Jackson learns he is to face new child abduction charges

Click to follow
The Independent US

The legal tribulations of Michael Jackson, the mega-celebrity and one-time king of disco-pop, were significantly increased yesterday as he appeared in a California court where he was hit with an expanded list of charges, including abduction and false imprisonment, in his child molestation case.

The legal tribulations of Michael Jackson, the mega-celebrity and one-time king of disco-pop, were significantly increased yesterday as he appeared in a California court where he was hit with an expanded list of charges, including abduction and false imprisonment, in his child molestation case.

Mr Jackson, who, through his lawyer, pleaded not guilty before Judge Rodney Melville, arrived at the court in Santa Maria 40 minutes early yesterday to hear for the first time the latest array of charges laid against him by a grand jury that has been meeting under a cloak of intense secrecy over recent weeks.

While prosecutors filed initial charges against Mr Jackson late last year, they called for the empanelling of a grand jury further to corroborate their case. The release of those charges yesterday - although transcripts will not be made public for several weeks - is likely to speed progress to a full trial.

Proceedings inside the courtroom - where Mr Jackson himself remained silent - revealed quickly that the grand jury had shown the defendant no leniency. Instead, it increased the number of charges contained in the indictment of the singer, adding to those of child abuse and child intoxication laid down by prosecutors. The new charges bought up by the grand jury were conspiracy, extortion and child abduction.

With a brand new team of lawyers representing him, Mr Jackson, in a sober suit and glasses, seemed to be taking pains to appear subdued and respectful of the proceedings. At his first court appearance in the case in January, he dallied outside the court to greet fans and was severely reprimanded by the judge when he finally went into the courthouse 20 minutes late. On emerging, he astonished many by dancing on the roof of his car.

On that occasion, Judge Melville told Mr Jackson: "You have started out on the wrong foot here. I want to advise you that I will not put up with that. It's an insult to the court."

Yesterday marked the debut in the case for Thomas Mesereau, a veteran criminal defence lawyer in California hired by Mr Jackson earlier this week. Previously, the singer had stunned observers of the five-month-old case by firing his team of lawyers headed by Mark Geragos and Benjamin Brafman, arguing that they were too busy with other cases to give him the full-time attention he said he needed.

"This case is not about lawyers or anyone else becoming celebrities," Mr Mesereau said in a brief statement after the hearing. "This defence is going to be conducted with professionalism and dignity at all times. It is about one thing only. It is about the dignity, the integrity, the decency, the honour, the charity and the innocence and the complete vindication of a wonderful human being named Michael Jackson."

Taking the microphone on the courthouse steps for less than a minute, Mr Jackson thanked the community of Santa Maria and added: "I would like to thank the fans around the world for your love and support from every corner of the Earth."

While Mr Jackson may have been trying to avoid a repeat of the circus he helped create in January, throngs of his loyal fans still turned up outside the court to catch a glimpse of their hero. As many as 300 supporters were pressed against barricades near the court's entrance, many waving banners expressing their adoration of the star.

His only display of bravado yesterday came as he stepped into his sports utility vehicle outside the court and briefly flashed a two-fingered victory sign to his fans, many of them screaming, outside.

For police commanders in Santa Maria, it meant deploying almost half of their 110-strong force of officers on crowd control duty at that one event. They were backed up by as many as 50 sheriff's deputies. In addition to the fans, an estimated 130 press and media representatives were also crowded outside the court.

Jackson's not-guilty plea was in response to what is now a ten-count indictment against him arising from his alleged abuse of a young boy at his Neverland Ranch. The indictment also included four counts of lewd acts involving a minor child, one count involving an attempted lewd act upon a child and four counts of administering an intoxicating agent.

The alleged child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion are not individual charges but were described as the alleged circumstances leading to the new conspiracy count.

Comments