The untold story

The case against Michael Jackson

The People of the State of California vs Michael Joe Jackson is arguably the most widely publicised, and the most contentious, criminal trial in legal history. Michael Jackson faced a total of 10 charges, namely that he conspired to abduct and falsely imprison a young cancer survivor and his family, extort them for his own and others' financial gain, and that he plied the youngster with pornography and alcohol in order to molest him while the young boy lay in a drunken stupor on the star's bed.

The world was first introduced to Gavin Arvizo, the boy at the centre of the allegations, during the February 2003 screening of Living With Michael Jackson, the Martin Bashir documentary which purported to offer a no-holds-barred depiction of Jackson's private world. In it, Jackson was filmed holding hands with the then 13-year-old Gavin while the pair discussed having slept in the same room together. The furore which followed the broadcast of the documentary saw investigations launched by the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services as well as the Santa Barbara Sheriffs and the then Santa Barbara district attorney and long time nemesis of Jackson's, Thomas Sneddon.

Jackson first met Gavin after the boy was diagnosed with stage four cancer in 2000. The singer began a friendship with him over the phone, and later invited the Arvizo family to visit his Neverland home. Gavin and his brother Star, along with his sister Davellin and his father, David Arvizo, became regular visitors to the ranch, often visiting while Gavin recovered between chemotherapy treatments. However Jackson appeared to have effectively lost contact with the family for a period following the break up of the parents' marriage, only renewing acquaintance with the children for the filming of the documentary.

Shortly after the screening of Living With Michael Jackson, the children and their mother, Janet Arvizo, alleged that Michael Jackson had them transported to Miami in a bid to sequester the family from both the media and their support network, and that he then embarked on a campaign of intimidation and false imprisonment which culminated in a series of sexual assaults on Gavin.

During the investigation, the Arvizos told police that during the Miami trip Jackson had warned the family that their lives were in danger as a result of the documentary, and he then transported them to Neverland where Janet Arvizo lived for a time in seclusion and in fear for her own and her children's lives. Ms Arvizo claimed that key members of Jackson's staff had threatened her repeatedly, and had kept her in isolation in one of the lavish guest units on the ranch while her two boys were given free rein and enjoyed a world of excess and decadence compared by the prosecution to the Pleasure Island of Pinocchio. Gavin and Star claimed that Jackson had exposed them to pornography at their first meeting, that he had began offering them alcohol on a regular basis during their stay in Miami, that they slept in his bed with him throughout their subsequent stays at Neverland, and that he regularly behaved in an overtly sexual manner around the two boys. The family said they had successfully managed to escape Neverland on a number of occasions during this ordeal, only to be coerced into returning by Jackson's inner circle of alleged co-conspirators.

During this time, the Arvizos participated in the filming of an interview which was designed to form a pivotal part of the documentary Living With Michael Jackson: The Footage You Were Never Meant To See, a rebuttal to the Martin Bashir film which sought to expose a variety of ways in which Jackson had been misrepresented in the latter programme. Footage of the Arvizo interview - which ultimately did not form part of the rebuttal film - showed the family praising Jackson and stating that he had helped them in a variety of ways, particularly in the wake of Gavin's cancer diagnosis. Janet Arvizo alleged that the interview, including out-takes in which she sought to recreate and explain Gavin having held hands with Jackson during the original production, was scripted in its entirety using details of the family's lives obtained during a “lovey dovey” interview with Jackson in Miami. She complained that she and her children had been forced to learn the script off by heart prior to the filming, and said she ultimately only agreed to participate in the film in a bid to prevent her family being forcibly relocated to Brazil, where they would live in complete isolation and under constant electronic surveillance by the Jackson camp. Janet explained that, following the filming of their interview, Michael Jackson's employees emptied her apartment and placed all her possessions in storage, forced the family to apply for passports and visas - the applications forms for which were filled out by an associate of Jackson - and signed her children out of their schools in preparation for this move.

Similarly, during an interview with staff from the LA Department of Children and Family Services the day after the rebuttal filming, the family failed to report that they were effectively being imprisoned in Neverland at the behest of Michael Jackson. Instead the Arvizos offered effusive praise of Jackson and stated emphatically that nothing of a sexual nature had occurred between the star and any of the children. Janet Arvizo later disclosed that the interview had been recorded at the insistence of one of Jackson's employees, and she was unable to reveal the extent of her concerns for fear of the consequences once her family was returned to Neverland.

It should be noted that Gavin Arvizo originally claimed that the sexual abuse began before this interview, and Gavin stated to law enforcement that he feared disclosing the abuse to the social workers who interviewed him because of the repercussions it could have for his family. However the dates of the allegations later changed, and according to the indictment on which Jackson was prosecuted, the abuse did not begin until after the DCFS interview.

