SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Michael Jackson (news) — dressed in white and accompanied by members of his family — returned to court Monday to watch a showdown over key evidence with the prosecutor who has pursued the singer for years on child molestation charges.
In a tense, packed courtroom Jackson defense attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. took the offensive, questioning Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon for two hours over a November 2003 search of the office of a private investigator hired by Jackson's former attorney.
The exchanges were testy at times. At one point, Sneddon said he didn't know how the defense wanted him to answer a question. "Truthfully, hopefully," Mesereau replied.
When Sneddon said he couldn't give a yes or no answer, Judge Rodney Melville promptly warned him: "Mr. Sneddon, I'm going to ask you not to spar with the attorney."
Mesereau, arguing Sneddon violated Jackson's attorney-client privilege by searching the investigator's office, is seeking to have evidence gathered during that search excluded from his trial on child molestation charges.
If successful, the move could undermine the prosecution case. It is one of the issues that must be settled before Jackson's scheduled Jan. 31 trial.
Sneddon refused to acknowledge he even suspected a professional relationship between former Jackson attorney Mark Geragos and the investigator, Bradley Miller — even though the prosecutor acknowledged seeing a large file of letters that carried the names of both men.
The singer, who wore a gold brocade armband over a white suit, sat perfectly still and stared at the prosecutor. The rest of the Jackson family, including five siblings dressed in white, also sat impassively.
Jackson's fans erupted in cheers as the singer and his entourage arrived at court in a tan, double-decker bus with tinted windows, and again when they emerged for lunch.
About 100 mostly young fans pressed against a chain-link fence and hoisted signs saying "Our Love is With You" and "Michael Jackson is Innocent" outside the courthouse. Dozens of police and a small group of people demonstrating in support of sexual abuse victims were also at the court.
Like other Jackson supporters, Olivia Baker, 20, said the singer had been unfairly targeted by Sneddon.
"No human being deserves that, especially since he's given his whole heart to the world," Baker said. "His heart is honest. I don't believe he would ever hurt a child."
The hearing came amid dueling public relations moves.
Jackson made a surprise visit to Los Angeles' pre-eminent black church Sunday, which legal experts said was an effort to boost his reputation ahead of the showdown with Sneddon.
In an added public relations flourish, Jackson decided to attend Monday's pretrial hearing with his parents, Katherine and Joseph Jackson, and siblings Jermaine, Janet, Randy, Jackie and LaToya.
Prosecutors received their own boost Sunday with the release of a leaked report by the state attorney general that rejected Jackson's charge he was "manhandled" when sheriff's deputies took him into custody last year.
The report to Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Anderson, which was posted on the CBS News Web site, casts doubt on Jackson's claim that his shoulder was dislocated when he was handcuffed.
The judge had rejected Anderson's request Friday to publicly release the report.
Jackson's appearance at First AME Church in South Los Angeles the day before his attorney was to challenge Sneddon in court also raised eyebrows.
"Jackson has never been involved with the African-American community in the past," said Steve Cron, a defense attorney who has been following the case. "I can't imagine why else he would suddenly get religion."
Jackson released a statement Monday thanking brother Randy and the Rev. Cecil B. Murray for inviting him to the service. "God has always been in my heart and a part of my life and my family's lives," he said.
Jackson, 45, is charged with committing a lewd act upon a child, administering an intoxicating agent and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. He has pleaded not guilty and is free on $3 million bail.