- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

SANTA MARIA, Calif. — Michael Jackson was formally charged yesterday with repeatedly molesting a cancer-stricken boy invited to his Neverland Ranch, setting the stage for one of the most sensational celebrity trials this Internet-wired, 24-hour-cable world has ever seen.

The nine-count felony complaint charged Mr. Jackson with seven counts of lewd or lascivious acts upon a child under 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent.

No specific details of the suspected acts were included in the complaint, which repeatedly stated they were committed “with the intent of arousing, appealing to, and gratifying the lust, passions, and sexual desires” of Mr. Jackson and the child.

The complaint also accuses Mr. Jackson of having “substantial sexual conduct” with the child in February and March. Each molestation count carries between three and eight years in prison.

Jackson attorney Mark Geragos said the pop star would fight the charges “with every fiber of his soul.”

“Michael Jackson is unequivocally and absolutely innocent of these charges,” said Mr. Geragos, who called the case an “intersection” between a “shakedown” by somebody who wants money and an investigator “with an ax to grind.”

Later, on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” Mr. Geragos said the case had “a silver lining” for Mr. Jackson, saying his client’s victory would prevent people from trying to extort money from him.

“This is going to stick a fork in people who want to do this to Michael Jackson,” he said.

The charges come nearly a month after authorities raided Mr. Jackson’s Neverland Ranch and arrested him days later on suspicion of child molestation. He has been free on $3 million bail.

At a news conference, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon dismissed the suggestion that the delay in filing charges signaled a weak case. “I want to categorically say that is false,” he said.

Mr. Sneddon agreed to delay Mr. Jackson’s arraignment a week to Jan. 16 and return Mr. Jackson’s passport to allow him to travel to Britain from Dec. 20 to Jan. 6.

Mr. Jackson is suspected of abusing a boy, now 14, who spent nights in Mr. Jackson’s bedroom at his estate, which gets its name from the “Peter Pan” story.

It was not immediately clear what the intoxication charges involved, but the mother of the reputed victim has claimed Mr. Jackson gave the boy wine, a source close to the family, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press this year.

Ten months ago, the boy appeared on national television in a British documentary holding hands with Mr. Jackson, who said the two had slept in the same bedroom but not the same bed. Mr. Jackson defended his penchant for holding sleepovers with children, describing the practice as sweet and innocent.

The arrest came just as Mr. Jackson released a greatest-hits album, which has had disappointing sales. Mr. Jackson’s record sales overall have slumped in recent years, and he has gained more attention for his bizarre behavior — dangling his infant son from a hotel balcony, radically altering his face through plastic surgery, sharing his bedroom with children — than for his music.

This week, the district attorney’s office brought in a Hollywood public relations firm to handle the expected crush of media inquiries — a move criticized by the Jackson camp and others as unseemly.

A decade ago, Mr. Jackson thwarted Mr. Sneddon and escaped prosecution in another molestation case. He settled out of court with the accuser’s family for a reported $15 million to $20 million, and the boy refused to testify. No charges were ever brought. Mr. Jackson later wrote a song attacking Mr. Sneddon.

In the month since Mr. Jackson’s arrest in the current case, questions have been raised about the credibility of the boy’s family.

In a leaked confidential memo, Los Angeles County child welfare investigators who looked into the case in February said they found no improper behavior on Mr. Jackson’s part. According to the memo, the boy, his mother and siblings praised Mr. Jackson and said no abuse occurred.

Prosecutors said they were aware of the finding when they decided to arrest Mr. Jackson, and they dismissed its significance.

The boy’s family also filed a lawsuit claiming that the boy, his brother and mother were beaten by mall security guards in 1998 after the boy left a Southern California J.C. Penney store carrying clothes that had not been paid for. The lawsuit also said the mother was sexually assaulted. The family received a $137,500 settlement.

In addition, the boy’s father pleaded no contest to child cruelty in 2002 and spousal abuse in 2001. The couple are now divorced.

Russell Halpern, an attorney for the father, has said the boy’s mother had a “Svengali-like ability” to make her children lie in testimony.

Mr. Jackson and the boy met two years ago through comedy club owner Jamie Masada, who had asked the pop star to cheer up the young cancer victim. At the time, the boy had been given three weeks to live. His spleen and one of his kidneys had been removed because of stomach cancer.

The boy’s current medical condition is not clear.


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