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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 June, 2005, 02:05 GMT 03:05 UK
'We are praying for Michael'
By Matthew Davis
BBC News, Santa Maria

As Michael Jackson nervously awaits his fate, his diehard supporters are sharing the pain.

Crying fan of Michael Jackson outside courthouse in Santa Barbara
Some fans were overcome with emotion when Jackson arrived
Stress is written across the pop star's gaunt features but it is also obvious in the behaviour of hundreds fans who have come to California to champion his innocence.

Jackson inspires such devotion in some, that there was no surprise to see a prayer circle forming outside the Santa Maria courthouse on Friday.

"We are asking for divine intervention," says Nkechi, a singer from San Francisco.

"We want God to reach into the hearts of the jury and prove Michael innocent."

Faced with the prospect of what could happen, however, many fans are putting walls up to protect their dream.

"If he is convicted it won't be because of the evidence, but because of the bias of the jurors," says Nkechi.

His music has touched the world
Nkechi
Seany O'Kane, an Irishman who left his job so he could come for the climax of the trial, was part of a crowd chanting as the pop star arrived at court.

"If he is convicted then it is a crime against humanity," he said. "There is too much reasonable doubt."

Throughout the last four months, a small clutch of fans has closely followed the trial - waiting patiently outside court or at Jackson's Neverland ranch, a 30-minute drive away.

Sometimes they swap memorabilia, lay odds on what colour outfit the singer will wear or hit the jackpot by getting allocated one of the few public seats in the courtroom.

Michael Jackson with his mother Katherine Jackson
Jackson is said to have been treated for dehydration on Thursday
They have been feeding off fleeting glimpses of the star stepping out of an SUV, gingerly walking into court or waving from a wound-down window.

On the best days Jackson has stopped to exchange pleasantries or even, some fans claim, has invited people in to tour his ranch.

En route to Neverland after the jury had retired on Friday, Jackson's vehicle stopped on a slip road near the town of Los Olivas - so the singer could talk briefly to a knot of supporters.

But there was nothing for a group of about 50 people at the gates of Neverland. "Just wave to us, Michael," fans called out, but the only part of the Jackson entourage to surface was a group of burly bodyguards who ensured no one approached the convoy as it entered the ranch.

As the Jackson trial reaches a climax, the numbers of fans is swelling. But so too is a sense of ill-feeling.

Charisma

"You ought to be ashamed of yourselves," shouts a woman on crutches who is trying to obstruct a TV crew from filming outside Neverland.

Other join her in berating the media.

"Haven't you got a proper job to go to?" says one man.

Friends have to calm a young woman who is screaming "Michael is innocent" over and over.

Fans of Michael Jackson
A fan said his conviction would be 'a crime against humanity'
Some observers are concerned about how the most hardcore supporters will react if Jackson is found guilty.

Meanwhile, some fans finding themselves "stressed out" by the trial are turning to internet chatrooms to share the pain.

"In 10 minutes turn on your radio or what you have to listen to music and listen to 'You Are Not Alone'," writes MJinvincible on the mjnewsonline.com site - whose Jackson trial discussion board had more than 15,000 hits on Friday.

"After that song is done in one hour listen to it again - every hour, everyone same time - it makes you feel better," the writer adds.

Many Jackson supporters in Santa Maria are too young to have been into Jackson's music until the mid 1990s, years after the releases of many of the singer's early classics.

Seventeen-year-old Stacy Garcia struggled to explain why she had come to court for the first time on the day the jury went out.

"He's just Michael Jackson," she said.

For Nkechi, the reasons for the obsession were clearer: "It's not so much Michael Jackson, but the fact that his music has touched the world.

"I have been a Michael Jackson fan as long as I can remember. His music related to me and he said all the things I couldn't find the words to say.

"He touched me as a child - don't print that!" she joked.

"I mean he has charisma."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch Michael Jackson outside court as the jury retires



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