- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

From combined dispatches

Jury selection begins today in the child molestation trial of Michael Jackson, a day after the pop singer issued a statement denouncing press disclosures of “ugly, malicious information” regarding charges that he molested a young cancer patient.

“I deserve a fair trial like every other American citizen,” Mr. Jackson said in a video statement released via the Internet. “I will be acquitted and vindicated when the truth is told.”

Mr. Jackson — who is free on a $3 million bond — is expected to be in court today in Santa Maria, Calif., to face charges of molesting a boy and conspiracy involving child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. Some counts accuse him of giving the boy alcohol to further child molestation.

The singer faced similar accusations in 1993, but criminal charges were dropped in that case after the family of the boy accepted a multimillion-dollar settlement from Mr. Jackson.

The case pits Mr. Jackson against Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon, 61, who originally had pursued criminal charges in the 1993 case. Mr. Sneddon secured a grand jury indictment in April accusing Mr. Jackson of molesting the 13-year-old in a bedroom at the singer’s Neverland Ranch.

Graphic details of grand jury testimony were leaked earlier this month to the Smoking Gun (www.thesmokinggun.com) and ABC News despite the efforts of Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville to keep the 1,900-page transcript secret.

Judge Melville, who had sealed the grand jury transcripts and placed a gag order on both prosecution and defense, said last week he will release the transcripts and other sealed material once a jury is seated.

Jury selection could last a month as attorneys screen as many as 750 prospective jurors. The trial itself could take five more months.

The source of the leaks remains the subject of speculation. The prosecution has not commented on the leaks, but Santa Barbara County sheriff’s investigators have denied they were responsible.

Yesterday, Mr. Jackson appeared in a court-approved video on his mjjsource.com Web site to attack the leak.

“In the last few weeks, a large amount of ugly, malicious information has been released into the media about me,” the singer said, wearing a blue shirt and staring directly at the camera. “The information is disgusting and false.”

Mr. Jackson said he helps thousands of children and allowed the accuser — now 15 — into his Neverland Ranch only after the boy’s family said he was battling cancer and needed help.

“I never intend to place myself in so vulnerable a position ever again,” Mr. Jackson said. “I love my community and I have great faith in our justice system. Please keep an open mind and let me have my day in court.”

Outside the gates of Neverland yesterday, Mr. Jackson’s fans proclaimed their idol’s innocence.

“He loves children. That has nothing to do with being a pedophile,” said Chantal, 26, who took three weeks off from her job at an insurance agency in Switzerland to show her support for the “King of Pop.”

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