According to the boys the sexual element of their ordeal began with Jackson first encouraging the boys to talk about masturbation, and ultimately masturbating Gavin on a number of occasions when the young boy was drunk. Gavin reported two incidents which he remembered in which Jackson had masturbated him while he lay on Jackson's bed after a heavy drinking session, and said he believed there were other occasions which he could not remember. His brother Star reported twice seeing Jackson masturbating Gavin while simultaneously masturbating himself. It was these four purported incidents, along with the allegation that the Arvizos had been subjected to a conspiracy to falsely imprison and control them in the wake of the Bashir documentary, that formed the core of the prosecution's case. The charges also alleged that Jackson had attempted to have Gavin reciprocate his advances by touching the singer's genitals, and had given the boy alcohol on numerous occasions specifically for the purpose of molesting him.

Michael Jackson was cleared of all these charges on June 13, 2005, but many people continued to believe that he was guilty, not least a broad section of the media, who pointed to previous civil settlements as evidence that serious unanswered questions remained regarding Jackson's relationships with young boys. With a few notable exceptions, writers who covered the allegations against Jackson portrayed him as reckless pedophile who managed to escape justice through a combination of celebrity, a seemingly limitless budget for his defence, and good old-fashioned luck.

The case for the defence

Michael Jackson's supporters have long contended that the Arvizo family were seasoned con artists who had sought to have Jackson branded as a pedophile in a bid to secure a civil settlement against him, in a manner similar to the Chandler case a decade previously. Many pointed to the Arvizos' chequered history as evidence of this.

Some years before the Jackson trial the Arvizo family had secured a settlement against department store chain JC Penney following an incident in which Janet Arvizo alleged that security guards at the company had sexually assaulted her and physically assaulted her two sons. This case was portrayed by the defence as without foundation, and was offered as evidence that Janet had a history of coaching her children to lie under oath in order to secure money for fictional claims.

Shortly after the Jackson trial Ms Arvizo was convicted of welfare fraud, and she exercised her fifth amendment right against self incrimination in this regard while giving evidence in the Jackson case.

During the trial, the defence claimed that the Arvizos had misrepresented their financial circumstances to a succession of celebrities and had effectively used young Gavin's illness to con these people into giving them money. Jackson's attorneys argued that the complaints against the star constituted a "shakedown" which formed part of a pattern of fraudulent claims aimed at enriching the Arvizos at the expense of their unsuspecting benefactors.

In essence, Janet Arvizo was accused of manufacturing claims including death threats, false imprisonment and sexual abuse as part of a plan to secure a criminal conviction against Jackson, which would ultimately be followed by a civil claim. It was claimed that she had coached and encouraged her children, and Gavin in particular, to claim that they had been exposed to a raft of sexually inappropriate behaviours, and coerced them into presenting lurid details of their fictional ordeal in front of the entire world, in order to secure a multi-million compensation award in the wake of the criminal trial.

However, no civil claim was ever filed, and throughout the trial the family rejected claims that they were seeking compensation. “We will never file a claim against Mr Jackson,” Ms Arvizo said during her testimony in 2005. “I want justice here.”

The untold story

The previously mentioned JC Penney settlement arose out of an incident which had occurred in 1998. Security guards had followed Gavin Arvizo, then aged nine, after he left the store with a number of items of clothing. Janet Arvizo confronted the guards when she found them restraining her then husband, David Arvizo, in a parking lot, and both parents were arrested as a result of the incident.

JC Penney initially sought to have the Arvizos prosecuted for burglary, but later dropped the charges. The family subsequently sued the company claiming that the children had been physically assaulted and injured by the guards, and that Janet had been physically and sexually assaulted in an attack which resulted in her being knocked to the ground and beaten before having her breasts and genital area fondled by the security guards. The company ultimately settled with the family, who were by then contending with Gavin's cancer diagnosis, for their assault claims.

Dr John Hochman, a psychiatrist who examined the family at the request of JC Penney during the case, argued that Janet Arvizo was suffering from schizophrenia and was experiencing delusions. Dr Hochman, an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at UCLA, stated in a report on Ms Arvizo that she was delusional and may have fabricated the allegations against the security guards, and that her children appeared to have been rehearsed. In his report Dr Hochman stated that Ms Arvizo “didn't want to remember anything about her prior psychiatric treatment”, and that “her general demeanor alternated between a blunted state and tearful hysteria”. He also said that Gavin found the incident more frightening than his battle with cancer and that he and his brother still feared that “the bad people from JC Penney's” would hurt them [first published in the Santa Barbara News Press, November 2004].

Janet Arvizo had a history of psychiatric illness, though the exact details of her psychiatric history were never revealed during the Jackson trial. Her former husband's attorney, Russel Halpern, disclosed in the media in 2004 that Janet had spent time in a psychiatric hospital, and stated that he believed she was treated for a "bipolar problem". Several witnesses - some who testified and others who were interviewed as potential witnesses but did not ultimately give evidence - spoke of seeing Janet exhibit a variety of bizarre behaviors, and some expressed the opinion that she was mentally ill.

