- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2004

SANTA MARIA (AP) — Fans of Michael Jackson erupted in cheers yesterday as the pop star emerged from a double-decker tour bus and went into court for a showdown with the prosecutor who has pursued him for years on child molestation charges.

In court, District Attorney Tom Sneddon and Jackson attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. engaged in a heated exchange, prompting a warning from Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville.

“Mr. Sneddon, I’m going to ask you not to spar with the attorney,” the judge said.

Mr. Jackson, wearing a white suit with a mustard yellow armband, entered the court with several family members, also dressed in white. A bodyguard held a black umbrella over the singer, who flashed a peace sign to the crowd.

About 100 mostly young fans pressed against a chain-link fence and hoisted signs saying “Our Love Is With You” and “Michael Jackson Is Innocent” outside the hearing on whether prosecutors can use evidence seized from the office of a private investigator working for the singer.

Dozens of police and a small group of people demonstrating in support of sexual-abuse victims were also at the court.

Like other Jackson supporters, Olivia Baker, 20, of San Diego, said the singer has been unfairly targeted by Mr. Sneddon.

“No human being deserves that, especially since he’s given his whole heart to the world,” said Miss Baker, wearing a Jackson-trademark black fedora. “His heart is honest. I don’t believe he would ever hurt a child.”

Mr. Jackson attended the pretrial hearing with his parents, Katherine and Joseph Jackson, and siblings Jermaine, Janet, Jackie and LaToya.

Mr. Jackson, 45, is charged with committing a lewd act upon a child, administering an intoxicating agent and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. He has pleaded not guilty and is free on $3 million bail.

The focus of the hearing was Mr. Sneddon’s actions in the weeks before the charges were filed. The defense seeks to show that the prosecutor violated attorney-client privilege between Mr. Jackson and his former attorney, Mark Geragos, when he conducted personal surveillance of a private investigator’s office.

The investigator, Bradley Miller, was not in his Beverly Hills office when Mr. Sneddon went there and photographed the building and its roster of occupants.

Santa Barbara County sheriff’s officials already have testified that they used a sledgehammer to break into Mr. Miller’s office and seize videotapes and files relating to the Jackson case. They maintain that they did not know Mr. Miller was employed by Mr. Geragos.

The conspiracy count has become a centerpiece of the prosecution case with charges that the 12-year-old accuser and his family were coerced into making a videotape praising the singer’s character.

The tape and other materials seized from Mr. Miller’s office are at issue in the hearing. A ruling that they must be suppressed because they were wrongfully seized would seriously undermine the prosecution’s case.

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