This Michael Jackson child sexual abuse case timeline takes a comprehensive look at what is considered to be one of the most shameful episodes in modern journalism.
Michael Jackson’s child sexual abuse trial was a media circus. Not just because he was one of the most famous musicians in the world and was, by most accounts, eccentric, but because the King of Pop was tried and found guilty by the media before the trial even began.
Not only that, but the mainstream media chose to overlook evidence showing Jackson was innocent of all charges in exchange for viewership. In fact, the public was almost expected to believe that the pop star was guilty. This might explain the indignant cries of cover-up that occurred after Jackson was acquitted by 12 jurors off all charges related to child molestation, conspiracy, and providing alcohol to a minor.
To gain a greater understanding of what happened, let’s get started with the Michael Jackson molestation case timeline.
1993 – Civil Case Against Michael Jackson
Before we even get to the roots of the 2003-2005 child sexual abuse case against Michael Jackson, we need to look at what occurred in 1993.
Why was Tom Sneddon, the district attorney for Santa Barbara, so bent on taking down Michael Jackson in 2003-2005? Sneddon would deny he was vindictive or that he harbored any anger towards Jackson, but that would be a bit of a stretch for almost anyone to believe.
This would be the second time Sneddon tried to prosecute Jackson. His first attempt, 10 years prior, failed miserably.
In 1993, Michael Jackson was accused in civil court of molesting an 11-year old boy, Jordan Chandler. Police raided Neverland and subjected Jackson to a full body search.
But before any charges could be laid, Jackson settled out of court. Jordan received $15.0 million and his parents each received $1.5 million.
Jordan Chandler denied Michael Jackson ever sexually abused him and only admitted as much when his father, a dentist to the stars, gave his son sodium amytal during a routine dental procedure in August 1993.
Dentists do not normally use sodium amytal to pull a tooth. Under the so-called “truth serum,” subjects can state anything because the sedative has hypnotic effects and most people are highly suggestive.
Evan Chandler, perhaps jealous of his son’s close friendship with Jackson, asked Jordan if Michael had ever touched his penis…and the child, under the influence of the drug, said yes.
Jordan met Michael Jackson after the pop superstar’s vehicle broke down on the side of the road in Beverly Hills. When the stranded Jackson was eventually picked up by a tow truck, the owner of the company called his wife, June, and told her to come down to the shop to meet Jackson. June brought along her son from a previous marriage, Jordan.
Michael and Jordan hit it off and exchanged phone numbers and the two ended up spending more and more time together.
It soon became apparent that the molestation charges may have been fabricated and that Evan Chandler was more of an extortionist than a concerned parent. As proof, a recorded phone conversation between Chandler and Dave Schwartz, June’s new husband, was released.
Chandler, who was more than $60,000 behind in child support payments, had approached Jackson on several occasions for money, always leaving empty handed. In the recording, Chandler says, “This man is going to be humiliated beyond belief. He will not believe what is going to happen to him, beyond his worst nightmares. He will not sell one more record.”
Chandler continued: “Jackson is an evil guy. He is worse than that, and I have the evidence to prove it. If I go through with this, I win big-time. There’s no way I lose. I will get everything I want, and they will be destroyed forever. June will lose [custody of the son] and Michael’s career will be over.”
When Schwartz asks how the plan is going to help Jordan, Chandler said, “That’s irrelevant to me. The bottom line is, yes, his mother is harming him, and Michael is harming him. I can prove that, and I will prove that. It cost me tens of thousands of dollars to get the information I got, and you know I don’t have that kind of money. I’m willing to go down financially. It will be a massacre if I don’t get what I want. It’s going to be bigger than all of us put together.”
What the “proof” is has never been determined. What is true, though, is that the phone call took place on July 8. Evan would say Jordan confessed to the abuse while under sodium amytal on July 16.
Actress Carrie Fisher, in her 2011 memoir Shockaholic, recounted how in 1993 she was a drug addict and Evan Chandler was her dentist. He would set her up with drugs for unnecessary dental work. According to Fisher, “Evan Chandler serviced the rich and famous less as a dentist than a drug dealer.”
