Tue, Feb 01, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Michael Jackson's child-molestation trial set to open

AFP , SANTA MARIA, CALIFORNIA

The celebrity trial of the century was set to open yesterday, with pop superstar Michael Jackson insisting he would be found innocent of the "disgusting" accusations of child molestation.

"I will be acquitted and vindicated when the truth is told," he said in a videotaped statement broadcast on his Web site just hours before he was to appear in a central California courtroom at the opening of the long-anticipated trial that has drawn worldwide attention.

One of the world's best known entertainers, Jackson, 46, will see for the first time some of the people who will be given the power to put him behind bars, as the court starts the lengthy process of selecting 12 jurors from a list of 4,000 potential candidates.

And the "King of Pop" braced for what could be months of proceedings in the small city of Santa Maria, 50km from his sprawling Neverland home and amusement park where he is alleged to have sexually molested a cancer-stricken 13-year-old boy two years ago.

Jackson angrily dismissed accusations leaked from grand jury sessions in which his now 15-year-old accuser told in graphic detail how the controversial star allegedly fondled him and plied him with alcohol.

"In the last few weeks, a large amount of ugly, malicious information has been released into the media about me," Jackson said in the brief videotaped statement.

"Apparently, this information was leaked through transcripts in a grand jury proceeding where neither my lawyers, nor I, ever appeared. The information is disgusting and false," said Jackson, who was pictured wearing a bright blue shirt.

The transcript quotes the alleged victim as saying that as he and Jackson lay in bed, "he [Jackson] put his hand down my pants and he started rubbing me, my private area -- he was masturbating me."

Jackson said he had wanted to help the cancer-stricken boy when he invited him and his family to Neverland.

A father of three, Jackson said the "events have caused a nightmare for my family, my children and me. I never intend to place myself in so vulnerable a position again."

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