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Juror Susan Derr Drake said her life changed completely during the four-month Michael Jackson trial, as she balanced working as a horse trainer and riding instructor with hearing evidence in the high-profile case.

The 51-year-old Santa Ynez woman left home each weekday by 7:15 a.m. for the trip to the Santa Maria Court Complex and her role as Juror No. 3.

After a full day of testimony, Drake left the courthouse at 2:30 p.m., only to arrive at 3:30 p.m. at the Santa Ynez Valley barn where she often instructed riders until 8 at night.

During the trial, jurors bonded with each other and often shared potluck lunches, Drake said during an interview Tuesday.

The eight-woman, four-man jury came from a wide variety of ages and backgrounds.

"That made it more interesting," Drake said. "That allowed us to share our life experiences."

Jurors plan to hold a barbecue and reunite once the public interest in their lives diminishes, she said.

Drake expressed admiration for Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville, another avid horseback rider.

"One of my favorite moments was when the energy of the room was intensifying, and he told (prosecutor Ron Zonen) just to relax and drop his head, and lick and chew like a horse. I loved that moment."

She does not believe Jackson ever behaved inappropriately with children, despite prosecutors/ claims that the entertainer has molested boys for more than 15 years.

Juror Ray Hultman is more ambivalent about Jackson/s relationship with children.

The 62-year-old Santa Maria man said he believes Jackson likely did molest children in the past. However, the civil engineer could not find beyond a reasonable doubt that Jackson molested a 13-year-old Los Angeles boy in 2003.

"The counts were very specific about who Michael Jackson molested and the time frame for which it occurred," Hultman said.

The majority of jurors believed from the onset that Jackson was not guilty, Hultman said. He and others eventually agreed that there was enough reasonable doubt to find the entertainer "not guilty" on 10 felony counts involving conspiracy and child molestation.

"There were possible scenarios that could be shown about Michael Jackson/s non-guilt," he said.

Drake said her decision to acquit Jackson was not so difficult. "In my mind, this case was full of problems," Drake said. "Timelines, testimony inconsistencies, motivations of financial gain and revenge. Credibility and reasonable doubt were our focus."

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Despite her preference for the defense version of events, Drake had praise for attorneys on both sides.

"I felt prosecutor Ron Zonen was powerful in his delivery," Drake said. "And defense attorney (Tom) Mesereau was brilliant in presenting the results of his investigation."

Drake owns two of Jackson/s albums and has nothing bad to say about him. "I wish Michael Jackson a speedy healing from this experience," she said.

Hultman believes Jackson is a musical genius, but said he has mixed feelings about the man. "I have a hard time respecting someone who admits to sleeping with young boys," he said.

Quintin Cushner can be reached at (805) 739-2217 or

June 15, 2005

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