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Warrant Out for Michael Jackson

Times Staff Writers

Authorities said they intend to arrest music star Michael Jackson, the self-described King of Pop, on suspicion of felony child molestation, and during a boisterous news conference Wednesday that was broadcast around the world urged the 45-year-old entertainer to surrender.

Jackson, whose recordings over the past four decades include “Thriller,” one of the best-selling albums of all time, was prepared to turn himself in after finishing a music video in Las Vegas, according to his spokesman. Jackson, who through his spokesman denied any wrongdoing, has been asked to turn over his passport. Bail has been set at $3 million. It wasn’t clear when Jackson would surrender.

“Get over here and get checked in,” Santa Barbara County Dist. Atty. Thomas W. Sneddon Jr. called out to Jackson during the midmorning news conference. He and Sheriff Jim Anderson declined to give any details of the case.

“Within a short period of time there will be charges filed against Mr. Jackson -- multiple counts,” Sneddon said.

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A lawyer for the Jackson family has said the case stems from a 12-year-old boy’s charges of molestation during visits to Jackson’s Santa Ynez Valley ranch. According to two sources, including a close friend of the boy’s family, the investigation centers on the boy’s allegations that Jackson served him wine before molesting him on several occasions last winter.

Sneddon, who intends to be part of the prosecution team, said that unlike a similar Jackson investigation by his agency a decade ago, law enforcement officials have a cooperative victim. Under state law, each count of child molestation is punishable by up to eight years in prison.

The call for Jackson’s arrest followed a daylong search Tuesday of his 2,600-acre Neverland Ranch, a compound that includes a zoo, amusement rides and his mansion. For nearly 15 hours, dozens of sheriff’s deputies and investigators from the district attorney’s office shot video and combed the grounds for evidence. Authorities said two other search warrants were executed simultaneously in Southern California in connection with the case, but declined to elaborate.

In response to charges by Jackson that the investigation was intended to coincide with the release of his new CD, Sneddon said investigators were going to execute the search warrants weeks ago, but were delayed by the flood of visitors to Santa Barbara over the Halloween weekend.

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In a prepared statement, Stuart Backerman, a Jackson spokesman, denounced the allegations against the singer as scurrilous and totally unfounded.

“The outrageous allegations against Michael Jackson are false,” Backerman said. “Michael would never harm a child in any way.... When the evidence is presented and the allegations proven to be malicious and wholly unfounded, Michael will be able to put this nightmare behind him.”

Criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos said Wednesday that he will represent Jackson. “He is absolutely resolute that he is going to fight this,” said Geragos, who is also representing accused wife killer Scott Peterson in Modesto. “He is unequivocal about that.”

Late Wednesday, it appeared that Jackson was poised to return to California via private jet. A security guard at the executive terminal of Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport said the entertainer was escorted by Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies to his own jet during the late afternoon. The guard said Jackson was flown out of another nearby private terminal.

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Jackson grew up in a family of performers, the youngest member of the Jackson Five. Although his popularity and record sales have waned in recent years, Jackson has remained a closely watched public figure, drawing attention for his brief marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, surgical reconstruction of his face and bizarre behavior, including dangling his 9-month-old son from a hotel balcony in Berlin.

The Santa Barbara announcement had one immediate effect. Citing concerns over the pending criminal charges, CBS said it had postponed plans to air a program about the pop singer next week that would have highlighted his career and promoted his new greatest hits album.

“Given the gravity of the charges against Mr. Jackson, we believe it would be inappropriate at this time to broadcast an entertainment special,” the network said in a prepared statement. “However, we are very mindful that Mr. Jackson is innocent until proven guilty. We will consider broadcasting the special after the due process of the legal system runs its course.”

Sneddon said this case was significantly different in several ways from the 1993 investigation of Jackson that stemmed from accusations that he molested a 13-year-old boy. No charges were filed in the case and the criminal investigation was eventually dropped after the boy decided not to testify, and a civil suit was settled out of court.

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The main difference this time, Sneddon said, was that prosecutors have a witness who will cooperate with them. The arrest warrant accuses Jackson of violating Section 288 (a) of the California Penal Code -- which prohibits lewd or lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14.