Chris Tucker told the court that he saw Janet behaving in a way which made him believe that “something mentally wasn't right” with Janet, and her behavior prompted him to warn Michael Jackson to be cautious in dealing with the family. Louise Palanker, who testified for the prosecution as a family friend of the Arvizos, conceded under cross examination that she had told investigating officers that Janet was “unbalanced” and “totally bipolar”. Mary Holzer, an office manager at a legal firm who personally worked with the Arvizo family during the JC Penney case, and who testified for the defense, said Janet “threw herself down on the ground, started kicking and screaming, carrying on that the doctor was the devil, and the nurses were the devil, and they were all out to get her” during a medial examination appointment in the course of the JC Penney litigation. David Arvizo, Janet's former husband, told a defense investigator that Janet was “schizophrenic and delusional”, that she appeared to hear voices, and that she was “obsessed with telling people someone is threatening to kill her”. David claimed Janet had prepared scripts for the children in the wake of the JC Penney incident, and made them read these on a daily basis in preparation for the civil action against the company. He also stated that Janet was not “held captive” at Neverland, but rather was subject to the same rules as all other visitors to the ranch – anyone wanting to leave the ranch had to give a day's notice to allow staff to organize limousine hire.

Perhaps the most potent indicator that Janet Arvizo had schizophrenia was her own testimony during the 2005 trial. Over the course of five days on the witness stand, Janet claimed her and her family's movements were severely curtailed by Michael Jackson's “damage control team”, despite the fact that she enjoyed regular beauty treatments during her purported imprisonment, the family were treated to various shopping trips, they seemed to have a small army of people responding to their every need, and some of their supposed “escapes” from Neverland involved staff hiring a private limousine at short notice to bring them home. Janet claimed that Michael Jackson and his people used regular references to mysterious "killers" to control her, and that members of Jackson's team were following her and recording her every move, even filming her various visits to beauty parlors and restaurants as part of “Michael Jackson's positive PR”. She believed all her phone calls were monitored, including those calls made outside Neverland, and even resorted to speaking to people in a sort of code in a bid to avoid having her efforts to seek help detected.

“What I did, I tried to give -- drop clues to every person,” she explained during her testimony. “I figured -- I figured by all -- this was all going to be resolved by God’s miracles, and I figured one day -- there will be one day that all these people could give clues as to when me and my children would have disappeared, clues, clues, and this way this puzzle would have been put together.
“Everything was always broken. It was never complete. So in my -- in the midst of a regular conversation, I’d throw something in, hoping that it hadn’t been heard, and yet that this -- that part could stick in somebody’s mind, and hopefully one of these days this puzzle could be put together. I tried.”

In fact, a private investigator had been hired by Mark Geragos, erstwhile lead counsel for Jackson, to investigate the Arvizos, and the investigator had carried out surveillance of the family, a circumstance which lent credence to the prosecution's case. However there was evidence to suggest that this surveillance was not of the covert nature that Janet described, including a recording of an interview with Janet in which the investigator twice told her who he was. Janet claimed she only agreed to be interviewed by a private investigator because she was told that her ex-husband had been seen to “make contact with the killers”, and she was asked to be interviewed and “say nice things about Michael” because “that would appease the killers”. The court also heard a taped phone conversation in which she also agreed to have a 24-hour security detail placed on her home, though she later claimed this was part of a campaign of intimidation instigated by Jackson and his cohorts.

Janet also claimed that Michael Jackson's associates had stolen a variety of possessions from her, from the entire contents of her apartment to a garbage bag containing clothing and shoes, and had deliberately altered a receipt from a beauty parlor for a full body wax, contending that she had only had a leg wax on that occasion. “I’m telling you, it was only a leg wax,” she asserted under cross examination. “He [Jackson] has the ability to choreograph everything.” She was confrontational and argumentative under cross examination, and railed against everyone from the attorney who handled her divorce, who she alleged couldn't be bothered working on her case because he wasn't getting paid, to her ex husband, who she claimed had physically abused her and had accused her of sleeping with a number of celebrities, including Jackson, to “the Germans”, associates of Jackson's who she claimed were controlling her every move.

During her testimony she also exhibited disorganized and tangential speech patterns similar to those seen in formal thought disorder, a common symptom of schizophrenia:
Q [by senior deputy district attorney Ron Zonen]. Why did you go to Jesus [the then house manager at Neverland]?
A. Because after asking them to leave so many times and they wouldn’t let me leave. And then they were all working on a positive PR for Michael. They also wanted to point out how they were doing things for the mother and the kids. It was -- they were going to use it -- it went back and forth, and then they were going to use it in lieu, like -- also, like, they don’t think that they were going to put out there. They’re crazy. So that was --
Q. You don’t remember the question, do you?
A. No.
Q. I don’t either.
Her testimony was sufficiently erratic to prompt Zonen to concede in his closing argument that “Janet Arvizo, frankly, can’t string two consecutive sentences together that make sense.”

Janet also claimed under cross examination that she had gone through a process of “deprogrammizing my children from being brainwashed” when they finally left the ranch permanently.

