For some standing vigil outside the Santa Maria courthouse, Michael Jackson is a god – a spiritual guru and a moral role model. For others, the King of Pop is just that – a musical god whose conviction is a tragic but real possibility.

When Dorcas Bennett, a co-producer of an April 3 tribute to Jackson in Santa Maria, met the pop star in 2001, she said she discovered Jackson as a kindred spirit rather than just a pop culture icon. Jackson’s Heal the World Foundation was the only one to respond to her fundraising efforts for a girl diagnosed with leukemia, and the singer made sure to meet Bennett personally. Jackson has continued to exchange e-mails with Bennett, a Jamaica-born writer and founder of the Miss Caribbean USA pageant. In his e-mails, Bennett says Jackson worries about how much it costs her to come to Santa Maria to support him. It is with this generous spirit in mind that Bennett says Jackson has proven to her his integrity and ultimate innocence.

“I saw the depth of who he really is,” Bennett said. “It’s one thing to admire someone from afar and hear his music, but I saw inside his soul. His soul spoke to me from his eyes. There was no arrogance about him. Never once did he make you feel like he was a celebrity and you were nothing. He was so humble.”

For Vernay Lewis, a teaching assistant from Wilmington, Delaware, her first interaction with Jackson was briefer – at a CD signing Jackson held for his 2001 release, Invincible.

“It was wonderful,” Lewis said. “I waited eighteen hours just to see him.”

Lewis, an active member of the Corpus Christi, Texas-based Many Nations, One Voice, a Michael Jackson fan club, arrived in Santa Maria on April 1. She said the community supporting Jackson is a close-knit one for whom the Santa Maria trial is an emotional ordeal.

“I love it here. There are so many fans and there’s always somebody praying for Michael… they’re like family to me. Everybody knows each other and I don’t feel we’d do this for anybody else,” she said.

For a moment, Lewis paused to choke back a sob.

“I love him very much,” she said at last of Jackson.

Lewis, who counts “Speechless” and “Dirty Diana” among her favorite Michael Jackson songs, said she’s loved the star since she was five.

“This isn’t the kind of thing you can just jump on the bandwagon for,” Lewis said.

Bennett said that although she drifted away from her initial devotion to Jackson – rediscovering him as an adult – she is still as true a fan as anybody else.

“I was a fan when I was 17 years old,” Bennett said. “When ‘Thriller’ came out, I went to an all-girl Catholic school and even the nuns were supportive when I was walking around with my white gloves and everything. I signed all my photos as Mrs. Jackson… I never went to any of his concerts, and I just sort of forgot about him until 2001.”

While Lewis arrived with other officers in the fan club, Bennett brought her six- and eight-year-old sons, Kyle and Tyler, to a rally at the courthouse gates Monday morning, and had them open the tribute to Jackson with a prayer. Bennett dressed them in oversized shirts declaring Jackson’s innocence, but said she did not want them to know about the charges against the singer.

“I don’t want them to know that part,” she said. “They asked me, ‘Mommy, why are people always saying such mean things about Michael?’ I had to explain to them that someone wanted Michael’s money and they lied and said he did something really bad that he didn’t do and he had to go to the judge to explain.”

Bennett said the relationship Jackson had with the children around him was based entirely in kindness and a desire to heal. Likening Jackson to a spiritual mentor, Bennett said the singer taught one of the children accusing him of molestation to use “mind power” to force his cancer into remission.

“He taught [the accuser] to use his spirituality and mind to heal himself,” Bennett said. “Michael told this little boy to imagine his cancer cells like Pac-Man, like Pac-Man was eating all the cancer cells. He taught him to use his mind and [he] went into remission and he had no more cancer after that. These are things the media doesn’t know, but the fans know this stuff.”

Unlike fans who remain convinced that Jackson will eventually be exonerated from his child molestation charges, however, Lewis admits that she has considered the possibility of her hero being convicted.

“First I’d cry. Then I’d come to grips with the situation,” Lewis said. “I’d continue to love Michael and I’d continue to support him… I don’t think there’s a person here today who would walk away.”