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"This case is about one thing only. ... the complete vindication of a wonderful human being named Michael Jackson."
——Thomas Mesereau Jr., Jackson's new attorney

MICHAEL PLEADS NOT GUILTY TO INDICTMENT

Grand Jury Charges Child Molestation, Conspiracy Count Involving False Imprisonment, Extortion
In a surreal scene in Santa Maria, CA, a grinning Michael Jackson strolled into a courtroom under an umbrella held by one of his new security guards and pleaded not guilty Friday to a grand jury indictment charging him with child molestation as well as a conspiracy count involving allegations of child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.

The indictment included four counts of lewd acts involving a minor child, one count involving an attempted lewd act upon a child and four counts of administering an intoxicating agent to a child.

The alleged child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion allegations are all part of the conspiracy count.

After being given copies of the indictment, Jackson and his attorneys adjourned to another room to study it.

Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville then acceded to a prosectuion request to seal portions of the indictment, which raised the ire of the resident Media Attorney, who argued for full disclosure in front of, what else? The Press. He also agreed with a defense request that parts of three lines be removed.

Jackson's brand-new attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr., who appeared to be catching up with the case on his first day on the job, animatedly consulting with his client: "This case is about one thing only. ... the complete vindication of a wonderful human being named Michael Jackson.''

And we thought it was the pilot for a new reality show.

Jackson thanked his fans for their support and said Santa Maria was a "wonderful'' community.

Copies of the indictment, with the deletions, were not immediately released to the public, so it was not known whether the new charges involved the same child mentioned in the original charges, or what the conspiracy and extortion counts referred to.

The judge said the transcripts of the grand jury proceedings would be turned over to attorneys Monday but will remain under seal. A hearing on the sealing takes place May 28. Jackson waived his right to a speedy trial.

Veteran criminal defense attorney Mesereau took over the case last weekend after Jackson decided to remove Mark Geragos and Benjamin Brafman, the two high-profile lawyers who had been directing his defense. The star said he wanted lawyers who could devote full time to his case.

Jackson, scolded by the judge for being late to his previous arraignment, arrived 40 minutes early.

Police Chief Danny Macagni said 42 of Santa Maria's 107 police officers were assigned to the courthouse, along with about 50 sheriff's deputies, to handle the crowd, which numbered in the hundreds.

Outside the courthouse, some fans waved handmade signs toward the throng of television cameras. A banner reading "Michael. being here is the least we could do. To all: Through this media circus don't let your ears deceive you'' was draped along the fence.

A Jackson fan website had encouraged them to show up and demonstrate support for their idol. A hotel in nearby Solvang gave fans a special rate.

On Thursday night, two to three dozen fans gathered outside the singer's Neverland Ranch about 30 miles from the courthouse for a candlelight vigil. Some wore black "Free Michael'' T-shirts, and one dressed as the singer.

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