Jackson Denies Molestation, Tells of 'Horrifying' Search

Breaking five weeks of silence, a shaken Michael Jackson spoke briefly to the world Wednesday, denying the allegations that he sexually molested a 13-year-old boy and revealing that he has been forced to undergo the "horrifying nightmare" of having his body inspected and photographed.

In a four-minute statement delivered via satellite from his Neverland Ranch in Los Olivos, Jackson repeatedly proclaimed his innocence and denounced the media for its coverage of the case. He appeared near tears as he described a search of his body conducted this week by investigators from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles Police Department, who were attempting to determine whether a description of Jackson provided by his alleged victim was accurate.

"They served a search warrant on me which allowed them to view and photograph my body, including my penis, my buttocks, my lower torso, thighs and any other area that they wanted," said Jackson, his voice trembling. "It was the most humiliating ordeal of my life, one that no person should ever have to suffer."

Jackson, who appeared alone and did not take questions, opened and closed his statement by proclaiming his innocence. Near the end of his remarks, he quoted Scripture and reaffirmed his love for children.

"I am not guilty of these allegations, but if I am guilty of anything it is of giving all that I have to give to help children all over the world," Jackson said. "It is of loving children of all ages and races. It is of gaining sheer joy from seeing children with their innocent and smiling faces. It is of enjoying through them the childhood that I missed myself.

"If I am guilty of anything," Jackson added, "it is of believing what God said about little children: 'Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of heaven.' "

The singer's brief statement was his most forceful response to the child molestation allegations and his first public comment since he broke off his world tour Nov. 12. It came as poll numbers are suggesting that Jackson's credibility is being questioned by more and more people, and it followed a shake-up in his defense team.

Larry R. Feldman, the lawyer for the 13-year-old boy whose allegations of child molestation sparked the criminal investigation of Jackson, said the statement demonstrated the hypocrisy of Jackson and his camp.

"This just illustrates how inconsistent Jackson and his people are," Feldman said in an interview with The Times. "They say that they don't want to try this case in the press, and then they hold the biggest press conference in the world, only they don't allow questions. They say they want to get this case over with as quickly as possible, but just 30 days ago, they made a motion to delay this case for as long as six years."

With the Jackson case attracting attention worldwide, local television stations treated the entertainer's announcement with the gravity of a presidential news conference. All seven Los Angeles-area broadcast stations interrupted their programming to carry the statement live, as did two Spanish-language stations and six cable networks: CNN, Headline News, CNBC, Court TV, E! Entertainment Television and MTV.

Afterward, Jackson lawyer Howard Weitzman said the experience of speaking out had been an emotional one for the singer but that Jackson had welcomed the chance finally to tell his side of the story.

"It was an opportunity for the public to hear that he's back, that he's strong, that he's innocent of these allegations and that he's going to do everything he can to aggressively respond," Weitzman said. "He was relieved to get his emotions and his feelings out to the public."

Jackson, who wore a rose-colored shirt and shed his trademark felt fedora for the statement, appeared emotional at several points. His voice shook when he described the body search, but he was forceful when denouncing the allegations and the media coverage of his case.

"There have been many disgusting statements made recently concerning allegations of improper conduct on my part," he said near the beginning of his remarks. "These statements about me are totally false. As I have maintained from the very beginning, I am hoping for a speedy end to this horrifying, horrifying experience to which I have been subjected."

Jackson was particularly critical of the media coverage, a theme that his lawyers and other supporters have sounded in recent weeks. On Monday, the leaders of the West Coast Region of the NAACP criticized the avalanche of attention, though that organization declined to take a position on Jackson's guilt or innocence.

"I am particularly upset by the handling of this . . . matter by the incredible, terrible mass media," Jackson said. "At every opportunity, the media has dissected and manipulated these allegations to reach their own conclusions. I ask all of you to wait and hear the truth before you label or condemn me. Don't treat me like a criminal because I am innocent."

