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Michael Jackson charged with child molestation
SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- Michael Jackson was formally charged Thursday with repeatedly molesting a cancer-stricken boy invited to his Neverland Ranch, setting the stage for what could become one of the most sensational celebrity cases this Internet-wired, 24-hour-cable world has ever seen.
The nine-count felony complaint charged Jackson with seven counts alleging lewd or lascivious acts upon a child under 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent. The molestation charges each carry between three and eight years in prison.
No details of the alleged acts were included in the complaint, which repeatedly stated they were committed "with the intent of arousing, appealing to, and gratifying the lust, passions, and sexual desires" of Jackson and the child.
The complaint further alleged that Jackson had "substantial sexual conduct" with the child in February and March.
A source speaking for the family has told The Associated Press the intoxicating agent was wine. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Jackson's attorney, Mark Geragos, said the pop star would fight the charges "with every fiber of his soul."
"Michael Jackson is unequivocally and absolutely innocent of these charges," Geragos said.
Geragos also raised doubts about the motivation of the accuser and prosecutor, who tried bringing a molestation case against Jackson in 1993.
"These charges are not only categorically untrue, but they're driven, driven by two things: money and revenge. And we will prove that," he said.
The charges come nearly a month after authorities raided Jackson's Neverland Ranch and arrested him days later on suspicion of child molestation. He has been free on $3 million bail.
At a news conference, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon dismissed the suggestion that the delay in filing charges signaled a weak case. "I want to categorically say that is false," he said.
Sneddon agreed to delay Jackson's arraignment a week to Jan. 16 and return Jackson's passport to allow him to travel to Britain from Dec. 20 to Jan. 6.
Jackson spokesman Stuart Backerman said the entertainer needs to visit London to fulfill contractual obligations, although he couldn't say specifically what the obligations were. "I'm not aware of any concerts or major performances scheduled," he said.
The allegations are believed to involve a boy, now 14, who spent nights in Jackson's bedroom at his estate, which gets its name from the Peter Pan story.
Ten months ago, the boy appeared on national television in a British documentary holding hands with Jackson, who said the two had slept in the same bedroom but not the same bed. Jackson defended his penchant for holding sleepovers with children, describing the practice as sweet and innocent.
The arrest came just as Jackson released a greatest-hits album, which has had disappointing sales. Jackson's record sales overall have slumped in recent years, and he has gained more attention for his bizarre behavior -- dangling his infant son from a hotel balcony, radically altering his face through plastic surgery, sharing his bedroom with children -- than for his music.
This week, the district attorney's office brought in a Hollywood public relations firm to handle the expected crush of media inquiries -- a move criticized by the Jackson camp and others as unseemly.
Jackson rose to fame as a child star and member of the Jackson 5, later embarking on a solo career that made him an entertainment icon. His 1982 album "Thriller" is one of the best-selling records of all time.
But Jackson's popularity began to wane amid abuse allegations a decade ago. Jackson escaped prosecution and settled out of court with the accuser's family for a reported $15 million to $20 million. The boy refused to testify, and no charges were ever brought. Jackson later wrote a song attacking Sneddon.
In the month since Jackson's arrest in the current case, questions have been raised about the credibility of the boy's family.
In a leaked confidential memo, Los Angeles County child welfare investigators who looked into the case last February said they found no improper behavior on Jackson's part. According to the memo, the boy, his mother and siblings praised Jackson and said no abuse occurred.
Sneddon characterized that effort as an interview rather than an investigation, and he said the child welfare office had problems.
"LA is a big place. They have a lot of problems down there and that office has a lot of problems. Anyone who lives there knows that," Sneddon said.
Geragos accused Sneddon of being "dismissive" of the child welfare investigators.
The boy's family also filed a lawsuit claiming that the boy, his brother and mother were beaten by mall security guards in 1998 after the boy left a Southern California J.C. Penney store carrying clothes that had not been paid for. The lawsuit also alleged the mother was sexually assaulted. The family received a $137,500 settlement.
In addition, the boy's father pleaded no contest to child cruelty in 2002 and spousal abuse in 2001. The couple are now divorced.
Russell Halpern, an attorney for the father, has said the boy's mother had a "Svengali-like ability" to make her children lie in testimony.
In a press release after the charges were filed, Sneddon stated that the child will be on the stand if the case goes to trial.
"The (child's) mother is getting trashed in the media. Is she credible like you insist?" he wrote. "Yes, she is credible."
Jackson and the boy met two years ago through comedy club owner Jamie Masada, who had asked the pop star to cheer up the young cancer victim. At the time, the boy had been given three weeks to live. His spleen and one of his kidneys had been removed because of stomach cancer.
The boy's current medical condition is unclear. Masada has said his remaining kidney is failing, while Halpern has said the boy is in good condition. The boy's mother has declined to speak to the media.