In her book, Fisher said Chandler told her in the privacy of a dental visit that, “My son is VERY (unsettling smile, raised eyebrows, maybe even a lewd wink) good looking…It was grotesque. This man was letting me know that he had this valuable thing that Michael Jackson ‘wanted.’”
It appears as though the extortion worked. Chandler and his family received a large settlement, but Sneddon was without a conviction.
When discussing what motivated Sneddon in the more recent charges against Jackson, Jim Thomas, a former Santa Barbara County sheriff, said, “It’s not a vendetta. He’s a professional, and he’s no one that is going to look back and say, ‘You know, we didn’t get you last time; we got you this time.’”
Gary Dunlop, a defense attorney who had squared off with Sneddon on numerous occasions, had the opposite view; he said, “He lost his opportunity against Michael Jackson in 1993, and he doesn’t want to leave office without paying that score back.”
February 3, 2003 – “Living with Michael Jackson” Documentary
In February 2003, ITV, a TV station in the United Kingdom, aired a documentary titled Living with Michael Jackson. The documentary was made up of footage and interviews that reporter Martin Bashir culled over eight months spent with Jackson.
At one point in the documentary, Michael Jackson is seen with a young boy, then-13-year-old Gavin Arvizo.
Back in 2000, Jackson met Gavin while he was being treated for cancer. Jackson gave the family financial support and invited Gavin, his brother Star, and their mother to his Neverland Ranch on several occasions.
More than 15 million people tuned in to hear Jackson say he occasionally let visiting children sleep in his bed.Bashir said he felt uneasy about Michael Jackson’s so-called obsession with children and confronted him on the issue.
Jackson defended himself, saying it was natural for close friends or family to sleep in the same room. “It’s not sexual, we’re going to sleep,” he said. “I tuck them in…It’s very charming, it’s very sweet.”
This included his friendships with Macaulay and Kieran Culkin. Macaulay denied anything sexual went on.
For the record, Jackson’s bedroom is two stories high, with multiple bathrooms. And Jackson would sleep on the floor when children stayed over.
Three days later, 28 million watched the same documentary in the U.S. A media frenzy ensued. The documentary also raised red flags at the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.
February 20, 2003 – Michael Jackson Airs Own Documentary
Michael Jackson said he felt betrayed by the way he was portrayed in the documentary, especially regarding his parenting.
To refute Bashir’s portrayal of him, Jackson released his own documentary, Take Two: The Footage You Were Never Meant to See.
The one-hour show, hosted by Maury Povich and shown on Fox, contains video footage of the same interviews and scenes from Living with Michael Jackson, but supplied by Michael Jackson’s own cameraman. So the footage was different.
The special attempted to repair Jackson’s damaged reputation by airing footage not shown in the original documentary.
For example, in the original documentary, Bashir was critical of Jackson’s parenting skills, saying, “…they are restricted. They are overly protected. I was angry at the way his children were made to suffer.”
In Take Two, Maury Povich presents a clip showing Bashir praising Jackson’s parenting skills: “Your relationship with your children is spectacular,” Bashir said. “And in fact it almost makes me weep when I see you with them,” because it is, “so natural, so loving, so caring.”
Bashir said the short clip of him praising Jackson’s parenting skills was an unfair representation of how he really felt.
February 2003 – Santa Barbara Officials Begin a Criminal Investigation
Michael Jackson might have thought that Take Two accomplished what he wanted it to, but as soon as the original documentary aired, the Santa Barbara county attorney’s office launched a criminal investigation.
It was started after the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) received a phone call on February 14, 2003 from a “school official” working in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
After having watched the ABC broadcast of Living with Michael Jackson, the school official called the child abuse hotline and lodged a formal complaint of “general neglect by mother and sexual abuse by ‘an entertainer.’”
That same month, Gavin Arvizo and his family were interviewed by child abuse officers. At the time, Arvizo’s mother, Janet, told investigators that, “she believed the media had taken everything out of context.”
She went on to say that Michael Jackson was, “like a father to the children and a part of her family.” She also acknowledged that her son Gavin, “slept in the same room as the entertainer,” as well as noted that “they did not share a bed” and that Jackson slept separately, on the floor.
