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A tardy Jackson pleads not guilty

Judge says singer's 21-minute late arrival 'an insult to the court'
/ Source: news services

With a sea of cameras and fans outside the courthouse, Michael Jackson pleaded innocent Friday to child-molestation charges that could send him to prison — and was scolded by the judge for being 21 minutes late for his first court appearance.

“Mr. Jackson, you have started out on the wrong foot here. ... I want to advise you that I will not put up with that. It’s an insult to the court,” Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville told him.

Jackson said he understood and mumbled an apology. His lead attorney, Mark Geragos, also apologized to Melville before Jackson entered his plea of not guilty to nine child molestation charges.

Melville then ordered the singer to return on Feb. 13 for a hearing that will determine when and how the case should proceed. He refused to consider another date even after Geragos said that he expected to be busy on that day and jokingly noted that it was Friday the 13th.

“I’m sure you’re not superstitious, Mr. Geragos,” the no-nonsense judge said.

Shortly before the hearing adjourned, Jackson asked to be excused to go to the restroom, joined by his brother, Jermaine, and several other supporters. When reporters and fans tried to follow, sheriff’s deputies ordered them to sit back down -- but the resulting commotion irked Melville again.

The judge warned Geragos that he considered the incident a disruption to the court and suggested that he “regulate” his famous client’s liquid intake if necessary.

“You need to advise him to maybe regulate his liquid intake. I really don’t like that,” Melville said, later adding, ”I understand when you have to go, you have to go.”

Minutes earlier, hundreds of cheering and chanting fans had greeted Jackson’s arrival, pushing in toward his caravan along with international television crews as the self-styled “King of Pop” stepped from a black sport utility vehicle and into the shade of a black umbrella.

Wearing a dark suit, glittery shoes and big sunglasses, Jackson shook hands with fans and waved as he slowly made his way into the courthouse accompanied by Geragos. His father as well as his brother Jermaine and sister Janet also attended the proceeding, which lasted less than two hours.

The arraignment was Jackson’s first court appearance since being charged Dec. 18, and it drew a horde of news media and fans to the usually quiet Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County, where the pop star is alleged to have committed the crimes at his Neverland Ranch.

The judge scheduled a Feb. 13 court session to set a date for a preliminary hearing, the proceeding used determine whether there is enough evidence to hold Jackson for trial.

Judge issues gag orderMelville also issued a gag order on all participants but said he would consider proposals to allow either side to answer reporters’ questions about rumors surrounding the case. The judge said he would not unseal the search warrant used in the case.

As he left court, Jackson held up his right hand in a victory sign and threw kisses to a crowd pressing up against a chain-link fence. He then hauled himself atop his sport utility vehicle, did a few dance moves, and waved to the cheering throng from beneath a big umbrella while a supporter filmed the crowd.

Other Jackson supporters walked through the crowd distributing invitations to a get-together at Neverland ranch, about 25 miles away. The invitations read: “In the spirit of love and togetherness, Michael Jackson would like to invite his fans and supporters to his Neverland Ranch. Please join us Friday, Jan. 16, 2004, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Refreshments will be served. We’ll see you there.”

Hundreds of fans bused in from Los Angeles and Las Vegas had converged on the courthouse, singing as they waited for him to arrive and waving signs reading “Stay Strong Michael” and “We Believe In Michael Jackson. Leave Him Alone.”

“He stands for so much, all the goodness in the world and innocence,” said Melanie Dowland, 28, said she traveled all the way from London to support Jackson.

Jackson, 45, was charged with seven counts of lewd acts with a child under 14 and two counts of giving the child an “intoxicating agent,” reportedly wine, between Feb. 7 and March 10, 2003.

Authorities did not identify the alleged victim, but sources close to those involved have said he is a cancer patient who appeared in a documentary broadcast in February that showed Jackson talking about sleepovers with children at Neverland.

Jackson defended the sleepovers in a recent interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

'My mind doesn't run that way'
“People think sex,” Jackson said. “They’re thinking sex. My mind doesn’t run that way. When I see children, I see the face of God. That’s why I love them so much.”

The documentary, “Living With Michael Jackson,” raised anew questions about the sleepovers that had lingered since molestation allegations against Jackson were investigated in 1993. No charges were filed in that case, but Jackson reportedly paid a multimillion-dollar settlement to a boy’s family.

Jackson said in the documentary that his practice of allowing children to sleep in his bed was non-sexual.

Fans of Michael Jackson sing "I'll Be There" in support of entertainer Michael Jackson as they wait outside the Santa Maria courthouse early Friday morning, Jan. 16, 2004, in preparation for Jackson's arraignment later in the day. Jackson is charged with seven counts of performing lewd or lascivious acts upon a child under 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)Nick Ut / AP

The singer was introduced to the alleged victim by Jamie Masada, a comedy club owner who runs a children’s camp. Masada said the boy, hospitalized with cancer, wanted to meet Jackson, and Jackson obliged, forming a relationship with the boy and his mother.

Sources close to Jackson’s defense have alleged that relationship soured when the mother demanded a fee for her son’s appearance in the documentary and Jackson refused. But those close to the mother claim there was no demand, rather that Jackson began acting strangely and barred them from Neverland.

The mother later went to the same attorney involved in the 1993 allegations against Jackson and told him she thought her son had been molested by the pop star, sources have said. The lawyer advised her to have the boy see a psychologist, who went to authorities under a legal requirement to report any claims of child molestation, sources said.

Separately, the documentary prompted a school administrator to complain to a hot line, triggering a February probe of Jackson’s relationship with the boy by Los Angeles County child welfare officials. A leaked memo said the boy, his siblings and mother told those officials nothing inappropriate occurred. Santa Barbara County’s top prosecutor dismissed that probe as “interviews, not an investigation.”