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Judge postpones Jackson trial

From Miguel Marquez and Dree de Clamecy


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Michael Jackson
Entertainment (general)

SANTA MARIA, California (CNN) -- The judge in the child molestation case against pop star Michael Jackson has announced he will push back the start of the trial to January 31, 2005.

Judge Rodney Melville granted the defense motion to continue the trial, acknowledging that he had been "overly optimistic" when he originally scheduled the trial to start on September 13.

Jackson faces 10 counts -- including four counts of child molestation, four counts of administering an intoxicating agent, one count of attempted child molestation and one count of conspiracy to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.

Jackson, 45, pleaded not guilty to the counts in a court appearance on April 30.

Earlier in Tuesday's hearing on a defense motion to set aside the charges against Jackson in the grand jury indictment, prosecutors outlined what they said were 28 "overt acts" that warranted the conspiracy charge.

Those alleged acts stemmed from the airing of a documentary on ABC in February, 2003, in which the singer explained his fondness for children.

Santa Barbara County Deputy District Attorney Gordon Auchincloss said the documentary "ignited a fireball of negative publicity" for Jackson, damaging his career and finances, and made Jackson "an international object of loathing."

"It represented a complete and utter ruin of his image, his empire and his career," the deputy district attorney said.

In the Martin Bashir documentary, Jackson explained that his fascination with children was innocent and defended sleeping in the same bedroom with young guests at his Neverland ranch.

"Why can't you share your bed? The most loving thing to do is to share your bed with someone," the singer said.

"You say, 'You can have my bed if you want it. Sleep in it. I'll sleep on the floor. It's yours.' I always give the beds to the company."

In the backlash from the airing of his comments, the prosecution contends, Jackson engaged in a conspiracy to force the boy he's accused of molesting and the boy's family to exonerate the singer in a news conference, to "quell the firestorm."

Auchincloss said the alleged victim's mother was told by Jackson that she would be safe only if her son agreed to participate in the news conference to clear Jackson of the allegations.

The prosecution contends that John Doe -- the alleged victim -- and his mother, Jane Doe, were virtual captives at Neverland, where Jackson attempted to divide them by creating a permissive atmosphere in which the boy didn't do homework, watched movies frequently and went on rides at the ranch's amusement park.

Auchincloss described Neverland as a "resort and an amusement park rolled into one, designed to entice and attract children," and noted that Jackson is in charge of who comes and goes from the gated estate.

He said Jane Doe needed permission from co-conspirators at the ranch to leave, and she was told she could leave but her child had to stay.

Jackson defense attorney Thomas Mesereau, Jr., disputed the prosecution's claims, saying that the mother and son were flown on private jets to Florida during the time they were supposedly held against their will at Neverland and stayed in hotels in Miami.

He also said the mother had a hotel room in Calabasas, Calif., and a credit card with no limit on it.

The defense also argued that the judge should throw out the grand jury indictment against Jackson because of Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon's "outrageous" behavior during the grand jury proceedings in April.

Mesereau charged that Sneddon intimidated witnesses, misstated the law to the grand jurors and tried to act as a judge during the session.

He also said the district attorney "screwed up" the grand jury instructions because the panel was never told what the "specific intent" was and because the grand jurors were allowed to assume that conspiracy is simply guilt by association.

Melville said he would take under consideration the motion to set aside the grand jury indictment, which was reached after the panel saw 111 exhibits and sat through testimony that covers 1,903 pages.

CNN's Ed Payne contributed to this story.

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