Those who gather each morning to cheer Michael Jackson on his way into the Santa Maria courthouse range in age. Some are old enough to be the pop icon’s mother or father; others, however, are young enough to never have known life without Michael.

At 18, BJ Hickman was born in the interim between Jackson’s breakthrough hits, 1982’s Thriller, and the follow-up, 1987’s Bad. When asked what drew him to Santa Maria, Hickman responded with the same reason every other diehard gives: He came to support his hero.

“I’m here to help show the world that Michael Jackson is innocent,” said Hickman, a native of Knoxville, Tenn. “He is 100 percent incapable of committing those crimes.”

Among those in Santa Maria, Hickman’s story is not unique. Many college-aged fans – people who look no different than the average UCSB student, save the homemade pro-Jackson T-shirts – have relocated from their hometowns specifically to join the makeshift family that has formed on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse.

“We’re all for a common purpose here,” said Jenna Curry, a 21-year-old who moved from Michigan. “It’s just part of helping him put his head up as he walks into the courtroom every morning.”

Curry and her friend, 23-year-old Las Vegas resident Fallynn Colmus, said they are lifelong Jackson fans. For them, Jackson is an inspiration – and they speak of supporting him with a sense of duty.

“It’s part of standing up for what you believe in – for Michael Jackson and his innocence,” Colmus said. “He always has a positive attitude. He wants to make the world a better place. He always has faith in humanity, in spite of everything.”

But while Colmus and Curry moved to Santa Maria in the past few weeks, Hickman arrived on his birthday, Oct. 7, and has remained ever since. To Hickman, however, leaving home did not mean separating himself from those he cares about.

“Michael Jackson fans are like family,” he said.

Hickman, who attended the rally on Monday wearing a T-shirt that read “Michael Jackson Is Innocent,” credits Jackson as being a major influence in his life and lists Jackson’s most recent release – 2001’s Invincible – as his favorite album.

“Some people think Thriller is Jackson’s best. But if Sony had promoted [Invincible] properly, it would have been a number one record, for sure,” Hickman said.

Jackson’s support also comes from overseas. Sam Davidson, a multimedia design major at the University of Greenwich in London, took time off from his studies to visit Santa Maria. Davidson said he can only stay for a short period, yet he said he intends to return for the verdict.

“It’s the least I could do,” Davidson said. “I believe someone is innocent until proven otherwise.”

Davidson said although he understands that child abuse is a important issue, he believes that Jackson is not guilty.

“If he’s guilty, then lock him up,” Davidson said. “There are kids out there who really are being abused. People need to be aware of that. And yet this trial is going on without any real credible evidence… Anyone who believes the case [against Jackson] is living in their own Neverland,” Davidson said.

Though Colmus and Curry said life in Santa Maria is quiet, they have kept themselves entertained by sharing the fondness for Jackson with the other fans, many of whom populate Santa Maria’s hotels. Hickman, however, said he has less positive feelings about his time in Santa Maria and associates the town with the conspiracy against the star.

“I hate it,” he said. “The police are crooked. The sheriffs are even more crooked… They make stuff up just [to prosecute] Michael.”

Nonetheless, Hickman admits that arriving in Santa Maria gave him his first opportunity to meet Jackson.

“It was amazing,” Hickman said. “He was so appreciative.”

Colmus summed up an attitude expressed by most of the Jackson fans in Santa Maria – young and old. They seem to pledge allegiance to a man who, for them, stands apart from all the rest.

“There’s just no one else in the world like Michael,” she said.