Janet Arvizo's testimony was so bizarre and disjointed that many people inside the courtroom began to question her mental health. “Courtroom observers gossiped furiously about Janet during the breaks, wondering why the prosecution would have put this witness on at all,” crime reporter Aphrodite Jones commented in her book on the trial, Michael Jackson Conspiracy. “Janet had become a joke, and most people thought the woman was out of her mind. . . people watched with amazement, waiting for the next crazy thing to come out of her mouth.”

Pajama day - apparently more
interesting than the facts
behind the case.
However even in the wake of Janet Arvizo's questionable testimony, the media continued its firmly established focus on Michael Jackson, and on the more salacious aspects of the case against him, at the expense of objective debate on the trial. Though Janet's demeanor was discussed in the press during her testimony, it received substantially less coverage than references to “Jesus juice” – presumably a private joke about either transubstantiation or the wedding at Caana – and Jackson's arrival at court in pajamas after being hospitalized and ordered to appear within the hour or forfeit his bail and be jailed. Given Jackson's assertion that he had been mistreated and injured during his arrest – a claim which, despite the Attorney General's report to the contrary, was corroborated by a medical examination which found his injuries were consistent with the treatment he described – it is understandable that he would have gone to any lengths to avoid ending up in custody again.

Michael Jackson's defence team were aware that Janet Arvizo was believed to have schizophrenia, most likely through records from the JC Penney case, including psychiatric reports, which were subpoenaed in April 2004. The issue of Janet's mental condition was brought up repeatedly in submissions to the court in the latter months of 2004 and early 2005, with the defense arguing that “The complaining mother is a paranoid schizophrenic with sexual delusions who infuses those delusions on her children”.

The defence sought a mental examination of Janet Arvizo in advance of the trial, on grounds including the assertion that she had paranoid schizophrenia, a condition which would seriously compromise her ability to differentiate between her delusions and reality and, by extension, her competence to testify. This was opposed by the prosecution, and the motion was denied by the court. The defence also subpoenaed medical and psychiatric records for the family, though these records were ultimately the subject of a judicial order which prohibited the opening of subpoenaed records without the consent of both sides. The prosecution vehemently opposed the procurement of psychiatric records by the defense in the months prior to the judicial order.

The prosecution, meanwhile, argued that Janet's psychiatric history amounted only to treatment for depression, argued that "whether or not she is schizophrenic has nothing to do with whether Michael Jackson molesting [sic] her oldest son", and that a diagnosis of schizophrenia “would cut against the notion that Jane Doe had the ability to coordinate a conspiracy of this magnitude”, but did not address the effect such a diagnosis would have on her ability to imagine one. The prosecution later sought to characterize her unorthodox behavior and beliefs as a consequence of Battered Women's Syndrome, a form of post traumatic stress disorder which occurs in women who have been subjected to prolonged spousal abuse. While Janet Arvizo claimed that her ex husband, David Arvizo, had subjected her to years of physical abuse, this was vehemently denied by David. Their children also claimed that David was violent, though there was evidence that the children had previously blamed Janet for the bulk of the physical abuse that occurred in the family, and a family friend told defense investigators she had witnessed Janet assault David. Ultimately, David Arvizo pleaded no contest to a spousal abuse complaint brought against him by Janet, and had lost custody of and access to his three children by the time the allegations regarding Michael Jackson had emerged. During his grand jury testimony in April 2004, Star Arvizo stated he had not spoken to his father since 2001.

The documents submitted to the court regarding Janet Arvizo's mental state were among the more sensitive documents which were submitted under seal, and remained sealed in their entirety until after the trial had concluded and the world's media had lost interest in the legal process. They were released following a judicial order on June 16, 2005, and have been publicly available since their release.

Understanding schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a devastating chronic psychiatric illness which affects roughly one per cent of the population. Despite its prevalence this condition is poorly understood and is often mischaracterized as a form of multiple personality disorder. Schizophrenia manifests itself in a variety of ways, and symptoms are broadly categorized as positive or negative. Positive symptoms refer to the presence of unusual thoughts and perceptions, while negative symptoms usually constitute a lack of key psychological functions.

Positive symptoms are the most obvious manifestations of schizophrenia, and include delusions and hallucinations. Delusions are basically false beliefs and affect a sufferer's ability to perceive reality. Delusions can be caused by a misinterpretation of real events, or can be manufactured and have no basis in fact. Delusions are fixed beliefs and a person with schizophrenia will be unwilling to consider other, possibly more rational, explanations for these beliefs, and are generally confrontational when their claims are questioned. Delusions can take many forms and are further categorized in a number of groups, some of which are discussed below.

Persecutory or paranoid delusions are by far the most common. Examples of persecutory delusions include being followed, watched, poisoned, or kept under electronic surveillance. People with schizophrenia can believe their personal safety, or even their lives, are in danger, for a variety of reasons. The sufferer is generally preoccupied with these delusions, which become more elaborate over time. Delusions of reference cause a person with schizophrenia to attach an alternative meaning to events which have no significance to them. An example would be someone believing that they are being discussed on the TV or radio, or believing that other people's conversations contain hidden or inferred messages, often threats, to them. Delusions of control cause a person to believe their thoughts, movements, or actions are being controlled by outside influences.