Although Jackson declined to deliver a point-by-point rebuttal of the allegations against him, public relations specialists and legal analysts said the statement may help stem the tide of negative publicity that the world-renowned entertainer has weathered since the case broke in August.

"I think something had to be done because it was going down a road that was becoming irreversible," said Pat Kingsley, who heads a local public relations agency. "It no longer mattered if he was innocent or guilty. (The public) already had prejudged him, and maybe now this will cause some people to wait."

Other analysts agreed, though some suggested that the statement may have been too little, too late, to counteract the public's impressions of the case.

"I think by staying silent for so long there's the impression that he's hiding something," said Gerry Shaftel, vice president of the Celebrity Endorsement Network, whose clients are major corporations looking for celebrity endorsers. "It's too bad he didn't do this a long time ago."

Nevertheless, several analysts credited Jackson for his decision to make the statement, and they particularly emphasized the effectiveness of the singer's candid and sometimes graphic description of the body search.

The boy whose allegations sparked the criminal investigation provided authorities with a complete description of Jackson's body, including his genitalia. Investigators had been eager to search Jackson in order to determine whether the boy's description was accurate.

At least two of Jackson's doctors, David Forcast of England and Arnold Klein of Beverly Hills, have been spotted coming and going from Neverland in recent days, but it was unclear whether they were present for the search of Jackson's body.

Although The Times and other news organizations have reported the investigators' interest in conducting an examination of the entertainer, Jackson's comments were the first time that anyone from his entourage has confirmed that a search actually took place.

"That's going to gain him some points," said Gregg Cebrzynski, managing editor of Marketing News, an international publication. "He's placing himself in a position of saying, 'My privacy has been invaded by the government.' Nobody likes to be invaded by a police force like that. He'll draw a lot of sympathy."

Less certain was whether the announcement would have any effect on the dual investigations into Jackson's alleged contact with young boys. Authorities are conducting a criminal investigation that is not expected to conclude until February at the earliest, while lawyers in the boy's civil suit against Jackson have begun taking sworn statements from possible witnesses.

Because Jackson's comments were not made under oath and he only indirectly dealt with the facts of the case, his statement is not considered especially important to the lawsuit. But it may have the effect of sending a message to potential jurors or countering the negative publicity.

"We are still at a relatively early point in this whole business," said Arthur Miller, a Harvard University law professor. "This may have been a very useful antidote to what I perceive is a mounting sense that there is something to this story."

Feldman, the boy's lawyer, said he believed the true intent of the news conference was to manipulate potential jurors.

"Mr. Jackson, in a most sophisticated way, is trying to influence jurors who are going to hear this case," Feldman said. "That's who he's trying to reach."

Jackson has not been charged in the criminal investigation. Authorities are continuing to interview possible witnesses. Sources told The Times on Tuesday that police and social workers have interviewed another young boy who told them that Jackson fondled his buttocks on several occasions, but that boy's statement is not considered as potentially damaging as the 13-year-old's.

The 13-year-old boy's lawsuit has been set for trial March 21. Feldman originally had sought to depose Jackson this fall in preparation for that case. But when Jackson canceled the remaining dates on his "Dangerous" world tour, his lawyers announced that he would be spending at least six to eight weeks in a program to treat an addiction to painkillers, which Jackson said was caused in part by the stress of dealing with the allegations.

The entertainer quietly returned to California four weeks later, slipping in through the Santa Barbara Airport and being whisked to Neverland.

Jackson did not address the current status of his medical condition in his statement Wednesday, but his lawyers have said his recovery is progressing well.

At Jackson's estate Wednesday, a number of fans gathered outside the gates to express their support for the star and their criticism of the media. Amid the hubbub of activity, one reporter was arrested for jumping over the entertainer's fence.

"There was quite a bit of confusion," UPI reporter Craig Santy told Associated Press. "I took advantage of it."

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