Police ask Michael Jackson to surrender. The singer could face eight years for each count, and D.A. says this time, alleged victim is cooperative

By Gary Susman
Updated November 19, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST
Michael Jackson: Mike Valdez/ZUMA Press/NewsCom

A day after executing three search warrants in Southern California, including one at Neverland Ranch, Santa Barbara County authorities announced at a press conference Wednesday morning that they had issued a warrant for Michael Jackson’s arrest on multiple charges of child molestation. Sheriff Jim Anderson said Jackson’s bail would be set at $3 million, and District Attorny Tom Sneddon said the singer could face between three and eight years in prison on each count.

Neither Sneddon nor Anderson would discuss the specifics of the case, but reports Tuesday on Court TV and the syndicated show ”Celebrity Justice” reported that the latest allegations came from a 12-year-old boy who had spent time at Neverland in recent months. Sneddon said the alleged victim had filed an affidavit, which would be sealed for 45 days.

Sneddon did allow that there were differences between the current case and the one 10 years ago, in which a 13-year-old boy’s molestation allegations against Jackson led to a civil suit (which ended with a multimillion-dollar payout from Jackson but no admission of wrongdoing) and a criminal case that was aborted when the boy declined to cooperate further with investigators. This time, however, Sneddon said that the boy could be compelled to testify, thanks to changes in the law instituted as a result of the 1993 case; that charges will be filed against the King of Pop this time; that there is ”no anticipation” that the boy’s family will file a civil suit; and that there is now a ”cooperative victim.”

Anderson said that Jackson had ”been given an opportunity to surrender himself,” adding that his department was negotiating with Jackson’s lawyers over a time and place for the singer to turn himself in. (Anderson said Jackson would also be ordered to relinquish his passport.) Sneddon said it wasn’t clear where Jackson was on Wednesday, though earlier reports had placed the singer and his three kids in Las Vegas, where he’s been shooting a video for ”One More Chance,” his new collaboration with fellow tabloid stalwart R. Kelly.

Jackson had issued a statement Tuesday calling the timing of the raid suspicious, saying: ”These characters always seem to surface with dreadful allegations just as another project, an album, a video is being released.” After all, Tuesday was also the release date of Jackson’s hits CD ”Number Ones.” However, Sneddon insisted that the criminal investigation had been going on for weeks, that the timing was purely coincidental, and that he was unaware of Jackson’s album release. ”Like the sheriff and I are really into that kind of music,” Sneddon said. ”We had no knowledge of that. It has nothing to do with his album or whatever else he is doing in his life. We?ve been ready to do this for some time.”

Jackson family spokesman Steve Manning told the Associated Press that the pop star’s family was aware of the arrest warrant. ”It’s very unfortunate,” he said. ”They feel very bad about it, but they support him wholeheartedly.”

Jackson spokesman Stuart Backerman responded to the Santa Barbara press conference with a statement, saying: ”The outrageous allegations against Michael Jackson are false. Michael would never harm a child in any way. These scurrilous and totally unfounded allegations will be proven false in a courtroom.” Jackson’s camp even took exception to the tone of the press conference, Backerman said. ”We are disturbed by the levity of the environment surrounding the announcement of these very serious charges. When the evidence is presented and the allegations proven to be malicious and wholly unfounded, Michael will be able to put this nightmare behind him,” he said. As for the singer’s surrender to police, Backerman said that Jackson had, through his lawyers, ”already made arrangements with the district attorney to return to Santa Barbara to immediately confront and prove these charges unfounded.”