Hallucinations involve someone with schizophrenia perceiving something that isn't there, and commonly take the form of auditory hallucinations (hearing voices) and visual hallucinations, though any of the senses can be affected.

Another key element of schizophrenia is thought disorder, a disorganized thinking which is often expressed as disorganized speech. Examples of disorganized speech include using unusual descriptive words, frequently breaking off on tangents or losing a train of thought, and use of stock phrases or unique words. Disorganized speech can be profound enough to make someone completely incoherent, known as word salad, but in practice the effects are usually more subtle than this.

Negatives symptoms of schizophrenia generally affect a person's ability to interact with people and carry out basic tasks. Examples of negative symptoms include lack of motivation, a lack of facial expression or emotional range, known as flattening or blunted effect, inappropriate social skills or behavior, and social withdrawal.

People with schizophrenia can also experience cognitive symptoms which affect memory and concentration. Poor cognitive function can lead to confusion when trying to carry out basic tasks and can affect a sufferer's ability to hold down a job. People with schizophrenia can be sufficiently affected to need help in carrying out simple administrative tasks such as paying bills and filling out forms.

Ultimately, no amount of discussion or dissection of the symptoms of schizophrenia can adequately explain the devastating effect this illness can have on sufferers and their families. A person with untreated or undiagnosed schizophrenia lives in a fearful and claustrophobic world, suspicious of almost everyone and unable to make sense of the strange thoughts that assail them at every turn. Because hallucinations and delusions appear absolutely real to the sufferer, a person will often not accept their diagnosis, and this lack of insight into their illness can present a serious barrier to seeking and accepting treatment. Even after a diagnosis of schizophrenia, the affected individual can decide to refuse treatment and medication, a decision which will inevitably result in relapse.

Having a close family member with schizophrenia is a frightening experience, especially for children with a schizophrenic parent who will often seek to engage the children in their delusional landscape, or who may even believe that their own children or other family members mean them serious harm.

While the prognosis is good for people with schizophrenia who adhere to medication and other therapies, there is a paucity of information or support available for families of sufferers. A diagnosis of schizophrenia affects an entire family, because family members must deal with the symptoms of this illness on a daily basis unless or until the affected individual is diagnosed and treated. A poor understanding of schizophrenia generally, coupled with the stigma which unfortunately accompanies any form of mental illness, means that many families do not seek the support they need.

The relevance of schizophrenia

A diagnosis of schizophrenia would be of enormous relevance in a case where someone is alleging being threatened, watched, or abused in some way, as persecutory delusions are a very common symptom of this condition. Sufferers routinely report being kept under surveillance, and often believe they are under threat from sinister sources. It is not uncommon for someone experiencing an acute schizophrenic episode to believe that their life is in danger.

While delusions can give rise to someone with schizophrenia making a complaint, either to law enforcement or to family or friends, regarding assault, harassment, or other forms of abuse, these complaints are not lies in the traditional sense – delusions are very real to the person experiencing them, and they believe that they are telling the truth.

There is little clinical data on the affect of a parent's schizophrenia on children, and the bulk of the empirical research which has been published tends to focus on the risk of these children developing psychiatric and psychological problem as adults, though it should be noted that most children raised by a parent with schizophrenia go on to lead normal, productive adult lives. However, a parent with schizophrenia will go to great lengths to engage their children in their delusions, particularly if those delusions involve actions by or on the children. For a child or teenager growing up with a schizophrenic parent whose delusions form a part of their normal family life, it can be difficult to differentiate between fact and fantasy at the best of times, particularly if the child has little or no understanding of the parent's condition. Challenging the ill parent's beliefs will invariably result in conflict and, often, rejection by the parent, who may believe the child has been brainwashed or is deliberately trying to sabotage them. Repeated interrogation by a schizophrenic parent seeking to confirm their delusional beliefs can cause the child to be effectively browbeaten into accepting as fact a scenario which may at first seem preposterous, resulting in a shared delusional state or folie au deux . This transmission of delusions can affect an entire family, known as a folie a famille. Parents with schizophrenia also generally cultivate a culture of secrecy and loyalty within the family, which in turn makes it incredibly difficult for a child to contradict the parent's assertions in public.

Persecutory delusions can cause a schizophrenia sufferer to believe they have been sexually assaulted or abused, or falsely claim that their children have been abused, generally by their father. While it is less common for a schizophrenic parent to make such claims regarding their children against someone who is not related, it is by no means unprecedented and this issue has arisen in other legal cases, most notably the McMartin pre-school abuse case, which began when a mother with schizophrenia claimed her young son had been sexually abused by a man who worked at his daycare center. The ensuing investigation, which lasted for seven years, encompassed two trials, cost $15 million, and ended in a mistrial, is regarded as the longest and most expensive case in US legal history. It emerged afterwards that the prosecution had suppressed the fact that the complaining mother had paranoid schizophrenia, and that she had made a similar allegation against the boy's father, while the interview techniques used on the children in the case were found to have been leading and likely to elicit a false positive with regard to claims of molestation. The McMartin case is now broadly accepted as foundationless, and a useful lesson in how not to conduct an investigation into claims of child sexual abuse.

