Michael Jackson photo by KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/AFP/Getty
If you think Michael Jackson is an alien,
an experiment in plastic surgery, a freak with a mental
disorder or a child-molester who can’t stop touching his own
(and apparently everyone else’s) crotch, you’re not alone. It
seems just about everyone these days, from the TV newscasters
to the tabloid magazines to everyday citizens going about
their lives, think the King of Pop uses his royal power for
strange (at best) or evil (at worst) deeds—whether they
believe the “not guilty” verdict or not.
But the Carpinteria-based videographers who worked with
Jackson’s defense team on the trial say that just because In
Touch and Court TV say Jacko’s wacko doesn’t mean he is. In
fact, according to videographer Larry Nimmer and the two
people who helped him film and edit video for Jackson’s
defense team, the pale-faced, high-voiced star might not be
(gasp!) a freak. And he might just be innocent too.
“I found him a lot more normal a person than he’s
perceived,” said Nimmer, whose company Nimmer Legal Graphics
helped Jackson’s defense team with everything from filming a
tour of Neverland Ranch to editing outtakes from previous
interviews to show during closing arguments.
During the process of working on these videos, Nimmer
discovered that public and media perception of the pop prince
may be seriously skewed. And he suspects the common suspicion
that Jackson is, indeed, a child molester might be a result of
the same sensationalist media and conservative culture that
has most of America assuming Jackson just got away with a
“My personal opinion is that no, he didn’t do it,” said
Nimmer’s assistant Tom Friedman agreed.
“Within about five minutes (on Neverland Ranch), I was
convinced Jackson was innocent and is a generous, big-hearted
person,” Friedman said.
Larry Nimmer isn’t just a Jackson fan, blinded by devotion,
who also happens to have some video editing skills.
Instead, he’s an upper-middle-aged multimedia producer in
Carpinteria who makes his living with Nimmer Legal Graphics, a
company that provides video, scale models, graphs and other
visual aids for court cases. With an impressive resume that
includes shooting music videos (he was doing it two years
before MTV started airing them), working for the CBS TV news
affiliate in San Francisco, creating numerous documentaries
and overseeing the Santa Barbara Film Festival—and that’s all
in addition to carving a place for himself as the premier
legal graphics producer in the tri-county area—Nimmer’s the
real deal: an objective, professional media producer with no
personal stake in this, or any trial’s, outcome.
And his assistants were similarly un-invested in the trial
or their image of Jackson. Tom Friedman, who frequently works
with Nimmer on documentaries and legal videos, said he was
never really interested in the pop star, but “like most people
did, I thought he was a strange, potentially bizarre
individual.” Another assistant, Chrissy Strassburg, said she’s
always respected Jackson’s music, but distrusted his seeming
insecurity and his obsession with his looks.
All made a commitment to approach their job as objectively
as possible. When Friedman and Nimmer went to Neverland to
film the tour, for example, Nimmer said he didn’t want to use
any videographic “trickery” to create a sentimental or skewed
view of the ranch. And the video they made, which showed a
beautiful, rolling and surprisingly conservative estate,
wasn’t just the selection of the more pleasant or normal
aspects of Neverland—it was, said Nimmer and Friedman, an
accurate portrayal of what it was like to be there.
“There were no weird pictures of kids, no pornographic
titles on the shelves,” said Friedman. “I didn’t see anything
at all that made me think, ‘If they see this, he’s going to
Three days of filming by Nimmer, with lots of help from
Friedman and assistance on nighttime shots by Strassburg, led
to a 19-minute video that jurors in the Jackson case saw.
Originally, said Nimmer, Jackson’s defense had wanted to give
jurors a tour of the ranch, which would not only give them a
sense of Jackson’s personality and character, but would also
relate directly to accusations of where and how the alleged
molestation happened, or where and how the accuser’s mother
said she was held against her will. But the judge wouldn’t
So since Jackson’s defense team couldn’t bring the jurors
to Neverland Ranch, they had Nimmer Legal Graphics bring
Neverland to the jury.
