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Jackson Fans at Victory Bash

About 100 who held vigil at the singer's Neverland ranch join other guests at the singer's celebration at a Santa Ynez casino.

June 18, 2005|Rong-Gong Lin II and Monte Morin | Times Staff Writers

About 100 die-hard Michael Jackson fans who held vigil outside his Neverland ranch compound throughout his 14-week criminal trial were among more than 500 who attended a hastily planned victory bash Friday at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez.

The party, which featured entertainment by Jackson's guitarist brother Tito, was also attended by Jackson's sister Janet; his mother, Katherine; and one of the jurors who acquitted the performer of child molestation charges, Pauline Coccoz.

Jackson did not appear.

"From the bottom of my heart I thank you all," Katherine Jackson told the crowd.

"We couldn't have done it without you," she added.

Fans responded by chanting "Innocent. Innocent. Innocent."

Coccoz said she felt very emotional when she entered the casino and heard Jackson's music playing. "They were playing 'Beat It,' and I almost started to cry," she told an Associated Press reporter.

Other guests included defense attorney Robert Sanger and Majestic Magnificent, a magician friend of Jackson's.

Fans' invitations came in the form of paper admission bracelets parceled out by an unnamed fan.

"If you're not a fan, then you might as well get out of here, because you ain't getting one," the man said as he distributed the yellow bracelets outside the front gates of Neverland.

"It's time to celebrate!" shouted one fan who identified herself as Nkechi, a 26-year-old singer and actress from San Francisco.

The pool of invitees was a colorful group who had penned poetry in Jackson's name, covered their bodies with Jackson-related tattoos and expressed strong belief that the pop star was innocent -- although some said he needed to stop sleeping with young boys.

At Friday night's performance, fans screamed and shouted as Tito Jackson performed some of his brother's hits.

"I don't have to sound like Michael, because you all know the words," he told the audience.

The supporters, some of whom dressed casually while others wore suits and dresses, were initially told that a party would be held Saturday.

It was not clear whether Friday's party represented a last-minute change intended to throw off the media and party-crashers or was the first of two planned events.

None of that mattered to fans who managed to snag invitations.

Kitty Belton of Santa Maria hoped for a glimpse of Jackson. She had last seen him onstage as part of the Jackson 5.

"I got lucky today, so I feel good," she said.

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