Michael Jackson was formally charged today with seven counts of committing lewd or lascivious acts upon a child under the age of fourteen and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent. Santa Barbara district attorney Tom Sneddon filed the charges at 1 p.m. in the Santa Barbara County Superior Court.
Jackson, 45, was arrested November 20th on suspicion of molesting a twelve-year-old boy (now fourteen) who has only been identified as John Doe. The child was a cancer victim, who was invited by Jackson to visit and stay overnight at his Neverland Ranch. According to the D.A., five of the counts are in reference to incidents that allegedly occurred between February 7th and March 10th of this year; four of the counts fell more specifically between February 20th and March 10th. Possible prison sentences for the molestation charges run from three to eight years, while the other charges range from sixteen months to three years.
"I feel it is important for me to say something about all the speculation centered on the delay in the filing of the charges," Sneddon said at a press conference. "I have been a prosecutor for over thirty years and have served as an officer of both the California and National District Attorney's Associations. I know of no colleague of mine that I have ever met who would issue an arrest warrant for a defendant hoping that time would produce some evidence to justify the filing of a criminal complaint. That was never the situation here. The Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department conducted a thorough investigation into this case prior to the issuing of both the search and arrest warrants."
Sneddon had come under fire in recent weeks for the lag between Jackson's arrest and the filing of charges. During that period a Los Angeles County child welfare department memo from earlier this year was leaked, the contents of which revealed that in an interview, Jackson's alleged victim said that the singer had never molested him.
An initial arraignment date was scheduled for January 9th and quickly bumped to January 16th. The district attorney also agreed to temporarily return Jackson's passport to him. Jackson, free on $3 million bail, will be permitted to make a trip to Europe to fulfil promotional obligations for his new greatest hits collection, Number Ones, that were made prior to the investigation. Jackson is allowed overseas from December 20th through January 6th; a violation of the conditions of the agreement would result in another felony charge. "We fully expect Mr. Jackson to attend his arraignment," Sneddon said. "Both the Sheriff and I want to emphasize that we do not foresee an occasion for Mr. Jackson to leave the country again."
No response to the charges had been posted on Jackson's news site, mjnews.us, but from the outset, the singer has maintained his innocence. "The charges directed at me are terribly serious," he said last month. "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."