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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 June, 2005, 02:31 GMT 03:31 UK
Jackson supporters celebrate vigil's end
By Matthew Davis
BBC News, Santa Maria

A Jackson fan outside the Santa Maria courthouse on 13 April
It was the moment Jackson's most loyal fans had been waiting for
There were euphoric scenes outside Santa Maria courthouse as supporters of Michael Jackson celebrated his acquittal, after months of waiting while his fate hung in the balance.

Hundreds of fans, some with their ears pressed against radios, screamed for joy and threw confetti as one by one the singer was acquitted of the 10 charges against him.

One woman in the crowd released white doves as the "not guilty" verdicts were announced.

Other supporters, who had backed the singer throughout the trial, hugged and kissed, jumped up and down and repeated the mantra heard so often during the last four months: "Michael is innocent."

What began as just another day of waiting for a verdict was transformed into one of high drama shortly after 1230 local time, when word came through that jurors had reached a decision.

The frantic movements of hundreds of journalists were an immediate signal that the moment of truth had arrived.

As reporters rushed to the live camera points in the court car park, the word went out to fans. Santa Marians living nearby wandered over to witness the end of a saga that had turned their town upside down.

Mr Jackson, meanwhile, began the longest drive of his life, leaving Neverland ranch for court in a convoy of four blacked-out 4x4 vehicles.

His entourage was pursued along the 30-minute trip to Santa Maria by news helicopters relaying live pictures around the world.

The sound of rotor blades overhead heralded the arrival of the convoy, and screams went up as it swept into court.

But the commotion was soon replaced by a low murmur as news of the verdicts was awaited.

Moved to tears

Inside court, there was a deathly silence as the verdicts were read, punctuated by the sound of the judge ripping open the envelope for each count.

Mr Jackson, unmoving, looked straight ahead, as he had done throughout the trial even while harrowing testimony was given against him.

"Mr Jackson, your bail is exonerated and you are released," Judge Rodney Melville told the self-styled "king of pop".

Cleared of all charges, Mr Jackson wiped a tear from his eye. Eventually he stood and was embraced by his lead defence lawyer, Thomas Mesereau.

Some female members of the jury were also moved to tears, and passed round box of tissues.

As he left court, Mr Jackson hardly seemed euphoric - in fact, he looked stunned. But, flanked by his family members, he held his hand to his heart and blew kisses to the screaming crowd.

Aides escorted him into a black 4x4 that swept out of the court grounds and headed south towards his Neverland ranch.

There, dozens more fans had gathered to welcome the singer home, their numbers swelling throughout the afternoon. Rumours circulated that Jackson was going to hold a party at the ranch.

'Eyes of the world'

Back at court, a glum-looking Tom Sneddon - chief prosecutor in the trial - gave a news conference.

"We go back to work," he said. "We've got a lot of cases that we have pending. I have an office to run. I am not going to look back and apologise for anything that we have done."

Jurors, meanwhile, said they had felt the "eyes of the world" on them, and issued a plea to be left alone.

In many ways their verdict came as a relief to the local police force, who had feared a highly emotional reaction from hardcore supporters of the pop star.

Dozens of officers carrying riot batons were deployed on the street outside the courthouse, which had been cordoned-off to traffic.

But the singer's acquittal made their elaborate security plans obsolete. Hours after the end of one of the most-followed cases of all time, there was little sign in Santa Maria of the great commotion that had gone on before.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the scenes at the Santa Maria courthouse




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