The confidential investigation concluded that allegations that Michael Jackson sexually abused Gavin Arvizo were “unfounded.”
November 18, 2003 – 70 Sheriffs Raid Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch
Despite the “unfounded” findings related to any sexual misconduct, on November 18, 2003, 70 sheriffs raided Neverland Ranch.
The media frenzy had begun, As soon as word of the raid broke, news channels switched their regular programming to 24-hour coverage of Michael Jackson.
When it was learned that the raid was related to accusations that he molested Gavin Arvizo, the boy from Living with Michael Jackson, the media went ballistic. The networks were so obsessed with the Michael Jackson scandal that a terrorist attack that took place in Turkey went largely unreported; only CNN covered a joint press conference with George Bush and Tony Blair about the disaster.
November 19, 2003 – Michael Jackson Charged with Sexual Abuse
On November 19, 2003, Santa Barbara, California District Attorney Tom Sneddon held a press conference announcing child molestation charges against Michael Jackson and that a warrant had been issued for his arrest.
The press conference is famous in large part because Sneddon appears to be smiling throughout much of it. While the DA claimed he was not out to get Michael Jackson and wasn’t being vindictive, he joked about Jackson’s greatest hits album being released on the same day as his arrest. He also called the artist “Wacko Jacko” and shouted, “We got him, we finally got him!”
November 20, 2003 – Michael Jackson Arrested
Michael Jackson, then 45, was arrested on November 20, 2003. He was subsequently released on $3.0-million bail. DA Sneddon said he expected to file felony child molestation charges against Jackson within the next week.
Late November 2003 – Michael Jackson Proclaimed Guilty by All Major Media Outlets
Knowing it would take months and months between Jackson’s arrest and the trial to begin, networks went into overdrive to pad their stories for as long as possible.
Within hours of the November 19th press conference, NBC News scrapped its Dateline episode devoted to “Dungeon Master” John Jamelske in order to cover the Jackson scandal. Jamelske pleaded guilty the previous summer to kidnapping and raping women in an underground dungeon over a 15-year period.
Instead, Dateline interviewed Raymond Chandler, the uncle of a 13-year-old boy who claimed in 1993 that Michael Jackson sexually abused him. Criminal charges were never filed and the boy’s family declined to testify after being paid millions by Jackson in a settlement to avoid a trial.
CBS dedicated an episode of 48 Hours Investigates to Jackson’s arrest, while ABC’s 20/20 also rushed out a Jackson special. Within two days of the Neverland raid, and before Jackson had even been arrested, VH1 announced a half-hour documentary called Michael Jackson Sex Scandal.
Knowing that Jackson was bound by a gag order, those sympathetic to the prosecution leaked documents to the media, including Jordan Chandler’s 1993 police statement. The media was ravenous, pouncing on everything.
2003-2004 – Tom Sneddon Behaves Questionably
With the media focused on prosecuting Jackson, the legal team actually assigned to do so was free to carry out some questionable behavior in the time leading up to the trial.
During the Neverland raid, Sneddon and his officers breached the terms of their own search warrant: they entered Jackson’s private office and seized business records.
They also illegally raided the office of a private investigator working for Michael Jackson’s defense team and took documents from the home of Jackson’s personal assistant.
When Sneddon learned about two taped interviews in which the Arvizo family spoke highly of Michael Jackson and denied any abuse, he claimed the family had been forced to lie.
In January 2004, Michael Jackson’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, appeared on NBC. He said his client had an ironclad alibi for the dates in question.
However, when Jackson was rearraigned in April 2004 for the conspiracy charges, the dates of the molestation had been moved by almost two weeks. Curious, right?
Sneddon was also allegedly caught trying to plant fingerprint evidence against Michael Jackson. During grand jury hearings, he handed accuser Gavin Arvizo adult magazines, then bagged them up and sent them away for fingerprint analysis.
During grand jury hearings, only the prosecution is able to present their case. And during the grand jury process, all potential evidentiary items are presented and discussed. There is no cross examination.
