Don't compare MJ's trial to O.J.'s.

Don't compare MJ's trial to O.J.'s.

Don't compare MJ's trial to O.J.'s.

Arts, entertainment, and more.
June 14 2005 1:11 AM

The Circus That Wasn't

Why Michael Jackson's trial was nothing like O.J.'s.

Click here to view a slide show about Michael Jackson.

I'll take two Jesus Juices, please. Click image to expand.
I'll take two Jesus Juices, please
Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

Sitting on my couch, glued to Court TV as the verdict came down, I got a sudden, sharp pang of remorse that I couldn't be out there in Santa Maria—in the courthouse with my little MJ family. I imagined the kindly bailiffs patting down my ankles at the security checkpoint; my pals in the press corps gabbing as we take our seats; attorney Mesereau striding up the courtroom aisle, his white mane still feathered by the warm, central coast wind outside ...

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Poof! This entire, batty universe—a world I dipped in and out of over the past few months—is about to vanish without leaving a trace. The jurors and fans will head home; the press corps will sidle over to Phil Spector; the police barricades will go back in storage. And I never even got to say goodbye.

Well, we take our closure where we can get it. So, I'll offer you, from the comfort of my couch, one final take on the MJ trial. And here it is: Don't talk to me about O.J.

I don't want to hear a damn thing about Johnnie Cochran. * Or America letting celebrities off easy. Or crazy California juries. When this trial began, we geared up for a circus. That's not what we got.

This was by no means a silly verdict. The thing is, the prosecution just didn't prove much at all. It came down to "he said/ he said." With no physical evidence to show that this kid was molested, the jury had to assess his (and his family's) credibility. The jurors made their own decision on that, and—while there's room for disagreement—theirs is without doubt a reasonable conclusion. Remember: Unlike the O.J. jurors, they didn't need to ignore crime scene evidence, or buy some sort of frame-up theory, to let Michael off. They just had to doubt this kid.

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The jurors approached this whole thing with utmost seriousness. I watched them take copious notes, stay attentive during deathly boring testimony, and keep poker faces at all times. Again, this was not like the O.J. trial—where deliberations for a monthslong case lasted less than four hours. (Thinking about this now I still can't believe it actually happened. Did someone have theater tickets that night?)

This jury took a good, long time to think things over. In their press conference after the verdict, you could see how sincere they'd been in considering the evidence and arguing it thoroughly. (It was startling for me to hear the jurors' voices, after I'd stared at their mute, inexpressive mugs for days on end.) One juror seemed to imply that he was appalled by MJ's lifestyle, but that the proof in this case just wasn't there.

As for the verdict itself, there are plenty of reasons to accept it without a fuss. For one, it's possible that Michael is innocent, for real ... if only in this specific case. When I first went out to the trial, my sister said, "I'm completely certain that he's molested some children in the past—just maybe not this particular child." Given what we saw in the trial, my sis has a reasonable stance: Michael did bad stuff before, but this kid is faking it for the money. If that's in fact what the jury was thinking, they were bound to let MJ go.

There's also some chance that Michael has never molested any children at all. One could believe—and the defense argued precisely this—that Michael is at heart an emotionally stunted 10-year-old. He likes to have fun sleepovers with other 10-year-olds. Touching wee-wees during a sleepover would be icky!

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The defense hauled out three witnesses (including Macaulay Culkin) who said they'd slept with Michael when they were little boys but that absolutely nothing inappropriate happened. These witnesses were all credible on the stand. If you believe them, and believe that the kids who received cash settlements were lying (and that MJ made a big mistake in paying them off, thinking he was saving himself the hassle and attention of a trial), then you might believe that Michael is an innocent victim. It seems a tad outlandish, but stranger things have happened. Just look at Michael's nose.

Anyway, even if you despise Michael Jackson and think he's a monstrous pedophile, you can rest assured that this trial served your ends to a large extent, too. MJ is now totally broke. Whatever was left will go to his attorney Tom Mesereau (who was worth every penny). And Michael will live out his days as an O.J.-ish freak—free to go where he pleases, but loathed and shunned by the world.

Most important, every parent on Earth now has fair warning: Michael Jackson would like to sleep with your little boys. Should you let him, after all this, I really wouldn't mind seeing you put on trial.

Correction, June 14, 2005: The original version of this piece had Johnnie Cochran's name misspelled. (Return  to the corrected sentence.)