Pyjama-clad Jackson is late for trial (and faces a $3m fine)

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The Independent US

There was unexpected drama in the already sensation-filled trial of Michael Jackson yesterday when the pop star, who faces charges of molesting a minor, failed to turn up at the court at the appointed hour and the judge threatened to revoke his $3m (£1.6m) bail and put him behind bars.

There was unexpected drama in the already sensation-filled trial of Michael Jackson yesterday when the pop star, who faces charges of molesting a minor, failed to turn up at the court at the appointed hour and the judge threatened to revoke his $3m (£1.6m) bail and put him behind bars.

The ninth day of the trial seemed ready to go off the rails after Mr Jackson remained absent from court beyond a one-hour leave set by an already angry judge. His lawyer, Thomas Mesereau, pleaded that the 46-year-old singer was suffering from serious back-pain and had sought treatment in a hospital 35 miles away.

It was a tense turn of events on a day that was already expected to be pivotal in the proceedings. The court was preparing to hear a second day of testimony from the singer's accuser, Gavin Arvizo, 15, that was likely to include a direct description of the acts of molestation allegedly committed by the entertainer.

Some order returned when Mr Jackson arrived at the courthouse in Santa Maria, California, five minutes beyond the one-hour deadline. He stepped out of a limousine dressed in a tunic over what appeared to be pyjama bottoms, and walked gingerly to the courthouse door, pausing briefly to acknowledge fans.

Earlier, Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville made it clear to lawyers that he was ready to have the defendant arrested for his tardiness. "I'm issuing a warrant for his arrest. I'm forfeiting his bail. I will hold the order for one hour," he said.

A spokesperson at the Cottage Hospital in Santa Ynez, close to Mr Jackson's Neverland ranch, confirmed that he had arrived with back pains early in the morning. It was not clear whether the explanation would mollify Judge Melville, but he allowed the trial to resume without taking any further action in open court.

When testimony finally got under way, Gavin Arvizo spoke of meeting Jackson in Miami in February 2003 on the day of the airing of a controversial documentary about the star, in which he told British reporter Martin Bashir of having shared his bed with minors. He said Jackson gave him "Jesus juice" - wine - in a soda can.

"He told me if I had ever heard of Jesus juice. He told me, 'Like you know how Jesus drank wine? We call it Jesus juice'," Gavin Arvizo said. "I drank a little bit of it and I told him it tasted ugly. He said he knew I was stressed out from all the media stuff going on and the Jesus juice would relax me."

Mr Jackson was charged last year with four counts of child molesting, giving his accuser alcohol, conspiring to commit false imprisonment and child abduction. If found guilty on all counts, he could face imprisonment of up to 20 years.

Prosecutors had originally planned to keep the teenage accuser until later in the trial, but moved him up in the schedule. Jurors were waiting to hear from Gavin his version of the alleged acts of molestation on which the fate of Mr Jackson is likely to turn.

His brother, Star Arvizo, who is 14, has described seeing Mr Jackson masturbating while groping Gavin in his bedroom at his ranch in California.

Gavin earlier told how the singer unexpectedly telephoned him and asked him to come to his ranch, ostensibly to be part of a movie. Instead, it turned out that the boy was being asked to appear in the Bashir documentary, Living With Michael Jackson.

The boy told the court that he understood he was expected to boost Mr Jackson's image for the documentary.

LEGAL DRAMA

8.30am Court session supposed to begin but no sign of Mr Jackson. His lawyer, Thomas Mesereau, explains the singer is in hospital with a back problem but does plan to attend trial

8.37am Judge Rodney Melville issues a warrant for Jackson's arrest and says he will forfeit £2.2m bail unless he appears within one hour. Judge Melville rejects Mr Mesereau's request for judge to speak to singer on phone

8.45am Mr Jackson leaves Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital, a 35-mile drive from the Santa Maria court

9.35am Judge's one-hour deadline expires. Mr Jackson has still not arrived. It is unclear whether the arrest warrant is in effect or not

9.39am Mr Jackson, dressed in pyjamas and slippers, arrives in court

10.10am Judge resumes the trial and confirms to the jury that Mr Jackson has a medical problem

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