The day before he was to come face-to-face in court with the prosecutor who has led the child molestation case against him, Michael Jackson made a rare public appearance at Los Angeles First AME Church — and gave ABC News exclusive access as he toured the church's Sunday school and surprised adoring fans.
Today, Jackson and several members of his family will be in attendance in Santa Barbara County Court as District Attorney Tom Sneddon will be called to testify about the tactics he used while investigating the molestation case against "The King of Pop."
Jackson, 45, has pleaded not guilty to committing lewd acts upon a child; administering an intoxicating agent to a child and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment, and extortion. The alleged victim in the case is believed to be a cancer survivor, now 14 years old, who spent time at Jackson's Neverland ranch and appeared in the British documentary Living With Michael Jackson, which was broadcast on ABC last year.
On Sunday, accompanied by his attorney, Tom Mesereau Jr., his brother Randy and comedian Steve Harvey, Jackson paid a surprise visit to the church and was welcomed by an adoring congregation. Jackson could not comment on the case because of a gag order but he gave ABC News exclusive access to his visit with one of the nation's pre-eminent black congregations.
ABC News' Jessica Yellin was with Jackson and asked him what brought him to the First AME Church.
"To worship and see the children," he said.
"Did you enjoy the service?" Yellin asked.
"I loved it," Jackson said.
Praying for a Level Playing Field
Mesereau is a founder of the church's legal clinic. Jackson found nothing but support from the congregation as worshippers prayed for justice. Adoring fans smiled and gasped as Jackson signed autographs. A mob of screaming fans chased his limousine as it pulled away.
Pastor Cecil Murray said the members of his congregation have been following Jackson's case and hope he gets a fair trial.
"The majority of the people are just on watch, looking to see that there's a level playing field, looking to see that it is not his celebrity on trial nor his color, but just the facts of the case," Murray said.
Jackson's defense team will attempt to show during today's hearing that Sneddon invaded the sanctity of the attorney-client privilege between Jackson and his former attorney when he conducted personal surveillance of a private investigator's office weeks before filing charges.
The investigator, Bradley Miller, was not in his Beverly Hills office when Sneddon went there and photographed the building and its roster of occupants.
Santa Barbara County sheriff's officials have testified that they used a sledgehammer to break into Miller's office and seize videotapes and files relating to the Jackson case. They maintain that they did not know Miller was employed by Jackson's former attorney Mark Geragos. The defense says Sneddon conducted an illegal search and that any materials seized from Miller's office should not be admitted into evidence.
Mistreatment Allegations Refuted
In another matter, prosecutors received some support when it was reported that the attorney general's office had concluded that Jackson was not mistreated by Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies when he surrendered to authorities last November.
The findings were contained in a three-page letter Martin A. Ryan, chief of the attorney general's California Bureau of Investigation, sent to Sheriff Jim Anderson. Jackson had claimed that the deputies handcuffed him in a way that hurt his wrists and dislocated his shoulder. Jackson also said that he was placed in a feces-smeared restroom for 45 minutes while in custody.