Michael Jackson is 100 percent innocent, and his 2005 trial on charges of child molestation was an outrageously expensive witch hunt solely designed by then Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon to dethrone a successful black celebrity. Meanwhile, the mainstream media missed the true story, preferring instead to pronounce the pop star guilty on all counts in the court of public opinion. Everyone except Michael Jackson should be ashamed of themselves.
So believes author Aphrodite Jones, and her latest book, Michael Jackson Conspiracy, lays out her theories in a meticulously researched, blow-by-blow fashion. Taking readers inside the Santa Maria courtroom that captured the world’s attention for more than six months, the book recounts the testimony of crucial witnesses, paints the bizarre backdrop of nutty fans and international media hordes, and hammers home the “not guilty” verdict that a jury of Jackson’s peers delivered.
It’s a tale I already know far too well, having covered the trial for The Independent, TIME, and various national radio programs. I was even on the path to my own book deal, corresponding extensively with a prominent New York City agent and developing chapter outlines for a pitch that never popped. Like Michael Jackson Conspiracy, my book would have focused largely on the media circus surrounding the event, as I found myself intermingling with these professional train wreck-watchers whose heavily made-up faces, outlandish opinions, and no-holds-barred scoop-snagging strategies left me feeling ill as I drove home every day from Santa Maria.
And like Jones-who was forced to self-publish her book even though she has a slew of other best-selling true-crime titles under her belt-I quickly found that the publishers weren’t interested in anything on Jackson at all after the not-guilty verdict was announced. “I was told flat-out by numerous publishers and agents in New York that nobody wants a pro-Jackson book,” said Jones. “Can you believe that? It’s just weird that even what you read in a book is getting designated by someone making executive decisions about people’s lives and reputations. It’s not only weird, it’s actually scary.”
But unlike Jones, by the time the trial had ended, I thought Jackson was guilty. For me, the convincing factor was a video played by the prosecution in the trial’s 11th hour: footage of the accuser, then 13-year-old Gavin Arvizo, telling the cops for the first time that he’d been molested by Jackson. Oddly, it was this same video that convinced Jones of Jackson’s innocence.
“That video was the thing that convinced me completely,” she explained in a long and meandering phone conversation from her Long Island home two weeks ago. “I don’t believe he did anything to this Arvizo kid. I honest-to-god believe he didn’t do it. Watch the video again, and watch him get nervous at the wrong places and watch him study before he answers. He’s a very good little actor, but he was acting.”
Jones believes that the whole attempt to put Jackson behind bars was simply a pet “vendetta” of D.A. Sneddon, who retired at the end of 2006 after 23 years on the job. Jones said that Jackson’s attorney Thomas Mesereau, who penned the forward to Michael Jackson Conspracy, had told Sneddon that the Arvizos were not reliable witnesses and that they’d been involved in other con games before-two facts that eventually swayed the jury. “But Sneddon didn’t care,” said Jones. “He just wanted his name in lights. He just wanted all the hoopla around him.”
Jones is also now claiming wherever she can that the retired D.A. is a racist in the good-ole-boy sense, pointing to a courtroom exchange in which one of the witnesses, black comedian Chris Tucker, asked to see a photograph of himself that was being used by the prosecution, and Sneddon replied, “If you’re a good boy.” I remember finding the moment a tad unsettling, but its ties to racism are debatable. (Sneddon did not respond to my request for a comment last week, and when I ran into him at the Taco Bell on Milpas many months ago, he seemed to be enjoying retired life and to have moved far beyond the 2005 trial.)
Complicating matters, while the trial was going on, Jones herself was a popular talking head on television, especially for the Fox News network. “I was one of the leaders of the pack,” she admitted. “We did as much as we could to make [Jackson] look bad. That’s what people wanted. To be quite honest, that’s what Fox wanted. They didn’t want any exculpatory information.”
This book is her apology, an attempt to set the record straight and reveal that the media were biased and remain broken. “It’s all about exposing what the media can do to someone with just an accusation,” Jones explained. “Anyone can come along with accusations or innuendo and, if the media decide to pick it up, it can snowball and ruin careers.” Though she never mentions specific journalists by name in her book-save for Martin Bashir, whose documentary on Jackson jump-started the investigation and made Bashir a witness-Jones has no love for many of her colleagues, explaining, “These people make their careers off Jackson’s blood.”
While her book is about the Jackson trial, Jones sees it as an indictment of the whole media system. “We have moved into a culture where it’s all about personalities and the Nancy Graces of the world who have an agenda. I don’t think that’s real news anymore,” she said. “We’re coming into a society and era that’s becoming so obsessed with celebrity that even the news organizations are caving in.” Jones hopes she’s a force in the other direction, toward truth and fairness-even though her opinionated book comes off as rather one-sided.
As for the pop star, Jones says “He hasn’t even recognized that the book exists.” But her book is a big hit with MJ fans all over the world, and is already being translated into a number of languages. She’s been doing book-signings since the book came out in June-much like the ones she’s doing with attorney Thomas Mesereau this weekend in Santa Barbara-and the book is starting to attract the attention of the legal community as well.
But Michael Jackson Conspiracyl was never a money-making endeavor for Jones, who said, “It was more a labor of love and catharsis for me.” Hopefully it’s a cathartic reality check for the mainstream media as well.
Aphrodite Jones will discuss and sign copies of Michael Jackson Conspiracy on Saturday, noon-4 p.m., at the Barnes & Noble on State Street, and on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Borders in Goleta. Jackson’s defense attorney, Thomas Mesereau, will also be in attendance. For more on the book, see aphroditejones.com.