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Jackson Not Charged but Not Absolved
Ending months of speculation, prosecutors announced Wednesday that they have closed their child molestation investigation of entertainer Michael Jackson, but said the inquiry uncovered two more possible victims and stressed that authorities are prepared to reopen the case if any of the children decide they are willing to testify.
They conceded that the chances of that appear remote, however, and said their efforts to prosecute Jackson ultimately were stymied when the boy who made the initial complaint against the singer decided he did not want to testify.
"We have concluded that because the young boy who was the catalyst for this investigation has recently informed us that he does not wish to participate in any criminal proceeding where he is named as a victim, that we must decline prosecution (of) Mr. Jackson," Gil Garcetti, the Los Angeles County district attorney, said.
The announcement Wednesday effectively ended the criminal investigation of the world-renowned entertainer, who weathered a storm of negative publicity and battled drug addiction in the wake of allegations that he sexually molested a 13-year-old boy over a period of several months in 1993. Jackson faced simultaneous criminal investigation and civil action because of those allegations; he settled the civil case for millions of dollars earlier this year but only Wednesday saw the criminal case finally come to a close.
In a statement, Jackson said: "I am thankful that the investigation has reached a conclusion. I've continually maintained my innocence."
Joining Garcetti at the morning news conference were Santa Barbara Dist. Atty. Thomas Sneddon and Los Angeles Deputy Dist. Atty. Lauren Weiss, the lead prosecutor in the case.
Even as they announced that no charges would be filed, however, prosecutors pointedly declined to clear Jackson of any wrongdoing. They stressed that their decision to end the investigation did not reflect any lack of faith in the credibility of the alleged victims, and they said they could revisit the charging decision anytime during the next five years, when the statute of limitations expires.
In addition, they said their investigation--an enormous undertaking that took 13 months, involved two grand juries and relied upon interviews with more than 400 people--had turned up two more children who said Jackson had molested them, but they too were unwilling to take the stand.
One of those alleged victims is outside the country and thus outside of court jurisdiction, Sneddon said. In addition, Sneddon said, that child had previously made comments generally denying any wrongdoing by Jackson, which would have complicated a prosecution based on his statements even if he had been willing to testify.
The other child said he was molested three times by Jackson and has been in therapy since last fall, Sneddon said.
"After conversations with the counselor, conversations with the child and conversations with the child's attorney, they have expressed their reluctance to go forward and be a participant in a situation where charges were filed and the child was the sole witness against Mr. Jackson," Sneddon said. "I am honoring that request on the part of that particular child victim."
Under California law, victims of sexual abuse cannot be jailed for contempt of court for refusing to testify against their alleged attackers. That means that even if prosecutors wanted to proceed without the consent of the alleged victims, they could not force them to testify.
Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., one of Jackson's attorneys, said he was disappointed that prosecutors did not definitively clear his client of all wrongdoing, but added that the action Wednesday effectively ends the case and that Jackson was relieved finally to have the matter behind him. Jackson has always maintained his innocence and has said he was the victim of a failed extortion attempt by the father of the boy who made the initial allegations.
"He's extremely elated," said Cochran, who spoke to reporters during a break in the O.J. Simpson case, where he also is a lead lawyer. "He's very, very thankful and grateful that this investigation is over. He wants to get on with his life. He plans to do that."
Launched Aug. 17, 1993, when a 13-year-old friend and companion of Jackson first consulted with a therapist and told of the alleged sexual molestation, the probe triggered an avalanche of international attention.
In his account, the boy said the relationship started with friendly overtures and gifts, and progressed over a period of about four months to cuddling, masturbation and oral sex.
Jackson was out of the country when the details first became public and for a time tried to continue with his "Dangerous" world tour.
By November, however, Jackson was forced to cancel the tour, announcing in a tape-recorded message that he had become addicted to painkillers partly because of the stress created by the investigation. One of his then-attorneys, Bertram Fields, told a packed news conference that Jackson was so addled by drugs that he was "barely able to function adequately on an intellectual level."
Jackson dropped out of sight to enter a drug rehabilitation program in Europe, and quietly re-entered the country six weeks later. On Dec. 22, Jackson spoke publicly about the case for the first time, addressing the world from his Neverland ranch and proclaiming 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," 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."
