SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Michael Jackson, the international pop sensation whose career has been eclipsed by his increasingly erratic behavior, surrendered to authorities yesterday and was booked on multiple counts of child molesting.
Arriving by private jet from Las Vegas, the reclusive singer was driven to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office and escorted inside, his wrists handcuffed behind his back. After being booked, he posted $3 million bail and was released, flashing a "V" sign before being driven away in a black sport utility vehicle under police escort.
His attorney, Mark Geragos, said Jackson denied the allegations that he had committed "lewd and lascivious" acts on a child under 14. He said Jackson called the charges "a big lie."
"Michael is here," Geragos told a swarm of reporters outside the sheriff's office while Jackson was being processed inside. "He has come back specifically to combat these charges head on. He is greatly outraged by these charges and has authorized me to say the charges are categorically untrue. He looks forward to fighting this in court."
Authorities would say almost nothing about the case against Jackson, even declining to specify how many charges he faced. The Sheriff's Department did release a copy of a booking photograph, in which Jackson's sunken cheeks and surgically enhanced features appeared to be accentuated by makeup and lipstick. His thick, black, shoulder-length hair hung over and partly obscured his right eye.
Jackson, 45, is listed on the booking sheet as 5-foot-11 and weighing 120 pounds.
The singer had been in Las Vegas, making a music video, when Santa Barbara officials issued a search warrant on Tuesday, with 70 officers conducting an extensive search of his 2,600-acre Neverland Ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley. They also issued an arrest warrant on Tuesday, but did not disclose that until the next day.
He returned voluntarily yesterday, arriving at Santa Barbara Airport in a Gulfstream jet that taxied to a hangar under intense media scrutiny. The jet pulled partially into the hangar, allowing Jackson to emerge and enter a car without being seen. He was then driven to the county jail.
In a brief announcement to a crowd of more than 100 reporters and photographers, Sheriff Jim Anderson announced that Jackson had been taken into custody at the airport at 12:05 p.m.
The booking procedure lasted about 45 minutes.
After leaving the sheriff's office, Jackson flew back to Las Vegas, where clusters of curious pedestrians approached his black SUV as it paused in heavy traffic, touching the fingers that Jackson offered through the crack of a partially opened window.
Throughout the day, as Santa Barbara residents watched the unfolding saga on television, a few dozen local spectators, mostly high school and college students, joined the media crowd at the compound housing both the sheriff's office and jail. Two University of California, Santa Barbara, students held a cardboard sign saying, "Moonwalk 2 Jail," a reference to Jackson's signature dance step.
"It's really the biggest news event of the year, other than the war," said Jared Lyons, 18, a student from nearby San Marcos High School, who came with two friends after watching the media scrum on television in class.
"It's really amazing to be part of history," Lyons said. He was realistic about the prospects of actually seeing Jackson.
"I don't think he's going to be coming out signing autographs," he said.
A child star alongside his siblings in the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson soared into the pop world's stratosphere in the 1980s, with a series of critically acclaimed hit records that included Thriller, one of the best-selling albums of all time. Although he released a new greatest hits package Wednesday, his career has been in decline for years, a victim both of changing tastes and a series of lurid stories about his personal life.
These included allegations in 1993 that he had molested a 13-year-old boy. Although no criminal charges were brought and Jackson insisted he was innocent, he eventually settled a lawsuit brought by the alleged victim for a sum reported to be at least $15 million.
An attorney for the Jackson family has said the most recent case stems from a 12-year-old boy's charges of molestation during visits to Jackson's ranch. According to two sources, including a close friend of the boy's family, the boy has charged that Jackson served him wine and molested him several times last winter.
Among those jumping to Jackon's defense yesterday was his brother Jermaine, who charged in an obscenity-laced interview with CNN that the charges amount to "nothing but a modern-day lynching."
"The whole family supports Michael 100 percent, 1,000 percent," he said, adding that "Michael is in very strong spirits because he is innocent."
"My brother is not eccentric," Jermaine Jackson insisted. "We had an incredible, wonderful childhood."
Geragos, in a telephone interview, said Michael Jackson was eager to face his accuser.
An arraignment was scheduled for Jan. 9 in Santa Barbara Superior Court.
"I spent quite a bit of time with him, and I can tell you he is strong and resolute and determined to fight what he considers to be absolutely scurrilous allegations," said the lawyer, who also represents Scott Peterson of Modesto, who is accused of killing his pregnant wife.
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