Thursday, November 20, 2003
Santa Barbara, Calif. Authorities issued a warrant for Michael Jackson's arrest on charges of molesting a child and asked the pop superstar Wednesday to turn himself in and surrender his passport. Jackson's spokesman called the allegations "scurrilous and totally unfounded."
The 45-year-old King of Pop was accused of multiple counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14. A decade ago, Jackson was also accused of molestation but was never charged because the youngster refused to testify.
"I am sad that there is another victim out there. I feel bad for the family. I feel bad for the victim. Beyond that, I feel it is a sad thing for all those involved," Dist. Atty. Thomas W. Sneddon Jr. said at a news conference.
Jackson was believed to be in Las Vegas working at a recording studio.
"Get over here and get checked in," the prosecutor said.
A throng of media watched the arrival of airplanes at Santa Barbara Airport. Several law enforcement vehicles also were parked on the field, but there was no sign of Jackson by nightfall.
Sneddon would not say when or where the alleged crimes took place or how old the youngster was. He said an affidavit outlining the details would be sealed for 45 days.
But Brian Oxman, an attorney who has represented the Jackson family, told CBS that the case involves the alleged molestation of a 12-year-old boy at Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Oxman is not representing Jackson.
CBS immediately pulled a Jackson music special planned for next Wednesday.
On Tuesday, as many as 70 law enforcement officers spent 12 hours searching the Neverland Ranch for corroborating evidence.
Each of the sex charges is punishable by three to eight years in prison. Sneddon would not say how many counts Jackson faces. Bail will be set at $3 million, authorities said.
Sheriff Jim Anderson said authorities have been in contact with Jackson's lawyers and the singer has been given the chance to surrender "within a specified period of time."
Jackson spokesman Stuart Backerman issued a statement saying the singer "has already made arrangements with the district attorney to return to Santa Barbara to immediately confront and prove these charges unfounded."
The announcement of the warrant came at an often jovial news conference with Anderson and Sneddon. The prosecutor looked sheepish after gesturing so forcefully he knocked over a news organization's microphone. At another point, he ridiculed a suggestion from Jackson that the allegations were timed to coincide with the release of his latest album.
"Like the sheriff and I are really into that kind of music," Sneddon said.
Asked about parents who let their children go to Neverland for sleep-overs, the sheriff responded, "My advice is don't do it." The remark drew laughter, and Sneddon added, "None of our kids are there."
Sneddon also drew chuckles when he welcomed media to Santa Barbara with the line, "I hope that you all stay long and spend lots of money because we need your sales tax to support our offices." He later noted "that this is a very serious situation."
Jackson's spokesman was not amused by the tone of the news conference.
Backerman said Jackson would be represented by attorney Mark Geragos, who is defending Scott Peterson against charges he murdered his wife, Laci, and their unborn child.
In 1993, Jackson had faced a child-molestation investigation that never resulted in charges because the child refused to testify. Jackson reportedly paid a multimillion-dollar settlement in that case but maintained his innocence.