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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 June, 2005, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
Artist keeps Jackson in picture
By Matthew Davis
BBC News, Santa Maria

Bill Robles
Bill Robles covered the OJ Simpson and Manson trials
Despite the dozens of satellite trucks and television cameras surrounding Santa Maria courthouse, Michael Jackson's first reaction to the verdict in his child sex abuse trial will be captured by one man and his marker pens.

With cameras banned within the building, leading court artist Bill Robles has been preparing for one of the most important moments of his career.

He says: "I've got an idea of the composition - it will be Jackson in the foreground, with the judge and maybe (Jackson's lawyer Thomas) Mesereau. There's no room for much else - you want to make it clear to read.

"The obvious thing to look for is the reaction on Jackson's face, whether there is any hugging, any tears. I am not expecting him to react at all, judging by his past behaviour."

Mr Robles cut his teeth on the trial of killer Charles Manson, and has covered major trials from OJ Simpson to the Unabomber, but says he has never experienced anything like the Jackson case.

"I've never had deadlines like it, never had a huge rush like this - this trial is the largest that I have ever been involved in."

Early friendliness

The sketch artist has been covering the trial since it began in January, and has drawn Jackson at least twice a week.

Michael Jackson
Bill Robles' picture of Jackson and defence team member Robert Sanger

Mr Robles says he has seen a profound change in the singer over that time.

"In the early days of the trial he was quite friendly and he even approached me about procuring some of my drawings.

"In court he'd turn his head so I could work on some three-quarters profiles.

"As the evidence became more serious and the trial progressed he became more ghost-like, barely registering emotion in court, staring straight ahead.

"I try to concentrate on doing a headshot, but he never changes position.

"He has also changed physically, certainly now he looks much more gaunt than he was."

Creative test

Mr Robles and a colleague have to hit three deadlines per day for major US clients like NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN, as well as news networks around the world.

Their work is put on display in a tented area outside the courthouse. They charge about $400 (220) per day for each outlet.

The artist says he has been a news junkie all his life.

Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson did not give evidence himself

In the 1950s he spent three years in the US Army drawing murals and maps. Later, a friend working for CBS News asked him to sketch at the Charles Manson trial.

He has been freelancing since then.

The latest assignment has tested his full range of creative skills.

"The whole cast of characters are all interesting, and all different," he says. "But (prosecutor Tom) Sneddon strikes the most interesting poses."


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