January 16, 2004 – Michael Jackson Pleads Not Guilty to Charges
On January 16, 2004, Michael Jackson appeared at the Santa Monica courthouse and entered a plea on the child molestation charges.
Fans who had gathered outside the courthouse were treated to an impromptu show when Jackson jumped on top of a car, waved, danced, and blew kisses at his cheering throngs of fans before entering the building.
Judge Rodney Melville was not as thrilled about the show that took place outside. He tore a strip off Jackson for arriving 20 minutes late.
Jackson entered a plea of not guilty.
January 31, 2005 – Michael Jackson Releases Video Statement
During the mayhem, Michael Jackson released a video calling the allegations false and saying that he deserved a fair trial. He felt he would be vindicated when the truth was told.
January 31, 2005 – People v. Jackson Trial Begins
January 31 was the start of the trial, but the trial didn’t actually begin that day. Rather, prospective jurors filed through a Santa Maria, California courtroom and were selected for the trial.
February 28, 2005 – Michael Jackson Trial Gets Underway
At the end of February, the trial against Michael Jackson finally got underway.
He was ultimately charged with seven counts of child sexual abuse and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent in order to commit a child sexual abuse felony against Gavin Arvizo.
From the opening statements in late February, it became clear that jurors would hear two sharply different tales.
Prosecutors said Michael Jackson was a serial pedophile who allegedly used his fame and the endless fun of Neverland to lure boys into his bed. Gavin Arvizo, they alleged, was just the latest in a long list of “special friends” Jackson courted; he paid off at least two with big payments for their silence. But no more. Tom Sneddon was going to put a stop to it.
The defense, meanwhile, said Gavin Arvizo was a liar who had begged numerous celebrities in the past for money by playing up his bout with cancer when he was 10. Thomas A. Mesereau, Michael Jackson’s lead attorney, called the Arvizo family “con artists, actors, and liars.”
As the prosecution took center stage, it became apparent that their case was full of holes.
Star Arvizo, Gavin’s brother, took the stand early in the trial and said he saw two specific sexual acts occur between Gavin and Michael Jackson.
In one instance, he allegedly saw Michael fondle Gavin. But in a previous description of the same incident, he told a totally different story. He also told two different stories about the other act that is alleged to have occurred.
Under cross-examination, Mesereau showed Star a copy of the Barely Legal magazine Jackson allegedly showed them. Star insisted it was that exact edition of the magazine they looked at. Unfortunately for the prosecution, that particular issue came out five months after the Arvizo family last visited Neverland.
Sadly, this information went largely unreported. The media focused instead on the allegations rather than the cross-examination. If they even heard the cross-examination; more often than not, reporters would run out of the courtroom to report on salacious details, only to miss the cross examination where the prosecution witnesses were obliterated.
March 11, 2005 – Michael Jackson Shows up to Court in Pajamas
Much has been made about Michael Jackson showing up to court in his pajamas, looking dazed and confused. This was detrimental for two reasons: first, no one focused on what Gavin Arvizo said when he took the stand, and second, no one asked why Jackson turned up in his pajamas—they simply assumed he was being his eccentric self.
On the first day of Arvizo’s direct examination, Jackson slipped in his shower and bruised his lung. He was rushed to the hospital. Judge Rodney Melville ordered a bench warrant for Jackson’s arrest unless he got to court within the hour.
Jackson sped to the courtroom in the pajamas he put on before being rushed to the hospital.
Images of Jackson in his pajamas led the news around the world. Few made mention of Jackson’s injuries or why he was wearing the pajamas. Many journalists simply accused Jackson of faking everything to gain sympathy. Who he was gaining sympathy from is unclear. It certainly wasn’t the media.
When Gavin Arvizo took the stand that day, he said that Jackson initiated the molestation, telling him and his brother that if they didn’t masturbate, they’d turn into rapists. Under cross examination, Gavin admitted that it was his grandmother who made the comment, not Jackson. This suggested that the entire molestation story was precipitated by a lie.
Gavin also admitted under cross examination that he never felt afraid at Neverland and he never wanted to leave. Moreover, Gavin’s account of the molestation differed significantly from Star’s.
