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Toobin: Conspiracy charge was 'albatross'

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin
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The two sides of the Jackson case react.

Jurors in the Michael Jackson case answer questions about the trial.

Jackson leaves the courtroom acquitted on all counts against him.

CNN's Jeffrey Toobin discusses the Michael Jackson acquittal.
On the Scene
Michael Jackson
Jeffrey Toobin
Lou Dobbs

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Michael Jackson walked out of a Santa Maria, California, courtroom Monday acquitted of all 10 child molestation and conspiracy charges against him.

CNN's Lou Dobbs spoke with CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin to take a look at where the prosecution went wrong.

DOBBS: Jeffrey, I know that you had some considerable judgment about the strength of a number of the counts overall. Ten not guilty verdicts. Is that what you expected?

TOOBIN: You know, it would be great to say in hindsight I knew it all along. You know, I wasn't sure what the verdict was here.

The one count I really was pretty sure of was the count one, the conspiracy count -- where the government alleged that Michael Jackson conspired with his employees to imprison the accuser's family after the Martin Bashir documentary ran in February of 2003.

And, you know, that case -- that count was not only a very weak count in and of itself, and that much was clear. It also was a terrible albatross for the prosecution, because it brought in all sorts of evidence about the accuser's family. And frankly, they did not stand up well to scrutiny.

The accuser's mother was an eccentric, at best, witness. The accuser himself was not a great witness. His brother, his sister, all of them had substantial credibility problems. And I think that was ultimately the reason the government couldn't prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt.

DOBBS: Beyond a reasonable doubt --despite direct testimony to lewd acts, molestation, on the part of employees of Neverland, former employees of Neverland Ranch, as well as the accuser. But at the same time, strong denials from witnesses that were expected to support, to bolster, the prosecution. And I'm thinking here particularly of Jackson's former wife, Debbie Rowe.

How important, in your judgment, was her testimony?

TOOBIN: I think it was important. I think what was especially important for the defense is that all of the testimony fit within their theme, which was that this family were grifters, that they saw Michael Jackson as an opportunity...

Their claims against Jackson were part of a pattern in their life. And, you know, one extremely important part of this case was that this family had sued J.C. Penney for an incident that allegedly took place in a parking lot at J.C. Penney. And it was very clear to me, and I suspect to the jury, that both the accuser and his mother gave false testimony in that case in order to make money, including allegations of a sexual kind of abuse of the mother.

And Thomas Mesereau very effectively made the point that, see, this is what they do, this is a pattern. They make sexual allegations to make money.

DOBBS: Let's return to your point on the pattern that you perceived in both the prosecution's attack against Jackson and the defense's rallying points.

TOOBIN: Well, what made the defense so effective here is that it wasn't just this one incident that they could point to. They could say that this is a mother who, you know, had tried to cheat on welfare, who had tried to make money improperly out of her son's disease, who had filed this very questionable lawsuit against J.C. Penney.

So they could tell a story. And juries, you know, always understand stories rather than sort of individual facts. And their story hung together.

However, the prosecution had a story here, too, and they were allowed to tell it. They brought five other stories before the jury of other molestation by...

DOBBS: And they were able to do that, Jeffrey, because of a change in California law, correct?

TOOBIN: California law -- California evidence Code Section 1108, that interestingly was changed fairly recently because of the molestation cases against Catholic priests. That earlier law had not earlier allowed prior conduct of these accused priests to be brought before the jury, and the California legislature thought it was a good thing to be allowed to have this evidence brought before them.

The law was changed. The prosecution here made very extensive use of that law. Probably more than has ever been done before.

Frankly, I thought it was pretty effective evidence. The jury didn't buy it.

DOBBS: And let me ask you this, Jeffrey. The judge actually telling the jurors today not to be guarded in their responses to the press. More than 2,000 reporters there to cover the trial, to actually -- he encouraged them to speak to the press.

Your thoughts?

TOOBIN: Very uncharacteristic of Judge Melville. He has conducted the closest thing to a secret trial that I have seen.

He didn't release the indictment until the jury was picked. There was no release of the questions from the jury during jury deliberations, something that I've never seen before. So I guess he now feels that since the trial is utterly and completely over, it doesn't matter anymore. But it's certainly uncharacteristic with how he tried the rest of the case.

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