Questions about Jackson’s relations with young boys resurfaced after ABC television aired a documentary in February in which Jackson said he shared his bedroom overnight with a 12-year-old boy, but said it was innocent fun. Jackson said he slept on the floor while the boy slept in his bed.

“Why can’t you share your bed? The most loving thing to do is to share your bed with someone,” Jackson said in the film. “It’s a beautiful thing. It’s very right; it’s very loving.”

In British correspondent Martin Bashir’s film, a 12-year-old boy discusses sleepovers on camera as he and Jackson hold hands.

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At Wednesday’s news conference, reporters specifically asked the district attorney and the sheriff whether the victim in the current criminal case was the same boy shown in the Bashir film. But Sneddon and Anderson declined to comment.

After the search of Jackson’s Neverland Ranch on Tuesday, the singer issued a statement suggesting that the timing was meant to coincide with the release of a new CD of his greatest hits. On Wednesday, authorities denied even knowing about the new album, and Sneddon quipped: “Like the sheriff and I are into that type of music.”

Such comments angered Jackson, who said in a brief statement that he was troubled by the conduct of authorities and reporters at Wednesday’s news conference.

At the start of the news conference, a grinning Sneddon told reporters: “I hope that you all stay long and spend lots of money because we need your sales tax to support our offices.” At another point a reporter jokingly asked Sneddon if a free lunch would be served.

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“We are disturbed by the levity of the environment surrounding the announcement of these very serious charges,” Jackson and his representatives said in the prepared statement.

The international pop icon has been dogged for years by allegations of sexual impropriety with children.

It began Aug. 17, 1993, when a 13-year-old companion of the entertainer told a therapist that a friendship with Jackson had progressed over a series of months to cuddling, masturbation and oral sex.

The allegations launched a criminal investigation and an avalanche of media coverage.

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Jackson, who was out of the country at the time the allegations surfaced, later canceled his “Dangerous” world tour and announced that he had become addicted to painkillers because of the stress created by the criminal probe.

In December 1993, he issued a statement from his ranch in which he asserted his innocence.

“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,” he said. “I am hoping for a speedy end to this horrifying, horrifying experience to which I have been subjected.”

Jackson’s supporters suggested early on that the allegations were part of an effort to squeeze money from a singer whose enormous wealth and fame made him a target for false claims and extortion.

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But in January 1994, Jackson’s advisors backed away from the extortion claims and announced that the singer had settled a civil lawsuit brought by the alleged victim for a sum reported to be between $15 million and $24 million.

Eight months later, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara county prosecutors announced that despite locating two more possible victims, they had closed their child molestation investigations after the boy who made the initial complaint decided not to cooperate.

Times staff writers Fred Alvarez, Andrew Blankstein, Greg Braxton, Michael Krikorian, Monte Morin, Sandra Murillo, Lance Pugmire, David Reyes and Catherine Saillant contributed to this report.

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(Begin Text of Infobox)

Acclaim and controversy

Major events in the life of Michael Jackson:

1958: Michael Jackson is born in Gary, Ind.

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1971: Jackson releases his first solo album, “Got to Be There,” containing the hits “Got to Be There” and “Rockin’ Robin.”

1983: Jackson’s “Beat It” and “Thriller” videos are broadcast.

1984: Jackson’s hair catches fire during the filming of a Pepsi commercial.

1987 Jackson’s “Bad” becomes the first album to generate five No. 1 singles.

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1993: Jackson faces child abuse investigation that never results in criminal charges. He reportedly pays a multimillion-dollar civil settlement while maintaining his innocence.

Nov. 13, 2002: Jackson testifies in a $21-million lawsuit against him by concert organizer Marcel Avram, who accuses him of backing out of two concerts on New Year’s Eve 1999.

Nov. 19, 2002: Jackson displays his baby to fans by dangling him briefly from a fourth-floor balcony in Germany. He later calls the incident a “terrible mistake.”

February 2003: In a TV documentary, Jackson says he has shared a bedroom with many children not related to him.

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March 13, 2003: A Santa Barbara County jury rules that Jackson must pay Avram $5.3 million.

Nov. 19, 2003: A day after law enforcement agents raid his Neverland Ranch seeking evidence, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department says an arrest warrant has been issued for Jackson on suspicion of multiple counts of child molestation.

Sources: Associated Press, Times reports

Los Angeles Times

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