This was not reported in the news that day. What was covered was Michael Jackson and what became known as “Pajama Day.”
March 23, 2005 – Michael Jackson’s Heterosexual Porn Collection Revealed
Jurors in Michael Jackson’s child molestation trial were shown dozens of pornographic magazines seized from his bedroom at Neverland Ranch. The prosecution hoped to portray Jackson as a sexual deviant. But even here, all the prosecution did was show that Jackson was a pretty typical guy and that his porn collection consisted of heterosexual magazines, including Hustler, Playboy, Penthouse, Barely Legal, and Plumpers and Big Women.
In a court motion, Jackson’s lawyer, Thomas Mesereau wrote, “The effort to try Mr. Jackson for having one of the largest private libraries in the world is alarming. Not since the dark day of almost three quarters of a century ago has anyone witnessed a prosecution which claimed that the possession of books by well-known artists were evidence of a crime against the state.”
Outside of legal porn images of women, there were no love letters written to any child, as had been claimed; no photos of himself or children engaged in any sexual acts no video tapes; no taped phone conversations; and no “sexting.” In other words, none of the typical evidence used to take down a sexual predator.
A search of over 16 computers seized from the 2003 raid at Neverland revealed nothing. Well, except for the fact he’d visited a few legal adult porn sites, where he logged in as “Dr. Black” and “Marcel Jackson.”
Without any evidence, the case boiled down to Gavin Arvizo’s word against Michael Jackson’s.
April 2005 – Prosecution Case Crumbles
As the prosecution’s case crumbled, they asked the judge if they could admit evidence of prior bad acts. Their request was granted.
Sneddon warned the jury they would hear evidence of five former victims.
To start, Sneddon brought in a large number of disgruntled employees who testified that they had seen Michael Jackson molest three boys: Wade Robson; Brett Barnes; and Macaulay Culkin.
This was bad news for the prosecution. The young men named were actually the defense’s first three witnesses, each of them testifying that Jackson had never touched them.
Further, it was revealed that the former employees testifying against Jackson had been fired by the pop star for stealing or had lost wrongful termination suits and owed Jackson large sums of money.
These same witnesses for the prosecution also failed to mention how they allegedly saw Michael Jackson molest Jordan Chandler in 1993 and, instead of telling police, sold their story to the press. The more graphic the stories became, the more money they received.
A fourth victim’s testimony was mostly overlooked. Jason Francia took the stand and said that Jackson molested him three times as a child. When asked to explain what the molestation looked like, Francia said Jackson tickled him three times over his clothes and that he needed years of therapy to work through the pain.
Jury members rolled their eyes in disbelief. But reporter Dan Abrams said Francia’s testimony was “compelling” and that he could be the one witness that takes Michael Jackson down and puts him behind bars.
It was later learned that Francia repeatedly changed his story. Moreover, he initially said he’d never been molested. According to transcripts, Francia said of investigators, “They made me come up with stuff. They kept pushing. I wanted to hit them in the head.”
May 4, 2005 – Prosecution Rests
In early May, the prosecution rested after calling 85 witnesses and introducing more than 500 pieces of evidence.
May 5, 2005 – Defense Case Begins
The next day, Michael Jackson’s defense team launched their case.
Sadly, the media didn’t want to report what went on and gave it little airtime or space in the paper. Even The Hollywood Reporter, which reported incessantly on the prosecution’s case, missed two entire weeks of the defense case.
Unlike Sneddon, Michael Jackson’s defense team called excellent witnesses: boys and girls who stayed at Neverland with Jackson and never witnessed or experienced any bad behavior; employees who saw the Arvizo boys drink alcohol when Jackson was away; and celebrities who said they had been targeted for handouts by the accuser. Little of this was reported in the media.
May 11, 2005 – Macaulay Culkin Calls Accusations Against Jackson “Ridiculous”
In an “exclusive” interview, actor Macaulay Culkin was interviewed by Larry King on CNN. King tried desperately to get Culkin to give some dirt on Jackson, but the youthful actor outwitted him at every turn.
