By LINDA DEUTSCH (AP)
LOS ANGELES – The movie-style drama engulfing Michael Jackon’s child molestation case may increase Thursday, as prosecutors prepare to file charges against the pop star.
Sources familiar with the case also said District Attorney Tom Sneddon has agreed to delay the arraignment a week to Jan. 16 and return Jackson’s passport to allow him to travel overseas.
Jackson, who has proclaimed his innocence, is free on $3 million bail.
As the case has unfolded, Sneddon, who once inspired a vindictive song by Jackson, has been sharing center stage with Jackson.
Sneddon has been a magnet for criticism since he announced the warrant for Jackson’s arrest last month. And as the case develops, publicity about the prosecutor has at times pre-empted reporting on the allegations against Jackson.
“Everyone thought the oddest person in this case would be Michael Jackson. But the DA is rivaling him with his own antics,” said Loyola University Law Professor Laurie Levenson.
The pending charges against Jackson are expected to detail for the first time allegations involving a cancer-stricken boy, now 14, who slept over at Neverland several times. The boy appeared with Jackson in a British documentary that aired on ABC in February.
At a news conference last month, Sneddon appeared jovial, made wisecracks and appeared to revel in the attention surrounding the case. He also misstated a key point of law. After that, Sneddon went on “Larry King Live” to apologize for his behavior and retract his remarks on the law.
No sooner had that firestorm abated that someone leaked an official memo showing Jackson was cleared by Los Angeles County child welfare investigators last February of molestation claims involving the same boy. Sneddon said he knew about the memo but didn’t consider it important to his case.
This week, the prosecutor’s office brought in a Hollywood public relations firm to handle media inquiries. On Wednesday, reporters’ calls were directed to Tellem Worldwide, which specializes in crisis management for celebrities and said it volunteered to handle Sneddon’s press relations. The district attorney refused to speak to the media.
The move was criticized by many, including Jackson’s relatives.
“It may be naivete on their part, but it makes it look like their interests are something other than seeing that justice is done,” Levenson said.
Los Angeles civil rights attorney Connie Rice said the prosecutor’s demeanor “makes this look like an unprofessional operation. It lends credence to conspiracy theories.”
Criminal defense attorney Steve Cron defended Sneddon’s decision, saying the prosecutor was justified in hiring outside help to handle the press.
“Sneddon is an old-time district attorney in a small-market county, so he isn’t used to dealing with the media,” said Cron, a Los Angeles attorney who defended comedian Paula Poundstone against child-endangerment charges. “And certainly he wasn’t prepared for the media onslaught resulting from the Jackson prosecution. He handled his initial press conference poorly, and later apologized.”
Cron said the defense has been winning the war in the media, especially as questions are raised about the credibility of the accuser’s family.
“In order to even the media playing field, Sneddon needs to fight back,” he said.
The case has been in headlines ever since a battalion of sheriff’s deputies swooped down on Jackson’s 2,600-acre estate with search warrants and spent hours carting off boxes of evidence. The operation was so elaborate the search teams brought their own portable toilets.
News reports immediately recalled a 1993 case against Jackson involving another boy. That case collapsed when the boy received a reported settlement of $15 million to $20 million and refused to testify against Jackson.
I think they need to leave Michael Jackson alone. I don’t know why they keep torturing him, and I for one do not believe he did the things they’re trying to say he did.