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'Not guilty' but trial took its toll

MICHAEL Jackson called his trial on child molestation claims "the hardest thing I've ever done in my life." Acquitted of all charges by a jury but convicted by public opinion, he spent the rest of his life trying to recover from the ordeal.

On many fronts, it was a losing battle. Late night comedians derided him as a pedophile. Prosecutors who lost the case against him never accepted the jury verdict and Jackson felt driven to give up his beloved Neverland Ranch and leave the country.

This month, exactly four years after the verdict, the King of Pop was on the verge of a dazzling comeback. His "This Is It" concert tour was to be his artistic rebirth.

But Thomas Mesereau Jr, the lawyer who defended Jackson, said the star never recovered from the trial.

"The jury said 'not guilty,' 14 times," Mesereau recalls. "You couldn't have a verdict that got any closer to full vindication."

Mesereau said the effort by prosecutors and many media outlets to demonize Jackson during the 2005 trial took a physical and emotional toll that was difficult to erase.

"These were horrible charges to accuse any one of and they were completely bogus," he said.

Jackson could have got nearly 20 years behind bars if convicted of charges that he molested a 13-year-old cancer survivor at his Neverland ranch in 2003. Jurors also acquitted Jackson of getting the boy drunk and of conspiring to imprison the accuser and his family at the ranch.

Mesereau recalled Jackson visibly withering as the trial progressed, losing weight, his cheeks sunken, his skin pale. Twice he was taken to a hospital emergency room for treatment.

"The poor fellow couldn't sleep, couldn't eat. He was very worried about what would happen to his children if he was sent away. It took a horrible toll on him," said Mesereau.

The hardest part, he said, was to be accused by a child. "He didn't really trust adults," Mesereau said. "He looked to children as the people who wouldn't hurt him."


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