Judge targets Sept. 13 as start date and hears testimony on whether the singer's bail should be reduced

By Gary Susman
Updated May 28, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
Michael Jackson: UPI Photo/Stephen Osman/POOL/NewsCom

Admit it, you didn’t buy Michael Jackson’s last album (or even his last few albums), but you’ll be rubbernecking on Sept. 13 along with everyone else. That’s the tentative start date for Jackson’s trial on child molestation charges, set in court Friday by Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville. According to the Associated Press, Melville said he realized the date might be changed, but he wanted to set ”a bull’s-eye that we’re shooting at here.” The date will mark 10 months since Jackson’s arrest over allegations that he molested a boy who was a regular guest at Neverland, charges to which Jackson has pleaded not guilty.

Jackson attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. objected to the setting of the date less than four months away, arguing that the prosecution hasn’t yet provided the defense with all its evidence in the case. (In fact, Reuters reported, observers hadn’t expected the trial to start before 2005.) In court papers made public Thursday, the defense had demanded that the prosecution turn over its evidence, but prosecutors said they have already turned over almost all the evidence, including 2,202 pages of reports, 69 audio cassettes, two videotapes, and one CD-ROM of photographs.

Mesereau also motioned for the court to reduce Jackson’s $3 million bail, calling it excessive for a defendant with no criminal record and a history of philanthropy. (Jackson coughed up the seven-figure sum at the time of his arrest in November and was freed after about an hour in police custody.) Mesereau said that a fee more in line with precedent would be about $435,000. But Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen argued that the high bail was justified because it discouraged the singer from fleeing the U.S. for another country, one where he remains revered and would not be subject to extradition. According to AP, Zonen called Jackson’s bail ”roughly comparable to what he would spend in a weekend in Las Vegas.” Judge Melville said he would rule later on the bail-reduction request.