What's All This Then?

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

I’m glad that the Michael Jackson jury arrived at their not guilty verdict across the board. I don’t think Jackson could have survived a jail sentence, even if they kept him in isolation for his own safety. He looks and sounds like he’s teetering on the brink as a free man, so I can imagine what 23 hours a day in a seven by ten foot cell year after year would do to him.

My post trial interest was not so much in the verdict as in the reaction to it by media people who had pronounced him guilty from day one and had sneered at every cross examination of prosecution witnesses and dismissed the testimony of defense witness after defense witness as irrelevant. The most egregious of these sneering media judges was Nancy Grace on CNN and frankly I couldn’t wait to see how she would handle this (in her eyes) gross miscarriage of justice. I wrote about Nancy Grace and others of her ilk on May 5, 2005 - and her performance yesterday validated my conclusions about her that you’ll find in that day’s posting.

The look on her face as she began her show last night said it all. Utter disgust. Utter disbelief. As though she personally had been rebuffed. But as much as I’ve come to expect totally biased, vitriolic "coverage" of the Jackson trial from this person, the first words out of her mouth almost blew me away. "It was a 13 year old Hispanic boy who took on Michael Jackson in court and tonight it’s not guilty by reason of celebrity."

Here is a woman who is or was an officer of the court - a former prosecutor sworn to uphold the law and sworn to abide by the protocols of her profession, foremost among which I would assume to be respect for the findings of any jury - whether she agreed with them or not. Obviously, when she was prosecuting alleged lawbreakers, she would only agree with guilty decisions, but I doubt very much if any judge would let her get away with calling jurors a bunch of nitwits in open court if they came back with a not guilty verdict. But here she was on national television declaring that 12 jurors who sat through 16 weeks of testimony and deliberated for five days - considered only Jackson’s celebrity and acquitted him on that basis alone! Even prosecutor Tom Sneddon, who many people believe has been out to "get" Jackson for years, didn’t try to blame his failure to secure a conviction on the pop star’s "celebrity."

Some people have been comparing the Jackson acquittal with the O.J. Simpson case, but the two are nothing alike. The Simpson case was over the moment the jury was seated. The verdict was all about race - not the evidence - and that was pretty much validated by the opposite reaction to the verdict by blacks and non-blacks. Others have cited the acquittal of Robert Blake as an example of "not guilty by reason of celebrity" - but that was a case where there wasn’t sufficient evidence to convict a John or Jane Doe. If anything, Blake’s celebrity was a detriment. Without it, he may never have had to face trial at all.

But Nancy Grace’s intemperate opening comment was nothing compared to what came later in her "interview" with the jury foreman. The 63 year old retired school counselor was interviewed all over the dial following the not guilty verdict and was asked the sort of questions one might expect . What were the factors that influenced your decision? What did you think of various witnesses? And so on. But not Nancy Grace. She wanted to try the case with foreman Paul Rodriguez as her opposing counsel!! She wasn’t satisfied with any of the reasons he offered for how and why the jury came to its conclusion - and with a look of incredulity on her face and disbelief in her voice, she insisted that he answer the question of what he thought about a man in his forties sleeping with young boys. "What do you think he was doing with those little boys all those nights in bed alone" she asked, again and again. And when he said that he and other jurors had personal thoughts on that but "it wasn’t what they had to work with," she interpreted that as meaning that he and other jurors didn’t think that it mattered!! Rodriguez said yes, it did matter but "I’m not going to go any further than that." To which Grace responded with a curled lip sneer - "Yes sir. I think you’ve gone far enough. With me!!" And ended the "interview."

I wanted to scream at the television scream. I wanted to tell Rodriguez to tell her that he’d be glad to answer her questions, but if she wanted to play a combination of prosecutor and grand inquisitor, to go do it on her own time and to someone else. That he wasn’t there to be bullied by someone who didn’t like the jury’s verdict.

But he was polite. He put up with her nonsense, while explaining, for anyone who wanted to listen, which of course didn’t include Grace, that Jackson wasn’t on trial for being a weirdo - for having adult magazines in his home, for sleeping in the same bed with young boys not related to him, for dressing in stage clothes and make up or for the rest of the strangeness that is the pop star’s life - but for the specific acts for which had had been charged and which the state had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

It was refreshing to hear comments from the jurors that matched some of my thinking about Jackson. That he probably has done some things with young boys that were at the very least inappropriate - though probably not harmful. And that Jackson probably doesn’t think that he has ever done anything wrong - that whatever he did, his intentions were always good. And that whoever has influence over him should take him aside - as in an "intervention" - and tell him that if he doesn’t want to risk losing his freedom again, he must completely stop having any relationships of any kind with young boys not related to him.

I hope he’ll listen to that advice. I’m sure it’s been given many times before - and ignored many times before. But maybe this time, having sat through weeks of what must have been agonizing tension while his freedom was on the line - he’ll come to the realization that he has to change at least one part of his life.

This case can never be brought to trial again. That would be double jeopardy. But as long as Nancy Grace is on the air, I imagine it’ll be re-tried until she’s sick of it and finds a fresh victim to find guilty night after night while his or her trial unfolds in the real world. I suppose we should be grateful that Ms Grace is where she is and not back in the courtroom prosecuting all those villains who she has pre-judged, found guilty and, in her warped prosecutorial mind, sentenced to the harshest possible punishment. At least in her present incarnation, we can turn her off.