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Trial by Jury and What It Meant in the Michael Jackson Case

I'm Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

People are not always happy when called to serve on a jury. But jury duty is a responsibility for Americans. A jury decides the facts in a civil or criminal case.

Trials often last just a day or two. Yet every so often a case goes on and on, and brings reporters from around the world. That is what just happened in a courtroom in Santa Maria, California.

This week, twelve jurors found Michael Jackson not guilty of the charges against him. Now, many people wonder what the future holds for the singer listed in Guinness World Records for best-selling album ever.

His nineteen eighty-two album "Thriller" has sold more than fifty million copies worldwide. More recently, he has had a hard time again producing hit songs like "Beat It":


The case involved a young cancer survivor who was thirteen when he first met Michael Jackson. The ten charges said the singer gave the boy alcohol and sexually molested him at the Jackson home, the Neverland Ranch. The charges said he also plotted to hold the boy and his family at Neverland to get them to record a video defending the singer.

At the time, two years ago, Michael Jackson was facing public anger over a British television program. In it, the singer had said he shared his bed, innocently, with children.

Eight women and four men served on the jury. The jurors were between the ages of twenty and seventy-nine. Half said they were fans of Michael Jackson's music. Some of his supporters had protested that there were no black jurors.

The jurors heard fourteen weeks of evidence. Then they met for about thirty hours over seven days. Jurors are told to base their verdicts on the facts of the case, not their beliefs. A person is considered innocent until proven guilty.

The judge gave the jury ninety-eight pages of directions to follow. Jury instructions are traditionally full of legal language. This is so a higher court will not find anything wrong with them if the case is appealed. That is the reasoning, at least. But California and other states are developing clearer instructions.

Since it was a criminal trial, the case had to be proven "beyond a reasonable doubt" in the minds of the jury. Michael Jackson could have faced up to eighteen years in prison.

In comments to reporters, some jurors said they believed he may have been guilty with other boys in the past, but not in this case. Some said they did not trust the accuser's mother, who also gave evidence.

Jackson lawyers argued that the family brought the case for financial gain. In the nineteen nineties, the singer reportedly paid millions of dollars in two settlements with families of young boys.

The family of the accuser could still bring a civil action to ask for money. A jury in a civil case has to decide only by a majority of the evidence. Not all the jurors even have to agree.

IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. I'm Steve Ember.