Culkin laughingly called the accusations against Jackson “ridiculous” and denied any inappropriate behavior by the star.
May 19, 2005 – Judge Rules Against Larry King
Judge Melville ruled that talk show host Larry King could not testify before the jury about how the lawyer for the Arvizo family told him that Gavin’s mother, Janet, was a “wacko” out for money.
June 3, 2005 – Closing Arguments
Closing arguments ended and the jury began deliberating Michael Jackson’s fate. If convicted, Jackson was looking at 20 years in prison.
June 13, 2005 – Michael Jackson Acquitted of All Charges
The jury, made up of eight women and four men, deliberated for around 30 hours over seven days before announcing they had reached a decision. When word got out that the jury had reached a verdict on the Michael Jackson trial, the media lit up.
CNN’s Nancy Grace and defense attorney Robert Shapiro stated that Michael Jackson was going to be convicted.
Over on Fox News, ex-prosecutor Wendy Murphy said that, “There is no question we will see convictions here.”
Those who had attended the trial, though, knew there wasn’t any evidence to convict Jackson. The prosecution’s witnesses either perjured themselves or helped the defense.
At 2:13 p.m., the court clerk began to read the verdict.
In the end, jurors found the prosecution’s case had come up short. Michael Jackson was acquitted of all charges against him.
As the verdict was read, Michael Jackson wiped at his eyes with a tissue and one of his lawyers, Susan C. Yu, sobbed quietly.
Michael Jackson walked free from court that day.
June 13, 2005 – Post-Verdict Statements
The verdict was a devastating blow to Tom Sneddon, the Santa Barbara County district attorney who had pursued Michael Jackson for 12 years.
When asked if he thought a child molester had gone free, the once smiley Sneddon snapped, “No comment.”
Sneddon didn’t go down quietly. During a post-verdict news conference, the DA referred to Gavin Arvizo as a “victim” and blamed the “celebrity” factor for the jury’s verdict.
Sneddon also said he wasn’t going to hang his head in shame. “I’m not going to look back and apologize for anything we’ve done,” he said. “You never have a case where you don’t have some surprises.”
Sneddon wasn’t alone with his disgust. Minutes after the not-guilty verdict, Nancy Grace appeared on CourtTV. She said jurors had been mesmerized by Michael Jackson’s fame and said that aside, from Janet Arvizo, the prosecution had a strong case.
“I’m having a crow sandwich right now,” she said. “It doesn’t taste very good. But you know what? I’m also not surprised. I thought that celebrity is such a big factor. When you think you know somebody, when you have watched their concerts, listened to their records, read the lyrics, believed they were coming from somebody’s heart… Jackson is very charismatic, although he never took the stand. That has an effect on this jury.”
On Fox News, Wendy Murphy called Michael Jackson “the Teflon molester,” and said the jury needed IQ tests.
“I don’t think the jurors even understand how influenced they were by who Michael Jackson is…” Murphy said. “They basically put targets on the backs of all, especially highly vulnerable, kids that will now come into Michael Jackson’s life.”
The media gave Sneddon a pass and blamed the jury.
As for the jury, one juror said, “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. In this case, we had difficulty in finding that.”
June 13, 2005 – Poll Shows Most Americans Unhappy with Verdict
A Gallup poll that came out hours after the not guilty verdict was read showed that 54% of White Americans and 48% of the overall population were at odds with the jury’s verdict.
According to the poll, 62% of people said Jackson’s celebrity status blinded the jury, 34% were “saddened” by the verdict, and 24% were outraged.
A poll by People Weekly found that a whopping 88% of readers disagreed with the jury’s verdict.
June 25, 2009 – Michael Jackson Dies
On June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson, 50, died at U.C.L.A. Medical Center after arriving in a coma. He was pronounced dead at 2:26 p.m.
Despite many people still doubting his innocence, even though he was found not guilty, countless music fans went into mourning.
From his youngest days in the Jackson 5 to his massive solo career, Jackson sold in excess of 750 million albums.
November 2, 2014 – Tom Sneddon Dies
After a distinguished career, Tom Sneddon died of cancer at a Santa Barbara hospital. He was 73.