Michael Jackson's Date With Destiny

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The silence that accompanied the tearing noises as Judge Rodney Melville opened each of the ten manila envelopes that contained Michael Jackson's fate was remarkable, given the clamor that their contents would create throughout the civilized world. Almost 19 months to the day that Jackson's Neverland Valley Ranch was raided by Santa Barbara County authorities — and following 32 hours of jury deliberation on the heels of five months of trial — the fate of the eccentric pop star had been decided by a jury of his peers. Now, Jackson's family, and two well-matched legal teams led by prosecutor Tom Sneddon and defense attorney Tom Mesereau sat still, awaiting the reading of the documents by the clerk.

Earlier, Jackson had arrived outside with his typically a large entourage of family and bodyguards, to be welcomed by his legal team and a contingent of less than 100 fans chanting "Go defense! Go defense!" and "Innocent! Innocent!"

Inside, Sneddon and his prosecutors — including Gordon Auchincloss and Ron Zonen, the star of the team — entered with their own collection of supporters, including their research attorney Gerry Franklin. Despite rumors of an early celebration dinner the previous week at the Hitching Post in nearby Casmalia, Zonen's steely face in the courtroom awaiting the verdict at long last gave way to a hint of uncertainty.

Jackson family members, including mom Katherine, sister Latoya, brother Tito, father Joe and others, walked in before the accused himself arrived, wearing a black suit with white undershirt and a armband of red, black, and gold.

At least one member of the jury snuck a peak of Jackson upon entering the courtroom, but most remained stone-faced and looked straight ahead once seated.

Judge Melville entered, and held up the manila envelopes to confirm that the jury had reached verdicts on all 10 counts: one charge of criminal conspiracy to kidnap, extort, or falsely imprison; four for lewd act on a child under 14; four for giving alcohol to a minor to aid in those molestations; and one for attempted molestation. Then, in a slightly wavering voice, Judge Melville said, "I don't know what these verdicts are, but whatever that are, I will not tolerate any reactions. Whether it be unhappiness or jubilance, it will not be allowed."

After reading the contents of the envelopes, Melville handed them to the clerk who began to read them. As he did so, a few of the jurors began crying quietly, while some of the fans sobbed heavily — but not loudly enough to get the judge's ire. Even the court reporter seemed distraught at the reading of the verdicts, and Jackson could be seen wiping his mouth with a tissue.

As the 10 verdicts were read, members of the prosecution paled. After reading a statement from the jury about their thorough and meticulous study of the case, their belief in the justice system, and their intent to return to their normal lives, Melville offered his own philosophy about his belief in the American justice system. He even encouraged those jurors who felt so inclined to talk to the press: "The media may want to talk to you — May?! Did I say may?!" he joked, before encouraging them to either "go in peace or stay and talk." (All 12 jurors and the eight alternates would later take the invitation to talk to the press, although they maintained their anonymity by referring to themselves only by number as they expressed sadness about the case, and some explained that a strong sense among jurors of mistrust of the mother of one of Jackson's key accusers had helped sway the decision.) Then Melville rose, turned to the accused and said, "Mr. Jackson, your bail is exonerated and you're released."

Jackson, who was sporting a bit of hair growth on his increasingly frail and pale face, left through the front door, briefly waving to fans and driving away without much excitement. Above his fleeing cars were white doves and white balloons, flying away against a backdrop of sunny blue sky, a thin streak of a crescent moon, and the buzz of a far-off white helicopter, preparing to follow Jackson's entourage back toward Neverland.