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Area residents say celebrity and wealth helped Jackson

June 14, 2005|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

TRI-STATE - The prevailing sentiment of Tri-State area residents interviewed Monday night was that Michael Jackson walked out a California court a free man earlier in the day because "money talks."

Jackson, 46, was found not guilty on all charges in his child-molestation trial. The pop star could have been sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison if convicted of charges that he molested a 13-year-old cancer survivor at Neverland in 2003.

Of more than a dozen people who spoke with Herald-Mail reporters Monday night, none said they strongly believed that Jackson was innocent.

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Nearly everyone said they believed that his celebrity status and wealth were factors in the verdict.

Michael Whitehead, 35, Sean Truesdale, 30, and Isaac Holley, 38, all former Baltimore residents living in Hagerstown, said nearly simultaneously that "money talks."

Whitehead said on East Franklin Street that he believes the same evidence would have resulted in a conviction for anyone who was not rich or famous.

"Put him in my shoes ... us lower-class ain't got nothing coming to us," Whitehead said.

Truesdale said he was surprised that Jackson was not convicted on any of the charges against him.

"I like Michael Jackson, but he at least should have got something for the alcohol," he said of allegations that Jackson got the boy drunk.

Centre at Hagerstown shoppers tended to have the same opinion that money might have helped Jackson escape jail time.

Nancy Gustavsson, 24, of Hagerstown, said she believes the verdict would have been a lot different if Jackson was using a public defender rather than a high-priced defense team.

"If you're famous and have a lot of money to pay a really good lawyer, you can get out of anything," Gustavsson said.

Daniel Rodriguez, 24, of Hagerstown, said he believes the star-studded lineup of character witnesses brought in to testify helped boost Jackson's image to jurors.

"He had many people, famous people, on his side. That buys out anybody," Rodriguez said.

Some appeared to be shocked, hours after the verdict.

"I'm disappointed ... " said Kara Pittman, 20, of Mercersburg, Pa. "Anyone who hangs a baby off a balcony has got problems ... They have video of that."

"I was shocked," said Karen Thurley, 36, of Waynesboro, Pa. "I really thought he'd be guilty."

Thurley said she believes that some jurors might have been concerned that convicting Jackson would lead to rioting in some communities because of his popularity and a potential perception that he did not get a fair trial because he is black.

None of the other people interviewed by Herald-Mail reporters said they believed race played a part in the case.

Others at the shopping center, including the Moroz siblings of Greencastle, Pa., were not fazed by the verdict.

"I'm not so much surprised, but I think it was probably the wrong decision," Erin Moroz, 20, said.

"It's happened before, it'll happen again," Jon Moroz, 17, said of allegations involving Jackson.

In Funkstown, some expressed disappointment in the failed attempt at a conviction.

Debbie Hamilton, 50, of Funkstown, said, "I think it's a shame, because I think he's guilty."

She said that the "child and his brother gave testimony that was relatively the same ... I admit, the mother, if you went by her, that he's not guilty."

That aside, she said, "He's been accused of it before."

Clay Roll, 46, of Hagerstown, said the verdict "totally (stinks)" because he said he thinks Jackson was guilty.

"It's what a good lawyer and a lot of money will get you," Roll said.

His wife, Kelly Roll, 40, said she thought that Jackson was guilty, but didn't think his guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

"There was just enough of a shadow of doubt," she said.

Staff Writer Pepper Ballard contributed to this story.

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