Keeping Busy Waiting for the Jackson Verdict

In the usually sleepy town of Santa Maria, Calif., the thousands of journalists and fans awaiting the verdict in the Michael Jackson child molestation trial are working hard to keep busy while they wait for news.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

And now to the Michael Jackson trial where we can report there's no news. Today marks the fifth full day of jury deliberations in Jackson's child molestation case. More than 2,000 media people and hundreds of Jackson fans have traveled from around the world to Santa Maria, California, to hear the verdict. But as NPR's Luke Burbank reports, the people and the press are growing ever more antsy as each day passes without a decision.

LUKE BURBANK reporting:

Greta Van Susteren is not really dressed for baseball.

Ms. GRETA VAN SUSTEREN (Host, "On The Record"): Ready? How's that?

BURBANK: The host of FOX News TV show "On The Record" is wearing slacks and a silk shirt as she stands in the middle of a dusty baseball diamond next to the courthouse in Santa Maria. She tosses a ball back and forth with her faithful producer.

Ms. VAN SUSTEREN: Whoa! A long, a little short, a little wide. Otherwise, perfect.

BURBANK: She's hoping to sharpen her skills before this weekend when she'll toss out the first pitch at a New York Mets game.

Ms. VAN SUSTEREN: This is one of the dumbest things I ever agreed to. I was hoping to get back to Washington a week ago so I could practice and at least learn. Obviously, the verdict has not returned and I am in deep trouble.

BURBANK: Fortunately, Van Susteren and the rest of the media have got plenty of time to kill. Since the jury began deliberations last Friday, virtually nothing has happened. Each day, various fans, police and onlookers show up waiting for some kind of verdict. For the reporters who file stories every day about how there is no verdict, it feels a little like the movie "Groundhog Day" where Bill Murray is cursed to relive the same 24-hour period over and over.

(Soundbite of golf swing)

BURBANK: Mike Taibbi is an NBC correspondent. He's in the outfield grass working on his golf game.

Mr. MIKE TAIBBI (NBC Correspondent): I'm trying to hit that brown patch right there.

BURBANK: Taibbi sizes it up.

Mr. TAIBBI: Cut into it.

BURBANK: Bite.

Mr. TAIBBI: Oh, about four feet short.

BURBANK: And it's not just the reporters who've got time on their hands. Jackson's fans are starting to feel it, too. Michelle Parker(ph) and Beatrice Arnavaretta(ph) traveled here from Europe.

Ms. MICHELLE PARKER (Michael Jackson Fan): We just hang around, lie in the sun--I don't know--do nothing, just trying to kill time, that's all.

BURBANK: So the fact that the Michael Jackson trial is here is probably the only reason that you would ever be in Santa Maria?

Ms. BEATRICE ARNAVARETTA (Michael Jackson Fan): You're kidding, right? That's a real question? Of course. Who wants to come to Santa Maria, you know? It's like, no. It's just Michael.

BURBANK: Arnavaretta says she can't wait to get back to her native Spain where they have, as she puts it, proper food, and the restaurants don't close at 10 PM. She says whatever happens to Jackson, she doesn't have any plans on returning on Santa Maria.

Officers Norm Comay(ph) and Steve Lopez(ph) have been watching over the scene at the courthouse for months.

Unidentified Man #1: We're cops. We're used to excitement, and this isn't exciting for us.

Unidentified Man #2: This is--like you said, this is definitely not exciting at all. This is just something that we have to do and we just can't wait to get it done so we can bet back to our normal assignments and our families. And this is just in the way.

BURBANK: Forty-seven-year-old Margie DeFaria(ph) travel here from San Diego to support the singer. She passes the days dancing to the Jackson songs blaring from her tiny boom box. Her favorite song? "Thriller," naturally.

Ms. MARGIE DeFARIA (Jackson Fan): Yeah, I love "Thriller." It's one of the best pieces of music Michael Jackson ever put out. You could hear it a million times and you still love it. It gets better every time you hear it.

BURBANK: DeFaria seems to be taking the tedium better than most, but that might be because she's only been here for two weeks. Many others are going on their fourth month in Santa Maria. And with no verdict in sight, the desperation is starting to manifest itself in some very unusual places. Inside one of the Port-A-Potties on press row, someone has scribbled a haiku that sums things up perfectly. It goes like this, `Jacko's here at 8, fans yell until my head aches, is this Groundhog Day?'

Luke Burbank, NPR News, Santa Maria.

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