Defense team videographer Larry Nimmer says Michael’s more normal than we’ve been led to believe
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 crime.
“My personal opinion is that no, he didn’t do it,” said Nimmer.
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.
What does Nimmer (and his team) know?
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 fall.’”
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 allow it.
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 it himself.”
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 good.
“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 humanitarian causes.
“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 captors.
“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 collection.
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 non-threatening company.
“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.”