2 Jurors Now Say Jackson Is Guilty
Two of the 12 jurors who acquitted Michael Jackson of child-molestation charges said Monday that they were pressured to do so by other jurors and now regret their decision.
The jurors -- Eleanor Cook and Ray Hultman -- made their statements to interviewer Rita Cosby on cable network MSNBC.
“People just wouldn’t take their blinders off long enough to really look at all the evidence that was there,” said Hultman, 62, of Santa Maria, Calif., where the trial was held.
As are a number of other jurors, both Hultman and Cook, 79, are planning to write books about their five months on the high-profile case. Cook’s will be titled “Guilty as Sin, Free as a Bird” and Hultman’s will be called “The Deliberator,” according to Larry Garrison, who said he will help co-write both projects.
Garrison said neither book has a publisher. But Cook plans to share any profits with the charity Feed the Children, Garrison said.
Asked by Cosby whether their statements were motivated by money, both jurors said no.
“I’m speaking out now because I believe it’s never too late to tell the truth,” Cook said.
Jackson was acquitted June 13 of 14 counts in connection with allegations he molested a 13-year-old cancer survivor at his Neverland ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley. His lead defense attorney, Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., discounted the jurors’ interview Monday as “embarrassing and outrageous.”
“These people voted not guilty 14 times,” said Mesereau, who also appeared on Cosby’s show. “Now, nearly two months after being discharged, they’re changing their tune. I think it’s laughable.”
Reached at his office during the program, Santa Barbara County Dist. Atty. Tom Sneddon said he wasn’t watching the show and would have no comment on what the jurors were saying.
“It’s over with,” he said. “It isn’t going to make any difference what I say or what I feel.”
Prosecutors cannot appeal the acquittal, and overturning one is virtually impossible under the law.
The jurors’ contention that they were coerced to vote not guilty was disputed by fellow panelist Susan Drake, 51, who was reached at her Santa Ynez home on Monday night.
Drake said that during deliberations, Hultman and Cook “were clear in expressing their feeling he might be guilty but totally clear that the evidence wasn’t there and reasonable doubt prevailed.”
She said that discussions in the jury room were thoughtful and courteous, hardly the intimidating environment her colleagues discussed on television.
“We would ring the bell if more than one person was talking and we would refer to the evidence and talk one at a time and present evidence we thought was appropriate,” she said.
In their TV appearance, Hultman and Cook tried to distance themselves from the jury’s decision to find Jackson not guilty, which was reached after more than six days of deliberations.
“They’re the ones that let a pedophile go,” Cook said. “We didn’t.”
Hultman speculated that a number of witnesses who offered testimony favorable to Jackson were paid off or otherwise influenced improperly -- an allegation that Mesereau vigorously denied.
Hultman pointed in particular to the testimony of Deborah Rowe, Jackson’s ex-wife, who stunned prosecutors when she had nothing but good things to say about the singer’s parenting skills.
From the outset of deliberations, the pair said, they and one other juror -- Katharina Carls of Santa Maria -- argued that Jackson was guilty. They said their fellow jurors refused to compromise and that a couple of them were “star-struck.”
After the verdict was announced, all 12 jurors and eight alternates appeared at a news conference, giving the impression of people who respected one another and who had worked out their differences in a mature way.
But the reality was far different, according to Hultman and Cook. When the group finally arrived at their verdict, Cook said, “the air reeked of hatred. And people were angry. I just felt that they could turn on me any minute and there wasn’t anything I could do about it.”
In their televised interview, the pair provided few specifics of the intimidation they allege. However, they said that the foreman, Paul J. Rodriguez of Santa Maria, called Cook inflexible early in the deliberations and threatened to ask the judge to remove her from the panel.
Rodriguez could not be reached for comment Monday night. However, Drake defended him, saying the foreman was “very calm” and welcomed debate.
Still, Hultman said that he, too, felt targeted by Rodriguez for his minority viewpoint. He also said he did not want to be blamed for deadlocking the jury and possibly prompting a new trial.
“You’re thinking, ‘I’ve spent five months of my life in this trial and nobody’s going to kick me off of this trial -- until it’s over.’ ”
Cook said she is haunted by guilt and prays every night for Jackson’s teenage accuser.
“God has forgiven me,” she said, “and now I’m going to have to forgive myself.”
During the broadcast, Cook displayed a T-shirt she had made up with the words “Don’t snap your fingers at me, lady.” Cook uttered the phrase at a post-verdicts news conference in which she criticized the demeanor of one of the prosecutor’s chief witnesses, the accuser’s mother.
Hultman said the trial’s aftermath affected him differently. “I don’t go home feeling guilty,” he said. “I go home feeling angry.”