Michael Jackson has been indicted by a grand jury investigating allegations the "King of Pop" molested a boy at his Neverland estate, ABCNEWS has learned. That almost certainly clears the way for a trial later this year.
The 19-member panel decided to indict the pop legend Wednesday. Jurors met in closed sessions in Santa Barbara, Calif., for 13 days during the last three weeks to consider whether there was enough evidence to charge Jackson.
The precise charges returned against the singer were not immediately known, but ABCNEWS has learned he will be arraigned on April 30 before Judge Rodney Melville in Santa Barbara Superior Court.
The grand jury heard from at least a dozen witnesses, including the 14-year-old boy who claims the pop superstar sexually abused him, ABCNEWS confirmed. The boy was 12 at the time of the alleged abuse. The alleged victim's mother and younger brother also testified before the grand jury.
Legal experts say the indictment means jurors found some of the witnesses and the evidence compelling enough to bring the "King of Pop" to trial. Grand jurors did not have to be unanimous in their decision; only 12 of the 19 jurors had to agree to indict Jackson.
"Somebody was credible enough for some of these grand jurors on some of these counts to bring an indictment against Michael Jackson," said ABCNEWS Senior Legal Correspondent Cynthia McFadden. "What's interesting is we may not know until April 30 — and Michael Jackson may not know until April 30 — what the specifics of the counts are. California law permits them [prosecutors] not to tell him."
For Insight into Some of the Details of the Allegations Against Jackson click here.
Not ‘Presumed’ Innocent … Is Innocent
Jackson's lawyers said earlier Wednesday that their client would plead not guilty if he were indicted.
"Mr. Jackson and his attorneys are confident that after a trial on these charges, Mr. Jackson will be fully exonerated and that the allegations contained in the indictment will be shown to be patently false," they said in a statement posted on the singer's Web site.
"In this case, Mr. Jackson is not just 'presumed' to be innocent but is in fact innocent. Michael is looking forward to his day in court and wishes to thank the millions of fans throughout the world who continue to support him during this difficult period," the statement said.
Indictment Expedites the Case
The indictment means, barring a plea agreement or dismissal of charges, Jackson is likely to go on trial.
Jackson, 45, was arrested on Nov. 20 and booked on child molestation charges after a 14-year-old boy alleged the singer sexually abused him during visits to Neverland. In the controversial British documentary Living With Michael Jackson, which aired on ABC in February 2003, Jackson raised eyebrows when he told British journalist Martin Bashir that he has allowed visiting children to sleep in his bed at Neverland.
"Why can't you share your bed?" Jackson said. "The most loving thing to do is to share your bed with someone."
In January, Jackson pleaded not guilty to seven counts of lewd acts upon a child and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent. He is free on $3 million bail. While the district attorney could ask for a new bond hearing, the stipulations of his release will likely remain the same.
From Superstar to Just Bizarre
Long before news of this case first broke, Jackson's superstar image had been marred by increasingly eccentric behavior.
He shot to stardom when he was just 4 years old, singing with his older brothers in the Jackson Five. He released his first solo album in 1972, but he really began to define himself as a solo artist with the 1979 release of Off the Wall. He became an international phenomenon when Thriller — propelled by songs such as "Beat It" and "Billie Jean," as well as his unique "moonwalking" dance in music videos — sold 16 million copies worldwide in 1983. It is the second-greatest selling album of all time.
However, after Thriller, Jackson's physical appearance began to change drastically. The headlines didn't focus too much on it at the time, but when Jackson released Bad in 1987, he appeared to have much more feminine facial features. His complexion, once brown, was lightened. His once-flat nose was reshaped, his cheekbones were more defined and his hair — once a Jeri Curled Afro — was straightened.
Then his behavior appeared to become increasingly odd, with reports that he slept in a hyperbaric chamber and tried to buy the Elephant Man's bones. However, he was still recognized primarily for his talent and perhaps perceived as benevolently eccentric.
Jackson's career took a darker turn in 1993, when a 13-year-old boy accused him of sexual molestation. Jackson denied any wrongdoing, and he was never charged. He reportedly paid $20 million to settle a civil suit filed by the boy's family.
However, Jackson has never really been able to escape the 1993 scandal. His record sales on subsequent albums have dwindled. His last studio album, 2001's Invincible, sold approximately 2 million copies — successful to most artists but a disappointment for the "King of Pop."