Entertainment Celebrity Remembering the bizarre backstory behind Leaving Neverland

Remembering the bizarre backstory behind Leaving Neverland

Michael Jackson Leaving Neverland
Michael Jackson gestures as he leaves the courthouse during his 2005 trial. Photo: Corbis/Getty
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The controversial two-part, four-hour documentary Leaving Neverland (March 8 and 9, Network Ten) details Michael Jackson’s Peter Pan lifestyle at Neverland Ranch, the boys he befriended and brought there – and their disturbing allegations of sexual abuse.

Among the many unsettling elements of the program, set to air – despite threats of legal action from the Jackson estate – is the feeling of déjà vu.

Such charges were first levelled at Jackson by 13-year-old Jordan “Jordie” Chandler in 1993. Jackson denied any wrong doing, eventually paying out $US25million ($35.6 million) in settlements to avoid a trial.

November 2003 saw Jackson arrested on suspicion of molesting young cancer survivor Gavin Arvizo, who had appeared in journalist Martin Bashir’s Living with Michael Jackson documentary holding hands with the King of Pop as he detailed the “charming” sleepovers he regularly had with young boys.

Jackson, who died in 2009, was acquitted of all charges, but his 2005 trial was a tabloid circus that, especially in light of the new allegations made by Brisbane-born choreographer Wade Robson and James Safechuck in Leaving Neverland, are as bizarre as they are disturbing. Below, a rundown of the most extraordinary and perhaps forgotten moments of that famous court case:

The charges

Jackson was indicted on counts related to child sexual abuse and molestation as well as counts of conspiring to hold the Arvizo family captive. The prosecution argued Jackson’s entourage had attempted to hold them at Neverland to force them to participate in a rebuttal film to Bashir’s damning documentary. Jackson faced up to 20 years in prison and pleaded not guilty to all counts.

Michael Jackson Leaving Neverland
Documentary producer Martin Bashir arrives as a witness in the Michael Jackson trial at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse in March 2005. Photo: Getty

The Fanfare

According to CNN, before Jackson’s arrival in January 2004 to enter his not guilty plea, 60 fans sporting Jackson T-shirts and hats who had won courtroom seats in a lottery, cheered loudly each time one of Jackson’s relatives entered the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.

After proceedings, the pop star climbed onto the roof of his car to dance and blow kisses to fans. “He’s an entertainer,” offered his lawyer Benjamin Brafman. During the arraignment, Jackson’s assistants passed out invitations: “In the spirit of love and togetherness Michael Jackson would like to invite his fans and supporters to his Neverland ranch,” they read. “Refreshments will be served. We’ll see you there!”

Almost a no show

In March 2005, the judge issued a warrant for Jackson’s arrest and threatened to forfeit his $US3 million ($4.27 million) bond when he failed to show up for court on time. Jackson arrived an hour and 10 minutes later dressed in pyjamas and seemed to be crying. He claimed later to have slipped in the shower, “very badly” bruising his lung.

Michael Jackson Leaving Neverland
Michael Jackson arriving late for court and in his pyjamas. Photo: Getty

Jesus Juice and mother issues

The prosecution claimed Jackson served Arvizo alcohol out of soda cans, referring to it as “Jesus Juice” as witnessed by Gavin’s brother, Star. The boys’ mother, Janet Arvizo – who gave what the BBC described as “combative and rambling” testimony about how Neverland was “all about booze, pornography, and sex with boys” – was painted by the defence team as a “con artist” and a welfare cheat.

 Who’s Who witnesses

With no cameras allowed, TV networks produced re-enactments using look-alikes to act out the daily highlights. The defence team stacked their witness list with stars, including Macaulay Culkin who admitted to sharing a bed with Jackson, but denied anything inappropriate, and also Wade Robson, a choreographer for Britney Spears and NSYNC, who then denied claims he had been molested.

Michael Jackson Leaving Neverland
Michael Jackson and Macaulay Culkin at Madison Square Garden in New York in 2001. Photo: Getty/Wireimage

(“Michael’s training of me to testify began the first night that he started abusing me,” Robson alleged on US TV show CBS This Morning on February 27).

Actor Chris Tucker, comedian George Lopez and talk show host Jay Leno each testified about their own dealings with Janet Arvizo and how they found her to have suspicious motives.

“Every day in that courtroom, people were star-struck,” court reporter Diane Dimond told Esquire magazine.

Surreal viewing

On March 15, the courtroom—including Jackson’s mother— sat through hours of clips from pornography seized from the Neverland ranch.

When doves fly

The jury deliberated for 32 hours over seven days before delivering the not guilty verdict on June 13, 2005. Super-fan Fariba Garmani released 14 white doves outside the courthouse – one for each count.

Michael Jackson Leaving Neverland
Fariba Garmani releases one of the doves outside the courthouse as the verdict was read. Photo: Getty

“In a case like this, you’re hoping that maybe you can find a smoking gun or something that you can grab onto that says absolutely one way or another,” one juror told The New York Times after their verdict.

“In this case, we had difficulty in finding that.”

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