It's been virtually impossible to avoid the news about the verdict in the Michael Jackson sexual molestation trial. I didn't follow the actual trial very closely -- Michael Jackson repulses me, even in his "normal" behavior -- but the ongoing trial news, too, was hard to avoid.
But seeing how I've been hearing a lot of news commentary about the "not guilty" verdict, I thought I'd throw out my thoughts on it.
Without my having followed the trial that closely, I think that the "not guilty" verdict was a sound one. That's because, reading what I've read about the evidence, I can understand how the jury could have had "reasonable doubt" about whether Jackson commited the acts alleged by this kid.
In a criminal trial, the crime must be proved "beyond a reasonable doubt." We hear that phrase all the time, but lawyers, judges, and jurors have to pay close attention to how that phrase is defined in the law. I'm sure that the Jackson jurors got a long, formal jury instruction about what "reasonable doubt" means, too. Here's the standard California jury instruction on "reasonable doubt":
"Reasonable doubt is defined as follows: It is not a mere possible doubt; because everything relating to human affairs is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. It is that state of the case which, after the entire comparison and consideration of all the evidence, leaves the minds of the jurors in that condition that they cannot say they feel an abiding conviction of the truth of the charge."
So, in light of the extent to which the boy and his mother appeared to have given contradictory statements and had such a history of making claims for monetary gain, I can see how those facts, right there, create some reasonable doubt that what they were alleging was true.
Now, do I think that it's LIKELY that Michael Jackson has molested some kid at some point? Yes, I think it's possible and maybe even probable. But probable isn't the legal standard here. Also, even if you believe some other boy when he said that Jackson did molest him (that youth minister guy) or did not molest him (McCauley Culkin), that may have some bearing on Jackson's propensity to molest, but it doesn't prove what he did or didn't do with the particular kid at issue. He wasn't on trial for those acts in this case.
Anyway, even before the jury came back, I suspected that it'd be a "not guilty" verdict, and not because of Jackson's race or celebrity status. It was because, in light of the legal definition of "reasonable doubt," I saw reasonable doubt when I heard how the evidence was unfolding.
I've watched a few interviews with jurors from the case, and I've been impressed at how calm and neutral they seemed. Yes, some said, Jackson seemed eccentric. Yes, he showed poor judgment. But, they noted, those things aren't crimes. Sleeping with boys -- alone -- is weird, but not criminal. With all the evidence together, did the prosecution prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed the acts alleged? No.
I do have a very different view about the O.J. Simpson trial, but that's a whole other story.