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Michael Jackson arraignment expected Friday
(Agencies)
Updated: 2004-04-30 22:40

Fans are expected to be out in force for Michael Jackson's arraignment at a California courthouse on Friday. People from around the world are traveling to Santa Maria, where Jackson faces a hearing on child molestation charges.

The indictment returned last week was so secret that the court schedule doesn't even list an arraignment. It was expected to be unsealed as part of Friday's court proceedings.

Michael Jackson's arraignment on a grand jury indictment marks a turning point in the 5-month-old child molestation case against the singer, moving him closer to a trial.

With a new team of lawyers in place, Jackson appears to be continuing to rejuggle his inner circle to prepare for the ordeal ahead. Sources say he has minimized the involvement of the Nation of Islam and is relying more heavily on his brother Randy for advice.

On Thursday, word came that Jackson had fired a security service he hired to replace the Nation of Islam guards, and it was unclear who would be guarding him from now on.

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. More than 1,000 fans and at least 130 members of the media were expected.

Thomas Mesereau Jr., a veteran criminal defense attorney, 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.

The Mesereau team includes his law partner Susan Yu and two longtime Jackson attorneys, Steve Cochran and Robert Sanger.

While the law team prepared for actions inside the courtroom Friday, the city of Santa Maria was getting ready for an invasion of Michael Jackson fans outside.

The courthouse resembled a fortress ready for a siege with chain link fences and metal barricades erected to hold back the expected crowd. Police officers placed orange traffic cones to stop parking in front of the courthouse.

A Web site for Jackson fans encouraged them to show up and demonstrate support for their idol. A hotel in nearby Solvang was giving fans a special rate.

In Los Angeles, about 75 fans boarded a bus for Santa Maria early Friday. They waved signs reading "Caravan for Justice" and chanted "What time is it? Jackson time!" as they gathered in the predawn darkness.

"I'm showing my grandsons there is a way to protest, a way to show your love and a way to show your support," fan Cathy Youngblood told KABC-TV.

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.

Pedro Rivero, a 22-year-old from Madrid who said he had met Jackson "too many times to count," said he had a feeling he needed to be at the arraignment.

"Everything that's happening is so unfair," said Rivero. "He's just so genuine, so pure."

When Jackson was arraigned on a district attorney's complaint last January, some 3,000 fans clogged the streets and cheered him on as he hopped on top of a sport utility vehicle and entertained them with a dance.

Experts said it was likely that Jackson's new lawyer advised him such raucous displays are not in his best interest.

"The indictment means things are getting serious," said Loyola University Professor Laurie Levenson. She said Jackson's behavior at the arraignment sets the tone for the rest of the case.

"The question is which Michael Jackson are we going to get the one who says he is serious about saving his life or the one who dances on cars."

Jackson had already been charged with lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under the age of 14 and giving an intoxicant, reportedly wine, to a youth under 14.

 
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