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Jackson Fans Deliver Their Own Verdicts

June 15, 2005|Rong-Gong Lin II and Monte Morin | Times Staff Writers

LOS OLIVOS, Calif. — They stood nearly 100 strong outside Neverland's gates Tuesday, still celebrating Michael Jackson's legal victory.

But even as these die-hard fans passed around slices of a melting ice cream cake that bore the message "victory" and discussed ways the embattled pop star could rebuild his tarnished image, some offered this advice: Stay away from children and move out of Neverland.

"I think he's made some big mistakes, such as letting kids sleep in his bed," said Omar Reece, a 25-year-old from Belleville, Ill. "I can see his side of it, but he still lives in a society that doesn't accept a grown man sleeping with kids."

A recent college grad, Reece said he's probably lost his job back home due to his attendance at the trial. He said it was worth it, though, and plans to move to Los Angeles. The aspiring actor said that Jackson can definitely recover from his trials, personal and legal. Much of it, he said, was a bum rap.

"People have judged Michael Jackson on his plastic surgery and his eccentricities," Reece said.

While plastic surgery and stunts like dangling his infant son from a hotel balcony have diverted attention from his music, Reece said Jackson could get back on track by appearing on award shows on BET and MTV.

He said Jackson should take to the road in a nationwide speaking tour and tell the public what he's been feeling.

Another fan, Mark Cofield, urged Jackson to consider a change of address.

"Leave Neverland, because that name will always be connected to an alleged crime," said the 30-year-old paralegal.

Cofield, who drove to Neverland from San Francisco on Sunday so he could witness the verdict, agreed that Jackson had to steer clear of children.

"Stay away from children now, except for your own kids," Cofield said.

Sam Davidson, 21, a university student from London, said Jackson should move to Europe so he wouldn't be hounded by the U.S. media and plan his comeback from there.

"He can do it," Davidson said of a comeback. "He did it in '93, after the first allegations and I think he can do it again. I look up to him like I look up to my dad."

The scene outside Neverland Ranch -- Jackson's theme park-like compound -- was much quieter Tuesday than in the days leading up to the verdict in his child molestation trial. Jackson, who appeared haggard and spent in the final days of the trial, remained secluded in his home.

Fans who had decorated the compound's front gate with cards, posters, balloons and flags waited in vain for a glimpse of the star.

Roy Melendez, a 32-year-old hair stylist from San Angelo, Texas, arrived at Neverland this week with his 4- and 6-year-old sons. The visit was part of a larger planned trip to Disneyland, he said.

Melendez also said the star should no longer entertain children at his home. Melendez's aunt, Gloria Gonzales, 58, of Oxnard, agreed: "He should be a lot more careful. A lot of people are going to be watching him."

But not all of the fans clustered around the gates Tuesday thought Jackson needed to change. Some fans from Germany said it would be unfortunate if children were barred from Neverland.

"He's a child in his heart. When he's surrounded by children, he becomes one of them," said Christoph Klinger, 25, a newspaper ad salesman from Baden-Baden. "He should not stop inviting children."

Klinger was accompanied by friend Svenja Maniak, a 24-year-old fashion designer from Berlin whose left wrist bore a tattoo that read "Michael" in Japanese characters, while one on her left ankle read "Jackson." Maniak also has a tattoo of Jackson's face on her left shoulder blade.

Maniak said her mother took her to her first Michael Jackson concert when she was 6, and her love for the performer has only grown.

"First it was enough to see him at the concert," she said. "Then you want to go see him at the hotel. Now I want to go see him at his ranch."

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