The process started with several days of visits, including
all-access tours for Nimmer and his assistants. Jackson wasn’t
there, since he was in court, and his kids were kept out of
sight, per Jackson’s request, but otherwise Nimmer could see
anything he wanted. He rode the trains on the property,
visited the amusement park and the zoo, had lunch in the
family dining room and peeked into the private wing of the
main house, where Jackson and his kids have bedrooms.
“The prosecution made it out to be a place where only bad
things happened,” said Nimmer, a tall, slender, bespectacled
man with graying hair who could easily pass as someone’s
science teacher. But he and his team said the mythical ranch
is profoundly different than people might expect.
Yes, there are elements that are fantastical, whimsical or
opulent, but for the most part, “it feels very normal, like a
nice mansion,” said Nimmer. “It’s kind of a cross between
Disneyland and a Montecito estate.”
The video seems to confirm this. Unlike the visions many of
us might imagine—a colorful plastic landscape that would
appeal to Tim Burton à la Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or
a raucous, creepy, 24-hour carnival reminiscent of AI’s sin
city—the ranch seems rather, well, tame. A modest gate with a
low fence leads visitors onto a property of rolling lawns,
idyllic lakes and ponds and lush, green trees. The real gate,
up ahead, is only slightly bigger, and has only one security
guard in a tower checking visitors.
Inside, there is Jackson’s house, a Tudor-style mansion in
hues of browns and reds; the amusement park, which is
impressive but not sprawling, all-encompassing or even, at
that moment, running; the zoo, which resembles the stables and
barns on many area ranches except that this one has giraffes
and monkeys instead of horses and ponies; and the trains,
which even seem tasteful and muted, more like enlarged model
trains (which they basically are) than amusement park rides.
There is a full-sized movie theater, with posters of Disney
movies in the foyer and display cases full of free candy that
is handed out by staff. Visitors also get freebie toys and
sweets at the main train station.
But on the video, none of these elements seem anything
other than ordinary. The only extraordinary thing about them
is that they’re all on one property and that they seem to be
made for the use of people who don’t live there.
The only thing Nimmer found a little strange was the
constant music coming from speakers throughout the property.
“It was kind of neutral and happy … and at first it was kind
of fun, and then kind of tedious. I wonder how his kids react
to it,” said Nimmer.
But otherwise, Nimmer and his team were impressed by how
beautiful, tranquil and not that weird the ranch was.
Especially Friedman, who’d imagined, “here’s this guy running
around in his little, sad wonderland with giraffes frolicking
in the fields when there’s so much poverty in the world and so
many better ways to spend your money,” he said.
But once at the ranch, Friedman said it was obvious the
property was made for the benefit of other people—and not to
fulfill Jackson’s own stunted-childhood fantasies or to
provide a backdrop for child abuse. The amusement park was
clearly built on the scale for large groups of kids to visit,
he said, many of whom probably arrived on the luxury bus
Jackson had parked on the property, and didn’t seem to cater
to any kind of one-on-one or private activity at all.
“This guy doesn’t get on his Ferris wheel every night and
go whooping and screaming,” said Friedman. “I doubt very much
he’s out there with a little balloon and a noisemaker riding
In fact, the video shows a small, modest jungle gym behind
the main house made of wood, the kind “you’d see in a very
moderate public park, like in Carpinteria,” said Friedman.
This seems to be the place where Jackson and his three kids
actually spend their time.
“My guess is that he probably spends more time there with
his kids than he does frolicking around the amusement park,”
said Friedman. Instead, said Friedman and Nimmer, it seems
clear that the park is there for the reason Jackson says it’s
there: as a 700-acre fantasyland for sick and underprivileged
kids who don’t have a chance to experience the real thing.
After seeing it for himself, Friedman said it’s too bad
Jackson gets a bad rap for something that’s so extraordinarily
“Even though it’s his private estate, he’s given a great
deal over to the public good. Who else does that? Tom Cruise?