Dr Stan Katz, the psychologist who assessed the Arvizo family at the request of Larry Feldman, the attorney who also orchestrated a civil settlement between Jackson and the Chandler family in 1994, served as director of training and professional education at the Children’s Institute International, the agency that interviewed the McMartin children. Dr Katz stated during his testimony in the 2005 trial that he also supervised the psychologist responsible for interviewing the alleged child victims and assessed the children of suspects involved in the McMartin case, though he also sought to distance himself from the case. “My involvement was that I was director of the program,” Dr Katz said under cross examination. “And Kee McFarland, who was the woman who interviewed the children, actually worked under me. . . My involvement with the McMartin case was, I did do assessments. I was asked by the Department of Children & Family Services to assess the children of the alleged perpetrators to see if they had been molested. Other than that, I had very little involvement directly with the case.”

The vindictive prosecution argument

In constructing their case against Michael Jackson, the prosecution ignored Dr Hochman's assertion that Janet Arvizo has schizophrenia, and her history of making allegations of abuse regarding herself and her children – apart from the JC Penny case, she had accused her ex-husband of sexually abusing their daughter Davellin, a claim which Davellin testified she was unaware of until she heard her mother make the allegation during the course of an argument with David, she accused David of abusing her physically, and she had also told David that her father had abused her physically. The prosecution also ignored a similar history of claiming she had been falsely imprisoned – by JC Penney security guards and by David - and her own contention during her grand jury testimony in April 2004 that she believed she “saw something that wasn't there” when she claimed to have witnessed Jackson licking Gavin's head with his “long, white tongue” when the family was returning from their Miami trip. She repeated this claim when she testified at the trial. “I thought it was me,” she told the court. “I thought I was seeing things.”

Thomas Sneddon, Santa
Barbara district attorney
during the Jackson trial.
The prosecution sought at every turn to suppress any suggestion that Janet was mentally ill, including seeking to have mental health records redacted from subpoenaed hospital records before they were handed over to the defense. The prosecution took it upon itself to redact the defense's motion for a mental examination of the complaining witnesses, and advocated on behalf of the Arvizos regarding numerous subpoenas issued by the defense, most notably those subpoenas which sought the family's medical and psychiatric records, and Janet's gynecological records, which the defense argued would demonstrate that Janet was not taking prescribed antipsychotic medication immediately prior to and throughout her then recent pregnancy. All this was done despite the fact that a judicial order was in place prohibiting subpoenaed parties from disclosing the nature, and indeed the existence, of subpoenas to the prosecution. Prosecutors opposed efforts by the defense to investigate what medications Janet Arvizo was taking, or, more importantly, should have been taking but was not, during the family's stay at Neverland, though they did state that she had taken medication for depression, but stopped taking it when Gavin became ill. Prosecutors also sought to have the defense precluded from making reference to evidence which pointed to Janet having schizophrenia in pre-trial hearings on the motion for a mental examination, urging the judge to warn the defense that sanctions for any reference to her having a mental illness would be “swift in their coming and biblical in their severity”.

The prosecution may well have had a poor understanding of schizophrenia and its relevance to their case, but they could hardly have claimed ignorance of the serious questions that existed regarding Janet Arvizo's state of mind given the evidence posited by the defense, coupled with Ms Arvizo's behavior. In a submission regarding the psychiatric subpoenas in December 2004 defense attorney Brian Oxman, who authored the bulk of the motions regarding Janet's psychiatric condition, argued that “No amount of protest from the prosecution can explain the bizarre conduct of this witness before this Court on September 17, 2004, her inability to understand questions, her failure to answer questions, and her act of praying before this Court in the middle of her testimony”. The defense argued repeatedly in the run up to the trial that Janet Arvizo was a paranoid schizophrenic who was influencing her children to share her delusions. The district attorney and his deputies dismissed the concerns of the defense and effectively blocked all efforts to have her condition investigated or discussed, proffering instead a fatally flawed case cobbled together from circumstantial evidence and hearsay.

The defense sought on several occasions to have the charges against Jackson dismissed, or to have the district attorney and key members of the prosecution team removed from the case. The defense accused Tom Sneddon of having “an actual conflict of interest that is so grave as to render it highly unlikely that Mr Jackson will obtain a fair trial”, and argued that “Mr Sneddon has abandoned his role as a public prosecutor and is motivated by his personal animosity toward Mr Jackson”. In turn the prosecution argued that what the defense characterized as “overzealousness” was merely "evidence that the District Attorney is doing the job he was elected to do".

