Content Warning: This article includes descriptions of alleged sexual abuse involving minors.
HBO’s latest documentary, Leaving Neverland, offers us an unflinching look at the the sexual abuse allegations against the late Michael Jackson, from two men who Jackson allegedly abused. The documentary features two accusers, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who describe the details of their alleged sexual encounters with the singer, that started when they were both young children visiting him at his Neverland Ranch in California (Jackson's Estate and family vehemently deny these claims). But Robson and Safechuck are not the only ones who have ever made accusations against the singer. The doc touches upon Michael Jackson's 1993 and 2005 sexual abuse cases, in which two other young men accused the singer of molestation.
Jackson's other accusers, from 1993 and 2005, declined to be interviewed for the film. Jordan Chandler was the first to accuse Jackson of inappropriate behaviour in 1993 (the chargers were later settled out of court), and Gavin Arvizo was the first to actually bring Jackson to a criminal court. Jackson was indicted, but later found not guilty of all charges, including those brought forth by Chandler.
Even though these two, now as adults, don’t appear in Leaving Neverland, Jordan and Gavin’s histories with Jackson are still a part of the larger story brought forth by the documentary. Not only were Safechuck and Robson defenders of Jackson during those cases (both assert, in the documentary, that it took years for them to realise Jackson's alleged behaviour was abuse), Chandler and Arvizo's accusations had a lasting impact on Jackson’s health, image, and legacy, that continue to impact the late artist, even today.
The First Case Against Jackson: 1993-1994
According to a 1994 Vanity Fair article that details the case, Jordan “Jordy/Jordie” Chandler and Jackson first met in 1992, and a friendship quickly grew between the boy and the singer. At the time, Jordan lived with his mother, June, and they’d spend weekends together at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. Jordan’s father, Evan Chandler, began to grow suspicious of his son’s time with Jackson. Following this, Evan accused Jackson of an inappropriate relationship with his son, and claimed he had evidence to support his claim. Evan first asked Jackson for $20 million, with Jackson returning with a $1 million offer. The settlement was then lowered to $15 million, which Jackson also refused, and offered up $350,000 instead. Chandler, unhappy with this number, decided to take Jackson to court.
In the middle of august 1993, the case was brought to the Los Angeles Police Department's Sexually Exploited Child Unit, and a few days later a search warrant was issued for Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, according to an LA Times report at the time. On August 24 1993 — the same day Jackson was set to begin another leg of his Dangerous World Tour — all of this was made public, with Jackson’s camp addressing their belief that Evan was trying to extort money from him; a day later, Jackson’s family released their own statements, saying that Jackson was being taken advantage of by Evan.
Following this, Jackson’s health took a major hit. He canceled the rest of his Dangerous World Tour, lost a drastic amount of weight, and eventually turned to painkillers before being admitted to the hospital to try and wean him off of them. He finally addressed the allegations himself, via satellite, in December 1993. In his statement, Jackson explained, “Don't treat me like a criminal, because I am innocent. I have been forced to submit to a dehumanising and humiliating examination...It was the most humiliating ordeal of my life, one that no person should ever have to suffer ... But if this is what I have to endure to prove my innocence, my complete innocence, so be it.”
At one point, Jordan described Jackson’s lower torso, so a warrant for a strip search was issued. While some things Jordan described about Jackson matched, eventually it was decided that his description did not accurately match the singer’s body. Due to Jackson’s failing health and in hopes of ending the media circus, it was decided a settlement would be reached. Jackson put $15,331,250 into a trust for Jordan, and awarded $1.5 million to both of his parents, along with $5 million to Evan's lawyer.
The Second Case Against Jackson: 2003-2005
In August 2000, Gavin Arvizo and his family were invited to visit Neverland Ranch, because Gavin’s cancer was in remission and Jackson often invited sick children to visit him. During this same time, ITV was filming a documentary, Living with Michael Jackson, which would first be broadcast in February 2003. The documentary showed Jackson and Gavin holding hands and sharing a bed together, which was startling enough for District Attorney Thomas W. Sneddon Jr, who oversaw the Chandlers' lawsuit, to reopen Jackson’s case in June 2003; in November of that year Gavin told authorities that Jackson had allegedly molested him.
On November 23, after searching Neverland Ranch, Jackson was arrested and was later freed after posting his $3 million dollar bond. Jackson, believing he was innocent, refused to settle, essentially confirming that this trial would go to court. In December of 2003, Jackson was charged with seven counts of child molestation and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent for the purpose of a committing a felony; in April of 2004, he was also charged with conspiracy involving child abduction, false imprisonment, and extortion.
Jackson’s trial officially began on February 28th, 2005, and the prosecution argued that Jackson would lure young boys to Neverland Ranch to engage in sexual acts with them, and distracted their parents from what was happening via expensive gifts. A handful of Neverland Ranch staff members testified that they had allegedly seen Jackson molest some of the boys staying at the ranch, with some of them witnessing oral sex acts and the children being given alcohol.
Jordan Chandler was called as a witness, but left the country instead so he wouldn’t have to appear. Arvizo took the stand and claimed that Jackson had given him alcohol, and then masturbated in his presence. His younger brother, Star, echoed these claims.
Macaulay Culkin was called as a witness for the defence, and explained that he had shared a bed with Jackson many times in the past, but that Jackson had never tried to touch him inappropriately. Wade Robson also was called on behalf of the defence, and said that Jackson had never molested him (later, in 2013, Robson would reveal his claims that Jackson had abused him).
June 14, 2005, after 32 hours of deliberation, Jackson was found not guilty on all charges and cleared.
Now, these cases are under scrutiny once again as HBO viewers ingest the new four-hour documentary on March 3 and the Oprah Winfrey interview with Safechuck and Robson that will follow on March 4.
If you have experienced sexual violence of any kind, please visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.