Seriously, Jackson affair no joke

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Seriously, Jackson affair no joke Nov. 20, 2003 Looking out at the media mass assembled before him, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon laughed and welcomed everybody to town. The DA and Sheriff Jim Anderson scheduled yesterday’s internationally televised press conference to announce that criminal child molestation charges would be brought against superstar Michael Jackson. But, first Sneddon warmed up the audience with awkward banter better suited for a third-rate comedy club. He suggested that everybody in the room who had come to Santa Barbara to cover this serious matter should spend lots of money during their stay. The county needs the proceeds from the sales tax to help with much-needed public service programs, he said. Then Sneddon got down to business. “We all know this is a very serious situation,” he said, explaining that “multiple counts” of child molestation will be filed against the county resident and international celebrity. “Criminal misconduct on the part of Michael Jackson,” Sneddon said. Sneddon seemed to relish his role. The top county prosecutor said he was present at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch outside Los Olivos Tuesday when about 70 deputies executed a search warrant related to what officials call “an ongoing investigation.” At that time, as the media assembled outside the large brown wooden gates that lead to Jackson’s amusement park-like estate, Sneddon said he was able to speak with Steve Cochran, one of Jackson’s many lawyers. Cochran led Jackson’s legal team last year at this time when Santa Maria hosted a civil jury trial in which a German music promoter successfully sued Jackson for breach of contract. At about 12:20 Tuesday, the Los Angeles lawyer had driven slowly past the media horde before stopping outside the Neverland gate. A deputy spoke to Cochran and then allowed him to pull inside, where he remained on the scene for an hour or so. At one point, informal in a soft sleeveless sweater, the high-profile lawyer seemed somewhat lost as he stood alone with a bottled energy drink – quite a different persona from the confident counselor who has defended and befriended one of the weirdest superstars in the history of the world. During Jackson’s civil trial, I watched him flirt with children seated in the courtroom. I watched him make funny faces from the witness stand. And I watched him make a mockery of the court. During a break in the trial, one 11-year-old girl told me that Jackson had taken down her phone number and invited her to Neverland to watch movies and spend the weekend. I was stunned. And I wrote columns about it all. Long after the trial had ended, that same little girl called me back and left a message on my answering machine. She said I should call her if I wanted to talk about Jackson’s invitation. She called a couple of times, I believe. But I didn’t call back. I was afraid to talk to the child. I didn’t think talking to her on the phone was appropriate. Having her over to my house would never cross my mind. But Jackson, 45, has invited poor kids to Neverland for sleepovers for years. Sneddon, who plans to retire when his term expires, said he plans to personally join the prosecution team if and when Jackson goes to trial. “I’m sad that there is another victim out there,” Sneddon said. The day before the press conference, I stood outside the Neverland gates and suddenly heard happy laughter of children carry across the road from a nearby school. Two schools sit some distance across the road from the low fence that borders Jackson’s ranch. Children from both private schools played in the lush green fields that stretch into the distance before blending into rolling hills. When I closed my eyes, their laughter sweetened a breath or two in this bitter, nasty world. During the press conference, again I briefly closed my eyes. Reporters from all over the world screamed questions. Former O. J Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark – now working as a glitzy reporter for Entertainment Tonight – showed a toothy smile and screamed, “Mr. Sneddon. Mr. Sneddon.” And I remembered laughter that hovered above Neverland like calliope music on a happy day. Now the day has turned dark. Police say a child has been harmed. This is no joke. This is no laughing matter. This is as serious as it gets for Michael Jackson. * Steve Corbett’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He can be reached at 739-2215 or e-mailed at Read Corbett online at Nov. 20, 2003 :nav Source:

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