson’s collection of adult, heterosexual porn undercut the prosecution’s assertion that he preyed on underage boys. And second…
6. Jackson’s attorney, Tom Mesereau, got the accuser’s younger brother to contradict himself about an issue of “Barely Legal” — and whether Jackson had showed it to him at Neverland. Perhaps the biggest “Perry Mason” moment of the trial came when Mesereau walked Star Arvizo into a trap, getting him to testify that Jackson showed him a porn magazine Jackson couldn’t possibly have shown him. We read from the trial transcript of the testimony at the 30-minute mark of the podcast.
7. Gavin Arvizo wasn’t the only witness to accuse Jackson of molesting him. So did Jason Francia, the son of Jackson’s former maid, who broke down in tears as he testified that Jackson used to molest him during tickling sessions, and would give him $100 after each incident. Francia was asked on cross-examination if he had ever received money from Jackson.
“Other than the money he put down my pants?” he replied.
The defense tried to show he was unreliable because his mother had sought money from Jackson before. She reached an out-of-court settlement with Jackson for a reported $2 million in 1993.
8. Michael Jackson so despised the Santa Barbara County District Attorney, Tom Sneddon, that he wrote a song about him. Called “D.S.,” the song appeared on Jackson’s 1995 “HIStory” album, two years after Jackson paid roughly $20 million to the family of Jordy Chandler, a boy who accused him of molestation. Jackson renamed Sneddon “Dom Sneddon” in the song, one of the angrier numbers in Jackson’s repertoire. The chorus was “Dom Sneddon is a cold man,” repeated over and over. The verses include speculation that Sneddon was affiliated with the CIA and KKK.
9. Gary Coleman covered the trial. He was a reporter for All Comedy Radio’s news division. Michael Jackson’s sister, Janet Jackson, had a recurring role on Coleman’s long-running sitcom, “Diff’rent Strokes,” playing Charlene DuPrey. She dated Willis (Todd Bridges.) Coleman died in 2010, about a year after Jackson.
10. One of the prosecutors, Ron Zonen, later married a witness. Louise Palanker, a director, writer and producer, met Gavin Arvizo around 1999, when he was about nine years old, as part of a mentoring program for underprivileged children run by the Laugh Factory comedy club in Los Angeles. She told TheWrap she met Zonen after she was called to testify. They attended Gavin Arvizo’s wedding together in 2013.