"There is more than sufficient evidence to suspect that the District Attorney has a personal bias against Mr Jackson," the defense argued in reply. "His conduct, going back to his failure to obtain a conviction against Mr Jackson in the investigation ten years ago, creates that 'reasonable possibility that the prosecutor's office may not exercise its discretionary function in an even handed manner'. Mr Jackson is not requesting this Court to appoint a District Attorney 'who likes him'. Mr Jackson is asking this Court to recognize that the evidence shows that the prosecutors have a conflict with the prosecution of this case that is so grave that it threatens to deprive Mr Jackson of his right to a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” Both motions for recusal were denied, along with a motion to dismiss for outrageous government conduct, a motion to dismiss for vindictive prosecution and outrageous government conduct, another motion to dismiss, three motions for a mistrial, and a motion to acquit.

The defense argued in various submissions that Michael Jackson was “clearly being treated differently than any other person accused of child molestation in the history of Santa Barbara County”, that he was “singled out for extraordinary treatment by a prosecutor who is intent on getting a conviction by some means, in fact by any means, against this celebrity”, and that the prosecution, and Tom Sneddon in particular, had been “blinded by [his] zeal to prosecute Mr Jackson”, had engaged in “outrageous conduct” on several occasions, had violated Michael Jackson's constitutional rights by conducting unreasonable searches and seizures, including seizing three folders of documents labelled 'Mesereau' during a search of the home and office of Jackson's personal assistant, and that the prosecution team had effectively rendered themselves incapable of ethically carrying out their prosecutorial duties. These claims were rejected by the prosecution, who in turn accused the defense of “theatrical rancor”, and were dismissed by the judge.

Ultimately the Arvizos gave conflicting accounts of key aspects of the prosecution's case, with family members contradicting each other, and their own earlier testimony. Janet was the only member of the family to allege they were forced to learn scripts for the rebuttal interview, while the videographer who conducted the interview testified that he only had a prepared list of questions – standard practice for an interviewer – which he allowed Janet to read before the interview took place. The Arvizo boys claimed that Jackson had been naked in front of them, and told them it was “natural”, but on cross examination Gavin stated that while he knew Jackson had vitiligo, he was not aware that there were dark patches on his skin, telling the court, “I didn't know about patches. I thought he was all white.” Comments Gavin claimed that Jackson had made to him regarding masturbation were shown to have been previously attributed to the boy's grandmother. The purported exile to Brazil, meanwhile, was shown to be a one-week trip for the family, which was planned but never took place.

Neverland staff and Jackson's young cousins testified to having found the Arvizo boys in possession of alcohol and pornography, the tools Jackson supposedly used to groom his alleged victim, when Michael Jackson was nowhere in sight, while Gavin was found to have been allowed to handle an adult magazine belonging to Jackson during the grand jury proceedings the previous year; Gavin's fingerprints on the same magazine were later offered as evidence that Jackson had exposed him to pornography at Neverland.

In fact, the claims of all of the prosecution's key witnesses crumbled under cross examination, and the case against Jackson had effectively fallen apart by the time the prosecution rested, despite the district attorney bolstering the case with a raft of allegations of previous molestations, the bulk of which were subsequently refuted by three of the boys he was accused of abusing, who appeared as witnesses for the defense.

The previous allegations

Former Neverland staff – most of whom had failed in a civil suit against Jackson in the 1990s, and had sold stories of witnessing Jackson molest boys to various news organizations in a bid to fund their case – testified to having seen Jackson molest youngsters – namely Jordan Chandler, Brett Barnes, Wade Robeson, and Macaulay Culkin – throughout the 1990s. Barnes, Robeson, and Culkin, all grown men by 2005, testified for the defense that Michael Jackson had never behaved inappropriately towards them, while Macaulay Culkin revealed that the prosecution had not even asked him about the allegations before they were presented in court. Culkin dismissed claims that Jackson had molested him as “absolutely ridiculous”, as did Robeson and Barnes. “Absolutely not,” Brett Barnes, who quit his job in order to travel to Santa Barbara to defend Jackson, said in response to being asked if the singer had ever molested him. “If he had, I wouldn't be here right now.”

Jason Francia, who secured a $2.5 million settlement against Jackson shortly after the Chandler family, stated that he never told anyone about being molested until detectives arrived at his home to interview him about the purported incidents. He initially insisted in police interviews that nothing untoward had happened with Jackson, but later changed his story when investigating officers continued to badger him to admit he had been molested. The officers told the then 13-year-old Francia that he was “trying to force [himself] not to remember”, that Jackson was by then molesting Macaulay Culkin, “only he's getting more into it”, and that another purported victim of Jackson's, then 21 years of age, “packs his nose with cocaine and he's going to die by the time he's 22 years old”. Investigators told Francia that “it might be too late for Macaulay already”, but that he could help future victims by “remembering” being molested. Francia's mother, Blanca Francia, the driving force behind the Francias' 1994 settlement, also claimed to have witnessed Jackson take a shower with Wade Robeson. Robeson said in his testimony that he had never showered with Jackson.

