After testimony from a dozen key witnesses in the Michael Jackson child molestation case, a Santa Maria, Calif., judge issued tentative rulings on evidence seized in a search of Jackson's Neverland es

After testimony from a dozen key witnesses in the Michael Jackson child molestation case, a Santa Maria, Calif., judge issued tentative rulings on evidence seized in a search of Jackson's Neverland estate.

Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville said yesterday (Aug. 23) he was inclined to admit 39 pieces of evidence and is "concerned" about at least a dozen other items that he may order suppressed.

The items were referred to in court by numbers only and it was impossible to decipher what most of them were.

Minimal search warrant data previously released indicated the evidence tentatively admitted included several computer hard drives and a cassette recorder and audio tape found in a safe in Jackson's bathroom. A witness said the tape contained a child's voice.

The numbers used for items the judge expressed concern about indicated they included documents potentially covered by attorney-client privilege. The judge said he also was inclined to suppress a number of items he did not list and no hints were given as to what they contained.

He said none of his rulings were final and he would give the defense and prosecution the opportunity to present legal arguments in written briefs and at the next series of court hearings on Sept. 16 and 17. Melville said the written briefs would be filed under seal.

Yesterday's final testimony in the five-day suppression hearing focused on the Neverland search. The prosecution called witnesses in an effort to overcome defense testimony that authorities took items from areas of Jackson's property that were not specified in the search warrant, and that they ignored protests by Jackson's employees.

Jalaine Hogue, a district attorney's investigator, testified she interviewed Jackson's property manager, Joseph Marcus, and said he never expressed unwillingness to be interviewed and never complained about the scope of the search. Hogue also testified Marcus never mentioned that Jackson attorney Steve Cochran was at the gate of the estate demanding admittance during the search.

Before the search, Hogue said, she and others were gathered together by sheriff's detectives and given a packet of information relating the allegations of Jackson's accuser and a list of questions to ask his employees. Defense attorneys indicated that material has not been turned over to them.

A second witness, sheriff's Lt. Russell Birchim, said he was involved in a previous search of Neverland in 1993 and was consulted by District Attorney Tom Sneddon before the 2003 search in order to figure out where certain buildings were located.

Jackson, 45, has pleaded not guilty to charges of committing a lewd act upon a child, administering an intoxicating agent and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. Free on $3 million bail, Jackson is set to go on trial Jan. 31.


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