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Law

Jackson pleads not guilty, then gives fans a thrill

Circus-like atmosphere surrounds hearing; gag order imposed

Michael stands atop his limo after the arraignment.
Michael Jackson stands on top of his SUV after the arraignment.

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CNN's Frank Buckley reports on Michael Jackson's court appearance and impromptu performance atop an SUV. (January 17)
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After pleading not guilty to child molestation charges in court, Michael Jackson climbs atop an SUV and waves to fans. (January 16)
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Michael Jackson arrives at the courthouse in Santa Maria, California, to enter a plea of not guilty to child molestation charges.
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CNN's Heidi Collins talks with CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin about the addition of Benjamin Brafman to Michael Jackson's defense team.
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SANTA MARIA, California (CNN) -- Michael Jackson pleaded not guilty Friday to seven felony counts of child molestation, then went outside and climbed to the roof of his SUV, clapped his hands, stamped his feet and blew kisses to his frenzied fans massed outside the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.

The 45-year-old singer arrived 20 minutes late for his arraignment, a lapse that prompted Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville to reprimand him.

"Mr. Jackson, you started off on the wrong foot with me," the judge said, adding that he expected the singer to arrive on time for future appearances.

When lead attorney Mark Geragos attempted to offer an excuse, Melville interrupted him.

"I don't want to hear it," the judge said.

Melville then asked Jackson how he pleaded to all the charges, which also include two counts of supplying an intoxicating agent to a child under 14.

"Not guilty," Jackson, a twice-married father of three, said in a low voice.

Before Jackson's arrival, the 60 fans who had won courtroom seats in a lottery cheered each time one of Jackson's relatives entered, flouting courtroom protocol. (More on the courtroom scene)

But once the proceeding began, the judge left no doubt about who was in charge.

When Geragos told the judge that a new member of Jackson's defense team -- Benjamin Brafman -- had applied for permission to practice in California, and asked if it would be acceptable for the New York lawyer to address the court, the judge said no. (Brafman's high-profile cases)

When Geragos attempted to persuade Melville to change the February 13 date set by the judge for the preliminary hearing, Melville also turned him down.

"You have plenty of lawyers to help you out," the judge said.

Melville was also stern with the prosecution.

When District Attorney Tom Sneddon rose to speak as the judge and Geragos discussed a point, he was stopped before he had a chance.

"Did you file a brief in this matter?" Melville asked.

When Sneddon acknowledged that he had not, the judge responded, "I expect you to file a response if you want to be heard."

At that, Sneddon returned to his seat.

The point in question involved Geragos' opposition to making public the contents of the search warrant -- which includes an 80-page affidavit -- that was used to secure permission to search Jackson's Neverland ranch November 18. CNN is one of a number of news organizations that have argued the warrant should be made public on First Amendment grounds.

Later, Sneddon urged that the court impose a gag order to keep lawyers from talking to the news media.

When Geragos argued that he needed to be allowed to respond to rumors, Melville urged the lawyer to meet with the prosecutors and together suggest language he could include in his order to identify the kinds of rumors that would merit a response.

Later Friday, the judge issued a protective order, forbidding attorneys in the case, witnesses and possible witnesses, and court and law enforcement employees to speak about any possible statements by the defendant or other witnesses, to discuss any evidence, and to comment on the value and effect of any evidence.

The order is not as restrictive as requested by the district attorney. Those connected with the case may talk publicly only about the official charges against Jackson, the time and place of arrest, and Jackson's "name, age, residence, occupation and family status."

All parties expressed concern about how five videotapes and two audiocassettes currently under seal would be entered into evidence. It was not clear where the tapes came from or what they contained.

After the two-and-a-half-hour proceeding, Jackson had his face daubed with makeup by an assistant before going out the building's front door. Then, wearing aviator-style sunglasses and shielded from the sun by an umbrella held by an aide, Jackson -- surrounded by his entourage of family and retinue of lawyers and bodyguards -- walked to a cyclone fence, where he stopped and waved to supporters on the other side.

As he reached his black SUV, he hoisted himself to its roof, where he appeared energized by the crowd's adulation. Two cameramen joined him, videotaping the throng.

The crowd -- including fans who had traveled from Norway and France -- let out a roar of approval, screaming and jumping in attempts to get a glimpse of the star.

The mobs of banner-toting fans, hawkers and news people also had cheered when Jackson arrived on the clear, warm day.

Wearing a white shirt and a dark suit -- a white armband wrapped around his right sleeve -- he made his way slowly from the SUV toward the courthouse. Asked by one person what he thought about the crowd, Jackson said, "I love it. I love it."

Many in the crowd carried banners proclaiming the singer as the "King of Love" and declaring "Michael Jackson is innocent."

"1,000 percent innocent," said another, echoing a phrase his brother, Jermaine, had used in news media interviews.

Buses in a "Caravan of Love" had brought supporters from Los Angeles, 170 miles away, and Las Vegas, Nevada, more than 300 miles away. The festive atmosphere outside the courthouse was one of a tailgate party.

Members of the Nation of Islam provided security alongside the police.

Reporters from a number of countries, including Japan, Britain, Germany and Australia, were in this city of 82,000.

Parking outside the courthouse -- normally free -- now costs $250 per car per day.

Afterward, Brafman said Jackson's decision to climb to the SUV's rooftop was made on the spur of the moment.

"This was a spontaneous love outpouring on both sides," he told CNN. "This was not planned. ... I think the outpouring of love for Michael Jackson is universal. ... I think it's an unprecedented outpouring of love."

Geragos said he is pleased with the singer's legal team.

"We work well together, we like each other and I think the results will show that."

He said he regretted that his client arrived in the courtroom late and vowed to ensure it will not happen again.

Asked if the judge might be offended about Jackson's use of the SUV roof as a stage, Brafman said, "He's Michael Jackson. He's an entertainer. He's not by profession a defendant in a criminal case. There is no rule book for how Michael Jackson, an entertainer, performs."

As he spoke, Jackson -- seated behind his mother in the rear of the SUV -- was driven off, still waving, toward Neverland.

There, Jackson played host to a party for hundreds of supporters, some of whom had assembled outside the courthouse before sunrise.

During the arraignment, Jackson's assistants passed out invitations to fans that 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 January 16, 2004, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Refreshments will be served. We'll see you there!"

Shortly before 2 p.m., traffic to the ranch was backed up more than two miles. The festivities appeared to end after 5 p.m.

One fan who attended the party said it was a dream come true.

"It was an amazing experience, there were hundreds of fans there," she said. "I just think it was really great that Michael Jackson realizes that it's a dream of his fans to come to Neverland."

Jackson was formally charged in December. Prosecutors allege the offenses happened nearly a year ago. Jackson maintains his innocence and remains free on $3 million bail pending the arraignment. (Full story)


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