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A Release of Doves and Emotions

Fans outside courthouse cheer and weep with joy. One sets birds aloft to symbolize freedom.

June 14, 2005|Amanda Covarrubias and Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writers

SANTA MARIA, Calif. — Outside the courthouse, Fariba Garmani didn't need to hear the news. As she perched atop the 6-foot aluminum ladder she had brought from home, she let the cheers of her fellow fans be her guide on Michael Jackson's fate.

With each new roar from the crowd, the Mission Viejo mortgage consultant released another white dove -- reaching into a big wooden cage to grab it, then raising it skyward and letting it go.

Ten doves for 10 acquittals. With each dove that flew off, Garmani's expression grew more ecstatic. All around her, people wept, screamed, hugged each other, wailed into their cellphones.

Some fans threw confetti. Some chanted.

"I don't hear the haters now. I don't hear the haters now," repeated Darnell Worthy, 18, of Bakersfield as he mockingly held his hands over his ears after the verdicts.

Some fans outside the Santa Barbara County courthouse heard the news over radios, others had portable TVs, while others relied on friends not on the scene to watch TV and then call their cellphones.

One bare-chested man wore a chain around his neck, holding a California license plate that read "MICL JXN," with a frame reading "Innocent Till Proven Guilty." He appeared to have dipped his left hand in glitter, in apparent honor of the pop star.

"I'm the happiest person alive right now. I cried like a baby," said Raffles van Exel, 29, who had come to the trial from Amsterdam. He was wearing a bright yellow suit jacket decorated with an embroidered image of Jackson's face and sequined letters that spelled out "Oh, I'm with the king."

For all his joy, though, Van Exel said he thought children who spent the night at Jackson's Neverland ranch should be supervised.

As Jackson left the courthouse, hundreds of expectant fans were waiting to celebrate with him, including children on their parents' shoulders and others who, like Garmani, balanced on ladders to try to catch a glimpse of the singer.

Garmani released four last doves as Jackson walked to his car.

But the pop star didn't dawdle, didn't say a word, certainly didn't look as though he was about to dance atop his car as he did at his arraignment in January. He just held up his left hand in a stiff wave, then briefly pressed it over his heart and blew a kiss before disappearing into a black SUV.

Right after the verdicts, some fans ran to their cars, racing to get to Neverland too. In fact, cars kept pulling alongside Jackson's caravan of SUVs whisking him back to Neverland, about 30 miles away.

Monday's vigil outside Neverland started small. Mostly, those who were there gathered around Jennine Elcock's black Mercedes-Benz SUV because she had a television (albeit a small one, and black and white). Just before the verdicts were read, Claudio Bono, 33, of Miami threatened to move out of the country if his idol was convicted.

Then came the news.

"Yes!" he cried out, pumping his fists. "Justice for all!"

By 3 p.m., 700 people were waiting outside the gates of Neverland, which had been covered with construction-paper red hearts and draped in red and white ribbons. California Highway Patrol officers tried to maintain order, as cars jammed the two-lane country road that leads to the Santa Ynez Valley ranch.

In keeping with Jackson's international fame, an Irish flag was seen at the courthouse, and a group of Jackson supporters waved a large French flag. They poured sparkling wine over each other, dancing and chanting: "Innocent! Innocent!"

Sandra Berger, 21, said she had come to the trial from Sweden with a friend.

"I've been here since the first day of the trial and there's no words to describe how I feel," she said.

By 3:15 p.m., the convoy of black SUVs approached the gates, and the fans' cheers began to crescendo. LaToya Jackson waved from the rolled-down window of one car. But her brother Michael never showed his face.

At the courthouse, Garmani, 44, said she didn't mind that Jackson hadn't lingered after the verdicts.

"He's been through hell the last few days," she said. "I just want to let him go home."

She also said she didn't mind spending the money to rent the white doves from a bird dealer in Lompoc. She didn't flinch when he quoted her a rate of $150 a day, even though she planned to spend each day of jury deliberations outside the courthouse.

It turned out, though, that the birdman loved Jackson too. He said she could have the birds for a flat rate of $150 -- no matter how long the jurors took.

Garmani said she has been a Jackson fan for 22 years, ever since she arrived in the United States from Iran, where music such as his had been prohibited. First, she loved his album "Thriller." But soon she came to love even more the man who sang and danced to it, she said.

"He's just a good human being," she said. "People took advantage of him and misunderstood him. He's just too generous for his own good."

If Jackson had been convicted, Garmani would not have released the doves, she said. She would have driven them back to Lompoc, still in their cage.

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