At least he was spared the indignity of wearing an electronic belt designed to stun wearers if they try to flee. OJ was forced to wear one when he accompanied jurors on a field trip to the scene of his former wife’s murder. Michael Jackson did not need one: he never left the courtroom. His jurors’ tour of the Neverland ranch was conducted via video.
The video was provided by the Santa Barbara county sheriff’s department, which shot it on 18 November 2003, a crucial day in the life of Jackson. That was when police raided his home in search of evidence to substantiate the claims of Gavin Arvizo, then a 13-year-old lymphoma patient whom Jackson had befriended.
The headlines started to get lurid. “The boy yelled ‘Get the f*** away, Michael,” claimed the News of the World on 23 November 2003. The People’s “exclusive” on the same day revealed “My Jacko sex hell by boy, 13”.
The screaming headlines were only the start, of course. Over the past 15 months, the media has not so much reported on the Jackson case as dug us in the ribs and warned: “You’d better enjoy this while it lasts. There aren’t going to be too many more cases with these ingredients – über-celebrity, reckless extravagance, prodigious idiosyncrasies and deviant sexual activity involving children.”
How can we categorise the Jackson case? Like a cross between the OJ and Dreyfus cases? Or the product of a union between Fatty Arbuckle and Winona Ryder? There are no genuine precedents. A week into the trial and we’re still reminding ourselves that the accused is one of the most redoubtable musical talents of the past 40 years, and that he is accused of molesting a boy, as well as plying him with alcohol and conspiring to kidnap him and his family.
Jackson himself has been in show business virtually since he was old enough to walk, enough time to endear himself to us, earn our respect, suspicion, and then disdain. Where we used to stand back in awe at his talent, we now tut-tut at his alleged deception. We suspect he deceived us all: his fans, the 150 million or so of us who bought his albums, the 50 million who watched his Thriller video premiere, and the countless others who helped to establish Jackson as the leading musical artist of the late 20th century. But was it a deception? Or the opposite: chronic ingenuousness?
Even before 2003, his oddities had been known, though the combination of gossip, hearsay, tittle-tattle and half-truth, if anything, bolstered his reputation at a time when his record sales were in decline and his days as a singer numbered. The bizarre facial transfiguration alerted us to his idiosyncrasies, which allegedly included trying to buy the skeleton of John Merrick (the Elephant Man) and, reportedly, sleeping in an oxygen tent. “Weird” didn’t quite capture it.
Rumours of his unusual sexual predilections had been circulating since the late 1980s. But the kind of stories that have ruined the show-business careers of some artists seemed almost perversely to complement Jackson’s. In 1993, he was accused of child molestation and paid out an undisclosed sum – thought to be over $25m – to stop the lawsuit reaching court.