Hollywood Flashback: In 2005, Michael Jackson Faced Trial for Sex Crimes and Won

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Michael Jackson in October 2005 at his 3,000-acre Neverland Ranch — which included a zoo and an amusement park — with two elephants, one of which was gifted to him by Elizabeth Taylor.

The singer's history of alleged pedophilia will be explored in HBO's 'Leaving Neverland' (premiering Friday at Sundance), with the mother of a key witness speculated to be the reason Jackson was acquitted of all charges.

There's a veil of secrecy surrounding HBO's documentary Leaving Neverland (premiering Jan. 25 at Sundance), which focuses on Michael Jackson's history of alleged pedophilia. But the singer's 2005 trial in Santa Maria, California, was as public as you can get.

Jackson faced 10 counts involving child molestation, conspiracy and providing alcohol to minors. (The Neverland title comes from the 3,000-acre estate Jackson transformed into a private amusement park.) Santa Barbara County District Attorney Thomas Sneddon indicted Jackson, who was represented by Thomas Mesereau (the white-haired lawyer who in 2018 would unsuccessfully defend Bill Cosby in his sexual assault case). Jackson was acquitted of all charges on June 13, 2005. THR speculated it was because the mother of a key witness, a 15-year-old boy, appeared to be "bent on using her son to extort money from Jackson" and was not viewed sympathetically by the jury, to whom she was "arrogant … snapping her fingers at them from the witness stand."

Leaving Neverland director Dan Reed tells THR that her "erratic performance … turned a starstruck jury against the boy." The impression one juror took away from the proceedings was Jackson had a "giggly, stupid relationship with children that was misconstrued." Jackson died in 2009, at 50, of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.