After making that statement, Jackson spent several months largely out of public view. Recently, however, he has appeared in public more often. In May, he married Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of the late Elvis Presley.
Cochran predicted that with the criminal investigation closed, Jackson and his new wife will set out to raise a family, and Jackson will reignite his career.
"I think you'll see a new album coming out," Cochran said. "I think you'll see Michael Jackson go on to bigger and better heights. I think the fans who stood by him always expected that this day would come."
For the boy who launched the investigation, its conclusion also means a chance to move on with his life, said attorney Larry Feldman. Feldman, who represented the boy in his lawsuit against Jackson, added that if prosecutors had moved more quickly with their case, the boy would have been willing to take the stand.
It was their own delays, Feldman said, that crippled the prosecutors' efforts.
"I think that if we were writing a script we would have wanted this case to go through the criminal system first and immediately, like any other child molestation," Feldman said. "That would have been our preference. We're not the district attorney. We could not force that to occur, so we did the best we could to take things in our own hands and get this over with."
Feldman filed the civil case in September and pursued it aggressively, demanding an early trial. In January, the two sides announced that they had reached a settlement--sources have placed the amount between $15 million and $24 million, a range that the principals in the case refuse to confirm or deny.
In the wake of that settlement, many legal observers predicted that the boy would refuse to testify in the criminal case, and Feldman said his client was eager to get on with his life. But it was not until July 6, according to Feldman and Weiss, that the boy finally decided he could not take the stand against Jackson.
On that day, according to Feldman, the boy met with prosecutors from Los Angeles and Santa Barbara in Feldman's Santa Monica office. The boy cited a number of reasons for not wanting to testify--none of them, according to Feldman and prosecutors, related to the settlement of the civil case.
Rather, the boy said he had received death threats and had been pursued by overzealous Jackson fans and tabloid TV crews, problems he worried would only increase if he decided to testify. His family also wanted him to put the matter behind him, sources have said.
"In the end, he had to make a decision," Feldman said. "He had to decide where to spend his time--in the classroom or the courtroom."
The prolonged investigation made the youngster less willing to cooperate, Feldman added, because it made it harder to move ahead with a normal childhood. For that, Feldman blamed the district attorneys, whom he said treated Jackson differently than other child molestation suspects.
"I think we have seen treatment different for Mr. Jackson, different for celebrities over the years than we see for other people in similar situations," Feldman said. When a credible witness accuses someone of child molestation, "those people are generally arrested, placed in jail and the criminal process begins. For whatever reasons, and you'll have to ask the district attorney and the police, that didn't happen here."
Lupe Ross, first vice president of the Foster Parents of Los Angeles County, an advocacy group that has followed the Jackson case closely, found the prosecutors' decision infuriating. "Everyone is angry," she said. "If this was an ordinary person, he would have been charged. This would have gone to trial had it been anyone but him."
The district attorney often files a petition against those accused of sexual abuse, even when the child initially does not want to testify, Ross said. "This is unusual," she said. "Are they going to use the same criteria they used on Michael Jackson with other people now?"
Garcetti conceded that the investigation had been time-consuming, but he defended his office's efforts and said his staff had diligently pursued the case.
"Yes, it took an awful long time for us to go forward, but the information kept coming in on a weekly basis, sometimes on a daily basis," Garcetti said. "We do not just willy-nilly go and charge someone after you get some initial information."
In addition to the complications created by alleged victims reluctant to testify, police and prosecutors complained that they were thwarted by tabloid publications and television shows that paid money to potential witnesses. Such payments, widely made by such television shows as "Hard Copy" and "Inside Edition," compromised the integrity of several potential witnesses, authorities said.
Jackson's representatives, in a rare point of agreement with prosecutors, said the tabloid payments had produced many false stories that had damaged Jackson's reputation unfairly.
"That was a real problem as we said all along in this case," Cochran said.
For the investigating agencies that led the Jackson investigation, Wednesday's decision brought disappointment and resignation. Although it was expected, some police and social workers grumbled that the district attorneys had demanded an airtight case since the target was such a rich and powerful figure.
Nevertheless, Cmdr. David J. Gascon, chief spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department, declined to criticize the prosecutors.