Does Bill Gates do it? Does Steven Spielberg do it? Does
Barbra Streisand do it? Turn over vast landholdings to access
to people? To kids?” said Friedman. “He’s very, very unique …
and he’s sacrificed his privacy to do it.”
Going inside Jackson’s mansion was even more illuminating
for the video team, said Nimmer. The video shows a
surprisingly grown-up house, with gold ornamentation and heavy
furniture inspired by traditional French royalty. The only odd
touches were paintings of Jackson with children, one of him as
a kind of pied piper and one of him reading to a circle of
kids, and several mannequins. But the paintings only seemed
strange in a narcissistic, not a pedophiliac, sort of way,
agreed Nimmer’s team.
And though the prosecution tried to paint Jackson’s
mannequins as something strange, Nimmer said the dolls—one of
which was a life-like butler at the front door holding a real
plate of cookies, while another was a child playing upside
down on a chair—“seemed to me kind of playful and fun.”
Friedman agreed, saying the mannequins were “not
threatening … If he’s got the money and it tickles his funny
bone, why not? ... I don’t think it’s sinister or creepy or
implies that the guy’s a sexual predator,” he said, comparing
Jackson’s penchant for mannequins to other people’s hobbies of
collecting coins or photos of dogs.
Friedman also noted that the house itself, while large,
wasn’t excessively so. The rooms were human scale, he said,
reasonably informal and reasonably comfortable.
“There were no grand public rooms, no mirrored ballroom
where Michael, in the certain moment, would appear and come
down off a large balcony,” he said. “It was more like a ranch
house than a palace.”
And both men noted that there were signs of real life all
over the house and the property: from Jackson’s kids’ jackets
hanging on pegs in the hallway to the sound of their giggling
upstairs while Friedman and Nimmer ate lunch. There were
photos of the kids all over the house too, said Nimmer, but
most were turned around by staff so they wouldn’t get caught
on videotape—which was part of Jackson’s request to protect
the privacy of his family.
Outside on the lawn, there were also tricycles that
obviously had been used over and over.
“The scooters and little bicycles were battered and just
regular … it showed the presence of regular little kids,” said
Friedman. “He could get each of those kids a solid gold
jet-propelled tricycle, but he just had regular little
tricycles. It shows there’s a very human side to this guy.”
Nimmer agreed and, in fact, made sure he got shots in the
video of the trikes, the jackets and even a note reading “I
love you even more than that … get well soon” that Jackson’s
daughter Paris scrawled to him on a chalkboard.
“I wanted to convey to the jury the fact that he is a
father and they’re real kids and they have a real
relationship,” said Nimmer. In addition to the items he saw
around the house, Nimmer also said Jackson’s relationship with
his kids was clear from the other videos and interviews Nimmer
had to sort through to make the tape for the closing argument,
including outtakes from the documentary Living With Michael
that seemed to imply Jackson liked sleeping with boys. Those
outtakes, said Nimmer, showed “how much he likes talking about
his kids and how close he is to the kids … which doesn’t
really ever seem to come out in the press.”
In fact, Nimmer took particular issue with the documentary,
made by Martin Bashir, which showed Jackson holding hands with
a boy, who later became his accuser, and saying he liked
sleeping in beds with boys.
“Bashir did not include a lot of the positive stuff about
Michael that was shot in the documentary,” said Nimmer.
But when it came to deciding whether Jackson was innocent
or not, said Nimmer and his team, the facts were the most
important part of the trial—a component Nimmer said most of
the media seemed to ignore.
“I found it surprising how the media could come up with so
many stories based on so little information, when each day
there wouldn’t be that much more to report on … They spend a
lot of their time speculating,” said Nimmer, who still said he
found media coverage—and the spectacle outside the
courthouse—entertaining. It was just too bad it was at the
expense of someone’s life, he said.
