Gavin Arvizo, who as a boy was at the center of the sensational 2005 Michael Jackson sex abuse trial, has just married his longtime sweetheart. The wedding took place at the bride’s suburban Atlanta Baptist Church on Saturday November 30.
The bride, the former Shelby Drake, is a teacher and the daughter of a minister. She spent her early years living in England where her parents were missionaries. Her father, Bill Drake, is an ordained minister and a well-known Christian musician and singer. Drake, along with Catholic priest, Kevin Hargaden, performed the wedding ceremony. Going forward, the Catholic Arvizo intends to worship in both churches.
One of the most touching moments of the ceremony occurred when the groom dipped to one knee and ceremoniously washed the feet of his bride. Minister Drake explained Gavin had been inspired by the bible story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and wanted it included in the ceremony.
How many guests in the church knew about Gavin’s tempestuous background is unknown. How many realized the triumph that was unfolding before them? Gavin, 24, has lived almost a decade under a crushing cloud of hounding paparazzi and has endured torment from a worldwide legion of die-hard Jackson fanatics who have vowed to kill him, maim him, and stalk him for the rest of his life. These fans cannot forgive Gavin Arvizo for being the one person who had the courage to swear in open court that their idol had molested him. One of the more vicious fans recently discovered Gavin was about to get married to a preacher’s daughter and urged other fans to inundate the church with menacing phone calls questioning Gavin’s integrity.
Those who did know about Gavin’s past surely made note of several guests sitting on the groom’s side of the church. There was the former Santa Barbara Senior Assistant District Attorney, Ron Zonen, who prosecuted the Jackson case. Producer/comedienne Louise Palanker, who was a mentor and benefactor to the Arvizo family, was also there. She had been called as state’s witness during the trial. (Interestingly, Zonen and Palanker first met during the Jackson trial and married two years ago.)
There was Gavin’s mother, Janet, who many blamed for being such an erratic and emotional witness that she alone caused the prosecution to lose the case. (She is now married to a man named Jackson—Army Lt. Colonel Jay Jackson—and her name is, ironically, Janet Jackson)
Gavin’s older sister Davellin was also at the wedding with her four-month-old daughter. She, along with her brother Star, also testified against Michael Jackson.
And, then there was me—the only journalist in the church. I had broken the first stories about the child molestation allegations against Jackson in 1993 and have stayed on the case ever since. I covered Jackson’s arrest and criminal trial for Court TV. Staying in touch with a newsmaker can sometimes lead to a wedding invitation.
Arvizo’s bombshell claims against the King of Pop surfaced in 2003 when he was 13 and still recovering from a rare and deadly cancer. In fact, it seems life was stacked against this kid from the very beginning.
As a youngster Gavin lived in a barely habitable one-room apartment in East Los Angeles with his two siblings and his parents. Poverty and domestic abuse was a way of life.
At the age of eight Gavin and Star were instructed by their father to walk out of a J.C. Penney store with clothing that wasn’t paid for. Out in the parking lot the boys watched in horror as their father was surrounded by security guards and wrestled to the pavement. His mother, emerging from another store, soon joined in the melee and both parents were handcuffed and taken to the police station.
This episode would be mentioned time and time again during the Jackson trial. It was proof, according to Jackson’s defense attorney, that the Arvizos were not to be believed.
At just ten years old Gavin was diagnosed with a cancer that aggressively attacked his kidney and quickly spread to other organs. As he lay helpless in an L.A. hospital bed feigning sleep he heard caregivers advise his parents to start planning his funeral. Following months of grueling treatments this plucky youngster pulled through.
While in the hospital the child’s plight came to Michael Jackson’s attention. The superstar sent a basket full of toys and good wishes. When he was well enough to travel, the young Hispanic boy was invited to visit the singer’s Neverland Ranch. Knowing of their poverty, Jackson even sent a limousine to drive the entire family. What a wonderful respite for a recuperating cancer patient and his exhausted parents!
But once back home things got worse. More violence. Restraining orders. Divorce. Yet the limousines kept arriving and the sleepovers in Jackson’s master bedroom at Neverland continued.
The rest is history. Authorities in Santa Barbara, California, charged Jackson with child sexual abuse, giving intoxicating substances to a minor to facilitate child sexual abuse, conspiracy to cover up the crimes, and more.
During the trial Gavin, then 15, was vilified as an accomplished liar. Jackson’s lawyer, Tom Mesereau, called the teen and his family “grifters” and “thieves” and he repeatedly warned the jury that the Arvizos were only “in it for the money.”
The jury also heard about two other boys who said they too had been molested by Jackson. One was a maid’s son, the other the son of an L.A. dentist. Both boys received generous payouts from Jackson in return for keeping quiet. The dentist’s family got nearly $20 million.
The defense called a group of young men to the witness stand, leading off with dancer/choreographer Wade Robson. Each testified they had often slept in Jackson’s bed when they were youngsters and nothing sexual had ever happened. Jackson was acquitted of all charges in June 2005.
In a stunning turnaround, Robson recently admitted he had perjured himself at trial. He is attempting to file suit against the Jackson estate claiming he suffered two nervous breakdowns because of the sexual abuse secret he harbored for so long. During a Today show interview Robson said of Jackson, “He sexually abused me from seven years old until 14. He performed sexual acts on me, and forced me to perform sexual acts on him.” Robson bluntly added, “Jackson was an amazing talent, but he was a pedophile.”
As the number of young men claiming they were victimized by Jackson continues to mount defense attorney Mesereau continues to publicly vilify Gavin as a “thief” and a dishonest character. Mesereau maintains Arvizo’s allegations were money-driven.
Gavin steadfastly refuses to speak up for himself, believing a man’s actions speak for themselves. The only time he talks about his past, I’ve learned, is when he is applying for a job—he knows potential employers will Google his name. So, as the interview comes to a close Gavin says, “There is something I’d like to tell you,” and he reveals pertinent information about the time his life collided with Michael Jackson’s.
Here are some facts about this young man.
Gavin worked two and three jobs at a time (in restaurants and landscaping) to put himself though community college. His perseverance helped him win partial scholarships to attend Emory University. He double-majored in history and philosophy, made the honor roll, participated in moot court, was president of the student union and he still found time to volunteer at his church.
Gavin doesn’t drink, use tobacco, drugs or foul language. He is currently working as a paralegal in a law firm, preparing to take the L-SAT test and is applying to more than a dozen law schools. His dream is to go to Harvard.
Most telling about the character of Gavin Arvizo? He has never accepted any of the outstanding six-figure offers to sell his story. Newspapers and television shows continually dangle tempting deals that would more than pay off his mounting tuition costs, but Gavin is adamant that the passage of time will best tell his story. He says he knows the truth and believes it will be revealed to the doubters of the world when the time is right.
As I sat in church and watched this resilient young man joyfully take a wife, I thought back to all his trials and tribulations. Poverty, violence, near fatal cancer, his punishing and unsatisfying ride through the justice system. Amazing.
At the reception the unknowing DJ played “The Way You Make Me Feel,” by Michael Jackson. I caught Gavin’s eye as he sat up on the dais with his new bride. He just smiled, grandly shrugged his shoulders and went back to living his life as anonymously as possible.