[b]Liz Taylor: Michael Is Innocent[/b] Nov. 24, 2003 (CBS/AP) A number of celebrities who know Michael Jackson and were guests at his Neverland ranch have made no public comment since his arrest last Thursday on child molestation charges. That’s not Liz Taylor’s style. The actress, who has been a close friend of Jackson’s for many years, came out strongly Sunday in support of the beleaguered star. In a written statement, Taylor predicts Jackson will be vindicated. The actress, who has a few things in common with Jackson – including having been a child star, winning every award early in her career, and experiencing more heartbreak than romance – also attacked the way the media has been covering the story. “I thought the law was ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ I know he is innocent and I hope they all eat crow,” said Taylor, who is refusing to comment on camera as a protest of media treatment of Jackson. For his part, Jackson addressed his fans directly via a new Web site, saying the child molestation allegations made against him are “predicated on a big lie” and he will be exonerated in court. The entertainer’s spokesman, Stuart Backerman, had said last week that Jackson was putting the site together so he could communicate with the news media and fans. Jackson said in his statement that it would serve as a source for “official communications on my case.” “As you know, the charges recently directed at me are terribly serious,” Jackson said in the six-paragraph statement. “They are, however, predicated on a big lie. This will be shown in court, and we will be able to put this horrible time behind us.” Also commenting on Jackson’s situation are Quincy Jones – one of the most influential producers in the music business – who says he sends his prayers to Jackson, and rapper Missy Elliot. Elliot says she prays that Michael Jackson didn’t do what he’s accused of doing because he is the “biggest influence” in her life. She describes herself as “ready to fight” for Jackson. She says some of her support comes from the fact that she, too, is a celebrity and knows “what it’s like to be judged.” But Elliot notes that if Jackson is guilty, it’s something that he will have to “take up with God.” Others, who aren’t in show business but feel they’ve lived side by side with Jackson, are weighing in with words of support – as did fans in four countries who held weekend candlelight vigils in protest of his arrest. “He’s got a lot of support from people in this valley,” says John Cody, 54, who lives in Los Olivos, Calif., and is a neighbor of Jackson’s. “He’s an incredibly smart, kind man. He’s a moving target, and I think the allegations are bogus,” says Cody, a stonecutter who visited Neverland with his two and a half year-old daughter and created a 700-pound stone sculpture for the ranch. Cody can’t say much about the ranch. Jackson requires everyone who enters Neverland to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Even fans who won $2,500 auction tickets for a visit to the ranch had to sign the agreement. And cameras are not allowed. Jackson’s wealth and fame have cast something of a spell over Los Olivos, a quiet, upscale community about 30 miles northwest of Santa Barbara, where Jackson has established himself as a generous benefactor and employer at the same time he has kept himself shrouded in secrecy. Beyond his occasional forays into town, residents say they rarely see the “King of Pop” and don’t know much about what goes on behind the gates of his 2,700-acre estate. “He’s been known to walk up and down the street here,” said Sharon Frowiss, manager of Jedlicka’s Saddlery Inc., where Jackson recently bought a $229 tricycle. “He doesn’t talk a lot.” Most residents claim some sort of tenuous connection to Jackson: They know someone who works at Neverland, they’ve visited the ranch or they’ve sold something to Jackson. Many Los Olivos residents have visited Jackson’s playland at least once, either as guests of his 60-some employees or as children on field trips from one of the local schools. But Jackson is hardly ever home when people come calling. “A lot of people think he’s there to show them around, but he’s not there at all,” said Jesus Garibay, 23, who worked for four months in the Neverland zoo’s reptile wing for $8.25 an hour. “He gives them access to things, he lets them tour and have fun, but he’s mostly away.” He adds that ranch employees cannot speak to Jackson unless spoken to first. [i](whisper note: of course that’s not true)[/i] Neverland is so private that local officials weren’t aware of potential violations of land-use law there until they saw footage of the property on a national television special last year, said Bill Gillette, agricultural commissioner for Santa Barbara County. After the show aired, Gillette was allowed to visit the ranch, accompanied by Jackson’s lawyers, to check some buildings. “I got more attention on this than probably for anything else I’ve done in Santa Barbara County,” he said. A county investigation found that Jackson had failed to file building permits over the past 10 years. “The permits that should have been filed are for everything from a gatehouse and a three-car garage to a primate center, a go-cart track, seven rides at his amusement park and a giant outdoor movie screen,” county planner Larry Appel said in September. Gillette was amazed by what he saw during the inspection. The playland, a miniature replica of Disneyland, was completely empty but children’s music blared from loudspeakers, the rides were running and fresh popcorn and ice cream were waiting at the train station. “They were all set up like they could have visitors at any moment, but there was nobody around but us,” Gillette said. “I still don’t know if they turned it on just for us or not.” Jackson surrendered to Santa Barbara County authorities on Thursday after an arrest warrant was issued alleging that he committed lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14. He was released on $3 million bail and immediately returned to Las Vegas, where he had been filming a video. Authorities have said they expect to file formal charges sometime after Thanksgiving. The singer’s attorney, Mark Geragos, has said Jackson denies the allegations, and a Jackson spokesman said Saturday that Jackson is “fighting mad.” Geragos – whose previous clients include Clinton friend Susan McDougal, actress Winona Ryder, and former Congressman Gary Condit – is currently also representing Scott Peterson, charged with killing his wife, Laci, and their unborn son. Loyola University Law School professor Laurie Levenson says juggling two such high profile cases should be no problem for Geragos. “It’s a bit like brain surgery,” she said. “Brain surgeons have more than one patient but they’re not operating on them at the same time.” Neither case is ready to go to trial. Source: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/11/24/entertainment/main585208.shtml

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