Arrest warrant issued for Michael Jackson

Star accused of molesting child is told to surrender

November 20, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- Authorities announced yesterday that they had issued a warrant for the arrest of pop star Michael Jackson on multiple counts of child molestation, opening a perilous new chapter in a life of global fame, untold riches and increasingly bizarre behavior.

The sheriff of Santa Barbara County, Jim Anderson, announced at a news conference here that he and the district attorney, Thomas W. Sneddon Jr., were working with Jackson's lawyers to arrange his surrender and that they would ask that bail be set at $3 million.

They are also asking that Jackson, 45, surrender his passport so that he cannot flee the country.

"I believe he is willing to cooperate with us and turn in his passport at this time," Anderson said of Jackson, who was in Las Vegas yesterday filming a music special for CBS television that had been scheduled to air next week.

CBS announced yesterday that it was canceling the program.

Sneddon addressed himself to the battery of cameras at the Earl Warren Showgrounds here and said to Jackson, "Get over here and get checked in."

The prosecutor said Jackson had been given a deadline for turning himself in but did not say how long he had before he would be considered a fugitive.

The Santa Barbara officials said Jackson would be charged under section 288(a) of the California criminal code, which outlaws "lewd and lascivious conduct" with a minor.

Anderson and Sneddon would not give the name, age or gender of the child involved, nor would they say when or where the activity under investigation had taken place.

Sneddon appealed to parents of other children who might have been abused by Jackson to contact his office

The criminal investigation apparently has been under way for months.

Charges `scurrilous'

A Jackson spokesman called the charges "scurrilous and totally unfounded" and said the singer would immediately return to Santa Barbara to confront and disprove the allegations.

Jackson, whose freakish changes of appearance and at times erratic behavior have fascinated and repelled the public in the later stages of his career, has been dogged by unproven allegations of inappropriate behavior with children for years.

He is one of the biggest-selling recording artists of all time, but his star has waned in recent years, in part because of the continuing questions about his actions with children.

The prospect of the arrest and trial of an international superstar touched off a media frenzy reminiscent of the prosecution of O.J. Simpson in 1994.

More than 100 reporters covered the news conference in Santa Barbara yesterday morning, which was broadcast live around the world.

Many of the same crews that covered the inauguration of Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor Monday turned up at the Santa Barbara briefing or camped outside of Jackson's ranch, Neverland.

Marcia Clark, one of Simpson's prosecutors, is covering the case for the telvision program Entertainment Tonight.

The felony charges against Jackson, which have not yet been formally filed, apply to activity with a child under the age of 14. The penalty on each count ranges from three years to eight years in prison.

Stuart Backerman, a spokesman for Jackson, said in a statement that Jackson "has already made arrangements with the district attorney to return to Santa Barbara to immediately confront and prove these charges unfounded."

He added: "Michael would never harm a child in any way. These scurrilous and totally unfounded allegations will be proven false in a courtroom."

Referring to the circus atmosphere that has already arisen, Backerman said: "We are disturbed by the levity of the environment surrounding the announcement of these very serious charges.

"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."

Jackson is assembling a legal team to represent him, led by Mark Garagos of Los Angeles, whose list of high-profile clients includes Scott Peterson, Wynona Ryder, Susan McDougal, Roger Clinton and Gary Condit.

He did not return calls yesterday afternoon.

Sneddon said an affidavit outlining the basis for the charges was sealed for 45 days. He said that after Jackson is arrested and processed, a date for a preliminary appearance in Santa Barbara Superior Court will be set, probably in 30-45 days.

Ten years ago Sneddon was thwarted in his effort to bring criminal charges against Jackson involving the alleged molestation of a 13-year-old boy; the boy's family and Jackson resolved the matter with a multimillion-dollar settlement.

The child refused to testify against Jackson as part of the civil settlement.

Jackson called those charges "disgusting" and "totally false."

Sneddon said he was confident that the current case against Jackson would not be similarly stymied. Partly as a result of the early investigation of Jackson, the California legislature changed the law to require victims of child molestation to testify.

Willing to testify

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