The fifth boy mentioned in the prosecution's case was Jordan Chandler, the boy at the center of the 1993 allegations against Jackson. The Chandler family secured a $15.3 million civil settlement arising out of allegations of negligent infliction of emotional distress in 1994. Jordan Chandler's father, Evan Chandler, the architect of the complaint against Jackson, reportedly suffered from bipolar disorder, a psychiatric illness which can give rise to the same types of delusions and hallucinations as those experienced in schizophrenia, so much so that the two conditions are often confused with each other.

Though often portrayed as a tacit admission of guilt, the 1994 settlement agreement emphatically stated Jackson denied any wrongful acts against the Chandlers, had elected to settle the claims “in the view of the impact the Action has had and could have in the future on his earnings and potential income”, and that the damages paid were for “alleged personal injuries arising out of claims of negligence and not for claims of intentional or wrongful acts of sexual molestation”. There was nothing in the settlement that would have prevented the Chandler family from testifying against Jackson in a criminal trial. In fact, not only did the Chandlers withdraw their cooperation from the criminal investigation launched on foot of their complaint, they also elected to waive their civil claims for alleged sexual battery as part of the settlement agreement.

The settlement came just days before Jackson was due to be deposed in the civil action, a circumstance which would have severely compromised his ability to mount a defence in the criminal case that was also pending against him at that time, as his testimony would have revealed all the details of his defence strategy to the prosecution. Documents submitted to the court in the 2005 case also state that the settlement was organized and paid by Jackson's insurance provider, not by the singer himself.

In 2005, as in 1994, Jordan Chandler chose to exercise his constitutional right not to testify for the prosecution.

The aftermath

The acquittal of Michael Jackson in June 2005 effectively brought an end to an 12-year investigation of the singer which began in 1993 with the Chandler case, which fell apart in 1994 when the Chandler family refused to testify during grand jury proceedings. The Santa Barbara District Attorney's office invested millions from the public purse in pursuit of Jackson, which included an investigation and trial spanning over two years and the issuance of more than 70 search warrants, apparently without considering the impact of Janet Arvizo's state of mind on the veracity of its case. Even after Jackson's aquittal, Tom Sneddon expressed his disappointment at the verdict. He later sought in court submissions to retain possession of property seized during searches of Neverland, arguing that the items “may have relevance in the event of another investigation”.

There is no happy ending to this story, not least for Michael Jackson, who was reportedly hospitalized immediately after his aquittal and subsequently left the US to escape further persecution. Those close to Jackson in his final years have stated that he was left emotionally shattered by the trial. The vindication which should have accompanied his aquittal failed to materialize, and he was dogged by the false inference that he had somehow evaded justice to the end of his days. Four years later, on the cusp of a performance comeback, Michael Jackson died following a massive intake of anxiety medication and a fatal overdose of anesthesia.

In July 2007, the New York Daily News reported that Gavin Arvizo, who just over a year earlier told the court he had never wanted to leave Neverland because he was "having lots of fun", had effectively been rejected by his mother in the wake of Jackson's aquittal. Quoting an unnamed source close to the family, the article claimed that Janet blamed her son for failing to convince the jury that he was molested, as well as for being supposedly molested in the first place. "His mother barely speaks to him,” the source said. “She won't cook for him. She treats him like dirt, and she won't let him go to counseling to deal with the trauma. She blames him for the whole mess and says she wants to move on.

"Mentally, he's really messed up right now. He never knows what verbal abuse will be thrown at him when he goes home." According to the article Gavin was forced to fend for himself both emotionally and physically, and reportedly blamed Michael Jackson for ruining his life.


The Arvizos were undoubtedly victims, but not of Michael Jackson. If Janet Arvizo was suffering from schizophrenia – and it is my firm belief that she was – the worst possible outcome for the family would have been to have people in a position of authority confirm her delusional beliefs that her family had been held captive and her child had been sexually abused. More than anything else, people with schizophrenia want confirmation that their delusions are real, and that they are not imagining things. Such confirmation offers a reassurance of sorts to the affected person, but it effectively puts an end to any chance that they will seek treatment for their condition. The case would also have put the Arvizo children in an impossible position by rendering them incapable of contradicting or challenging their mother's beliefs, and would have further complicated their efforts to differentiate between delusion and reality.

Every allegation of child sexual abuse should be investigated and taken seriously. However so, too, should evidence which tends to shed serious doubt on the credibility an allegation. After all, a public prosecutor has a specific ethical duty to seek justice, not merely to convict. Given the seriousness of the defense's claim regarding schizophrenia, a claim backed by the professional opinion of at least one psychiatrist, coupled with Janet Arvizo's own behavior and the bizarre nature of the allegations, the prosecution should have assented to the defense's efforts to have her state of mind investigated. If they had, they would likely have been left with no option but to abandon the case against Jackson, and the Arvizo family would perhaps have had the opportunity receive the support and intervention they needed. Instead, they became pawns in a prosecution which should never have occurred.

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