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Jackson breaks with Nation of Islam

Pop singer returns to court Friday to be arraigned on molestation charges.
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

Just days after firing his lead attorneys, Michael Jackson reportedly also has broken ties with the Nation of Islam, according to MSNBC's Dan Abrams.

Jackson fired Mark Geragos and Benjamin Brafman last week and hired attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. to lead his defense. At the same time, Jackson also fired Leonard Muhammad, son-in-law of Nation of Islam chief Louis Farrakhan. Muhammad and the Nation had been overseeing Jackson's security and advising the singer on other defense strategies.

According to NBC News sources, Jackson told his brothers Randy and Jackie during a conference call on Tuesday that he feels more in control of his defense now that the Nation of Islam is out of the picture.

Michael Jackson faces a pivotal moment in his child molestation case Friday when the beleaguered pop star goes to court with a new lawyer and enters his plea to a grand jury indictment that will be made public for the first time.

Jackson’s lawyers have said the moonwalking entertainer will plead innocent to the indictment, which was handed down in secret last week by a Santa Barbara County grand jury. Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville was expected to unseal it at the start of Friday’s hearing.

Jackson has already been charged with seven counts of lewd acts on a child under the age of 14 and two counts of plying him with alcohol. He has pleaded innocent, calling the charges ”a big lie.”

Police in Santa Maria, 50 miles north of Santa Barbara, were working to prevent the near pandemonium that ensued in January, the last time Jackson turned up for court in his sensational case.

At that hearing the 45-year-old singer sent hundreds of fans into a frenzy when he climbed onto the roof of his sports utility vehicle to dance. Dozens of fans chased his vehicle down the street as it drove away, dodging cars and police trying to herd them to safety.

Jackson also irked Melville by turning up 20 minutes late to court and leaving before the proceedings were over to use the restroom. He skipped the next two court dates with the judge’s permission.

Crowd control“We’re putting out an enhanced security plan that adds some deterrents to the public surging onto the campus (or the street),” Santa Maria court spokesman Darrel Parker said. “The plan is much improved over last time the defendant was here.”

Those deterrents included a tall, 900-foot long chain link fence that was “intended to keep the litigants apart from the crowd so that we don’t have anybody stirring them up,” Parker said. Some 100 police officers will be present to keep the throng in line and Jackson will climb in and out of his car in a parking lot, instead of the street.

Jackson, who has said that he “terminated” lawyers Mark Geragos and Benjamin Brafman for failing to give his case enough attention, was expected to arrive at court with new attorney Thomas Mesereau.

Geragos and Brafman were likely to attend the hearing so that Melville can formally relieve them from the case and appoint Mesereau. Remaining on the defense team are Steve Cochran, who has long represented Jackson, and Santa Barbara attorney Robert Sanger.

Though Melville had hoped to begin Jackson’s trial in December, the attorney switch will almost certainly force a delay in the proceedings and it was not clear if the judge would set a trial date.

By obtaining an indictment, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon can go to trial without first laying out his evidence in a public preliminary hearing or subjecting his witnesses to cross-examination by the defense.

Reuters contributed to this report.