"It's our responsibility to conduct an investigation," Gascon said. "That's what we did. We presented the information to the district attorneys, and they have made their decision."
At the Department of Children's Services, whose investigators conducted one of the first interviews with the boy whose complaint sparked the probe, some workers were disappointed, while others said they had long expected Wednesday's announcement.
"We thought there would be a lot of attention given to this case because of who is involved, but when you get down to the facts of the case, you can't always proceed," said Ivy Mondy, a supervisor in the department's sexual abuse unit. "There might be some disappointment in how it was handled. If it had not become such a media event, it might have had a different outcome."
Times staff writers Mathis Chazanov and Sonia Nazario contributed to this report.
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A Star Under Scrutiny
Following is a chronology of events in the Michael Jackson case:
* Aug. 17: Jackson becomes subject of a criminal investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department after a 13-year-old boy tells authorities he was sexually abused by the singer over a period of four months.
* Aug. 23: Jackson's private investigator, Anthony Pellicano, alleges that the singer is the target of a $20-million extortion plot by the boy's father.
* Aug. 24: Jackson opens his worldwide "Dangerous" tour in Bangkok, Thailand, as reports of the police investigation appear in the news media.
* Aug 25: Jackson postpones second Bangkok concert, complaining of dehydration.
* Aug. 28: Elizabeth Taylor flies to Jackson's side to lend support.
* Aug. 30: Attorney Gloria Allred is hired to represent the boy.
* Sept. 10: Allred quits, refusing to say why.
* Sept. 13: Larry R. Feldman, a former Los Angeles County Bar Assn. president, is hired to represent the teen-ager.
* Sept. 14: The boy files a civil suit against Jackson, accusing him of sexual battery, negligence and fraud.
* Nov. 12: After being dogged by the allegations and missing several concerts, Jackson abruptly cancels his tour in Mexico City. In a televised statement, Jackson says he is addicted to painkillers and is seeking treatment.
* Nov. 14: PepsiCo announces that it has terminated its multimillion-dollar, nine-year sponsorship of Jackson because he canceled his tour.
* Nov. 22: Jackson is sued by five former security guards, who allege that they were fired for knowing too much about the singer's "nighttime visits" with young boys.
* Nov. 23: One of Jackson's attorneys discloses in court that a Santa Barbara grand jury has begun issuing subpoenas and appears to be moving toward an indictment.
* Dec. 2: Jackson's chauffeur says in a sworn deposition that he was instructed to take a suitcase and briefcase from Jackson's apartment on the same day investigators searched the property for evidence of sexual molestation.
* Dec. 8: Jackson's sister, LaToya Jackson, accuses her brother of sexually molesting young boys, saying "this has been going on since 1981, and it's not just one child." Other members of Jackson's family rally to his defense and brand LaToya a profiteering liar.
* Dec. 10: Jackson returns to the United States and his Neverland ranch.
* Dec. 13: A former maid for Jackson tells The Times that she quit her job after seeing him naked with young boys on several occasions.
* Dec. 22: Breaking a five-week silence, Jackson says in a televised statement that allegations against him are "disgusting" and "totally false."
* Jan. 24: Prosecutors announce they will not bring extortion charges against the parent of alleged victim.
* Jan. 25: Jackson, while declaring his innocence, settles the boy's lawsuit, agreeing to pay him millions of dollars.
* Feb. 7: Santa Barbara County Grand Jury begins hearing testimony.
* Mid-March: Los Angeles County Grand Jury begins hearing testimony.
* May 26: Jackson weds Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of late rock 'n' roll legend Elvis Presley, in secret ceremony in the Dominican Republic.
* Aug. 16: Stepfather of the boy who accused Jackson of molestation files a lawsuit against the entertainer, accusing Jackson of using his wealth and fame to break up their family.
* Sept. 15: Judge rules Jackson can plead Fifth Amendment in suit filed by his former security guards, enabling him to avoid answering questions under oath about whether he sexually abused children.
* Sept. 21: Prosecutors say no charges will be filed against Jackson because the boy refused to testify. But they could reconsider at any point until the six-year statute of limitations expires.
Compiled by Times researcher Cecilia Rasmussen