Nimmer said the media seemed to perpetuate the myth of
Jackson as a freak, and therefore as a possible molester. And
he credits a lot of that to Jackson’s childlike nature, which
he witnessed mostly while editing interviews like Bashir’s.
Nimmer says Jackson cultivates a childlike nature for
composing his music, creating his dances and promoting
“People in our country tend to be very conservative and
suspect bad intentions and in general think Michael Jackson’s
a fool because he’s childlike, whereas I think it’s really
refreshing,” said Nimmer. “I’m kind of upset how people
automatically dismiss him because he’s childlike.”
As for the accusations themselves, Nimmer and his team said
most of them just didn’t add up. For example, the accuser’s
mother said she was held at Neverland against her will,
without any way to leave or any idea what time it was. But
Nimmer’s video shows the posh guest house the woman easily
could have left, the clocks all over the property and the
scores of staff—including security guards, housekeepers, an
administrative team and groundskeepers—who were too numerous,
and seemed too down-to-earth, to make likely conspirators or
“I didn’t see any cameras in the trees, monitors on the
walls, didn’t see any bloodhounds or electrified fences, any
pits with sharpened stakes,” said Friedman. “She could have
walked to the road and climbed over the fence.”
Another accusation was that the accuser’s brother came up
the stairs to Jackson’s bedroom and saw the pop star touching
the boy inappropriately. But Jackson’s defense team argued
that an alarm system set up in Jackson’s private wing would’ve
been triggered by the brother’s approach, thus making the
story impossible (and therefore all the stories not
credible)—a fact Nimmer proved with his video.
The prosecution’s claim that Jackson had a house full of
porn seemed less likely, said Nimmer, when he visited
Jackson’s library of 200,000 books—which ranged in topic from
art history to old Hollywood to child-rearing to religion, and
made up only a part of the star’s full 700,000-book
And assistant Chrissy Strassburg said, after seeing video
of the accuser’s mom saying how much she trusted Michael
during a time when she thought the camera was off, that there
was no way she could believe the woman was telling the truth
about being held at Neverland.
With the evidence seemingly stacked in Jackson’s favor,
Nimmer, Friedman and Strassburg were relieved and reassured to
know that they were working for the “right” side. And in the
process, they learned even more about Jackson.
Nimmer, who only actually met the pop star once, the day
Jackson thanked the videographer when he testified about the
Neverland video in court, said Jackson was shy, humble, kind
and “taller than I thought he would be. I thought he would be
a short guy.”
From video footage, though, he and his team got all kinds
of insight into the star’s life: the debilitating chiding he
got from his father and cousins about his “fat” nose and bad
skin, which may have led to the plastic surgery he had later
in life; the young Jackson’s practice of using the money he
made performing to buy candy for the neighborhood kids, which
naturally extended to a place like Neverland; the way Jackson
tried over and over to correct Bashir when he implied that he
liked having sex with boys, when what the pop star said was
“When you say the word ‘sleep,’ you said it as if it’s sexual.
‘Sleep’ is getting in bed with somebody because they don’t
want to be alone when they sleep,” Strassbourg quoted.
And like the jury, they all came to a unanimous decision:
Michael didn’t do it.
What’s more, they understand where he’s coming from.
“I don’t believe it’s necessarily wrong to sleep in a bed
with a child,” said Nimmer, who used to share a tent with his
sons and their friends on Indian Guide camp-outs. “It was kind
of like a sleepover, and clearly there wasn’t anything sexual
going on there.”
“I don’t see anything wrong with him having kids sleep in
his bed with him,” said Friedman, who used to look forward to
sharing a bed with his grandfather during childhood holidays.
“It’s a sweet gesture. I think it’s very intimate.”
The bottom line, says Nimmer, is it makes him sad that
Jackson has had to go through all of this simply because he
wants to give back to children and he enjoys their
“It’s an incredible hoax that the accuser’s family has
pulled off to, one, monopolize the life of a superstar and,
two, monopolize the world media by coming up with a bogus
story,” he said. “Which I believe it is. And which the jury
seems to believe it was.”