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Michael Jackson formally charged in molestation case

District Attorney Tom Sneddon announces charges against Michael Jackson.
District Attorney Tom Sneddon announces charges against Michael Jackson.

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Mark Geragos responds to the child molestation charges filed against his client by the Santa Barbara district attorney
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Santa Barbara County, California, court clerks process documents charging pop star Michael Jackson with child molestation
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Tom Sneddon, district attorney of Santa Barbara County, California, says Michael Jackson faces seven counts of molestation (poor audio)
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• Charges against Jackson California v. Jackson (FindLaw, PDF)external link
• Timeline: Jackson's eventful life 
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Court TV: Case coverage external link
Michael Jackson
Sex Crimes
Justice and Rights

SANTA BARBARA, California (CNN) -- Setting the stage for a contentious legal battle played out in the world's media spotlight, California prosecutors on Thursday formally filed molestation charges against pop star Michael Jackson in a case involving a cancer-stricken boy invited to the singer's Neverland Ranch.

Jackson was charged with nine counts -- seven of child molestation and two of administering an intoxicating agent for the purpose of a committing a felony. The charges involve incidents alleged to have occurred in February and March of this year, District Attorney Tom Sneddon said.

In addition, the complaint includes special allegations that could make Jackson ineligible for probation in the case, Sneddon said.

In a prepared statement released Thursday, Sneddon said the alleged victim would take the stand at a trial. "The family is committed to this process," the district attorney said.

Later Thursday, Jackson attorney Mark Geragos again asserted Jackson's innocence and told reporters that the entertainer's legal team would "take no quarter" in their defense of the accused singer.

The charges against the 45-year-old singer were filed nearly a month after local authorities raided his Neverland Ranch home. He was booked November 20 on suspicion of multiple counts of child molestation and has been free on $3 million bond.

The singer and his lawyers maintain he is innocent, and contend that the boy in the current case and his family have brought the allegations for financial gain.

Geragos -- who acknowledged he was brought into the case soon after Jackson appeared with the cancer-stricken boy, the alleged victim, in a documentary in February -- said his client will "fight these charges with every fiber of his soul."

"Michael Jackson is unequivocally and absolutely innocent of these charges," he said.

"I'm telling you right now that there is absolutely no way that we will stand for this besmirching of this man with these horrible, horrible allegations, and I will tell you right now that there is no way that the prosecution will prevail in this case."

Geragos called the case "an intersection between a shakedown" -- the alleged victim's family looking for money -- and an investigator who's "got an ax to grind."

Jackson was accused of child molestation in 1993, but the case was settled, reportedly for millions of dollars, and no charges were filed. Sneddon was the district attorney who looked into that case. Later Jackson released a song widely considered to be an indictment of Sneddon for his efforts to prosecute Jackson in the 1993 case. Sneddon denies that the current case stems from a personal animus against Jackson.

Thursday evening, Katherine Jackson, the singer's mother, released a statement proclaiming Michael's innocence.

"On behalf of the Jackson family we know these vicious lies are totally untrue, malicious and motivated by pure greed and revenge," the statement said. "We proudly stand next to Michael who we know could never commit any of the acts he is accused of. We will fight with every ounce of our energy to reveal the truth behind these false allegations and the motivations behind those who have falsely accused Michael."

Dates may be crucial to case

A complaint filed with Santa Barbara County Superior Court accused Jackson of having "substantial sexual conduct" with a boy under the age of 14 in incidents alleged to have occurred in February and March of this year.

Five of the child molestation counts accuse Jackson of a "lewd act upon a child," a felony, "on or between February 7, 2003, and March 10, 2003, in the county of Santa Barbara." The other two molestation counts allegedly happened on or between February 20 and March 10, according to the complaint.

The two counts of administering an intoxicating agent allegedly happened on or between February 20 and March 10 of this year, according to the complaint.

A source close to the investigation told CNN the "intoxicating agent" was wine.

The specific dates could be significant for both prosecutors and defense attorneys. In mid-February, Los Angeles County child welfare officials found there was no evidence Jackson had had inappropriate contact with the boy. (Full story)

Additionally, Jackson's attorneys played for a CNN legal analyst an audiotape from mid-February in which the boy and mother said there had been no inappropriate contact.

Sneddon said prosecutors were aware of the agency's report before seeking a search and arrest warrant for Jackson, but he contended the welfare officials did not conducted interviews, or any investigation.

On the audiotape, sources told CNN that a Jackson representative was present when it was recorded by a private investigator hired by Jackson.

Jackson to travel to Britain

Jackson attorney Mark Geragos speaks to reporters Thursday.
Jackson attorney Mark Geragos speaks to reporters Thursday.

Thursday's charges were filed in Santa Maria, a working-class town close to Jackson's Neverland Ranch.

The filing came after Sneddon had agreed to delay Jackson's arraignment a week to January 16, and return Jackson's passport to allow him to travel overseas. Sneddon said prosecutors agreed to return to Jackson his passport for a planned trip to Great Britain, because Jackson could face "significant economic problems" if he missed the trip.

Stuart Backerman, spokesman for the 45-year-old pop star, said Jackson planned "to relax and enjoy the surroundings of the Christmas season."

On Thursday, Sneddon denied suggestions that the state waited to file charges in hopes of finding evidence in the interim. "That was never, never, never the intent of our office," he said.

Given the intense interest in the case, he said, prosecutors wanted to wait until a Web site was in place, he said. "They're having technical difficulties. I told the court we're not going to wait any longer."

In another development, Geragos told CNN in a phone interview that reports of famed attorney Johnnie Cochran joining the Jackson defense team are false.

"I have known Johnnie Cochran for many years as an attorney and personal friend but he has already expressed publicly that he is not on this case," said Geragos.

The attorney also dismissed other reports that Jackson replaced his management staff with representatives of the Nation of Islam as "tabloid trash."

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