Michael Jackson was formally charged with child molestation today (Dec. 18) in Santa Maria, Calif., setting the stage for what could become one of the most sensational celebrity trials the world has e

Michael Jackson was formally charged with child molestation today (Dec. 18) in Santa Maria, Calif., setting the stage for what could become one of the most sensational celebrity trials the world has ever seen. The charging documents specified seven counts alleging lewd or lascivious acts upon a child under 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent.

The charges come nearly a month after authorities raided Jackson's estate and arrested him days later on suspicion of child molestation. He has been free on $3 million bail.

Jackson has said the charges are "predicated on a big lie." His attorney, Mark Geragos, has said Jackson's accusers are after the singer's money.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon agreed to delay Jackson's arraignment a week to Jan. 16 and return Jackson's passport to allow him to travel to the U.K. from Dec. 20 to Jan. 6.

The allegations are believed to involve a boy, now 14, who spent nights in Jackson's bedroom at his estate, which gets its name from the Peter Pan story.

Ten months ago, the boy appeared on national television in a British documentary holding hands with Jackson, who said the two had slept in the same bedroom but not the same bed. Jackson defended his penchant for holding sleepovers with children, describing the practice as sweet and innocent.

This week, the district attorney's office brought in a Hollywood public relations firm to handle the expected crush of media inquiries - a move criticized by the Jackson camp and others as unseemly.

A decade ago, Jackson thwarted Sneddon and escaped prosecution in another molestation case. He settled out of court with the accuser's family for a reported $15 million to $20 million, and the boy refused to testify. No charges were ever brought. Jackson later wrote a song attacking Sneddon.

In the month since Jackson's arrest in the current case, questions have been raised about the credibility of the boy's family.

In a leaked confidential memo, Los Angeles County child welfare investigators who looked into the case last February said they found no improper behavior on Jackson's part. According to the memo, the boy, his mother and siblings praised Jackson and said no abuse occurred.

Prosecutors said they were aware of the finding when they decided to arrest Jackson, and they dismissed its significance.

The boy's family also filed a lawsuit claiming that the boy, his brother and mother were beaten by mall security guards in 1998 after the boy left a Southern California J.C. Penney store carrying clothes that had not been paid for. The lawsuit also alleged the mother was sexually assaulted. The family received a $137,500 settlement.

In addition, the boy's father pleaded no contest to child cruelty in 2002 and spousal abuse in 2001. The couple are now divorced.

Russell Halpern, an attorney for the father, has said the boy's mother had a "Svengali-like ability" to make her children lie in testimony.

Jackson and the boy met two years ago through comedy club owner Jamie Masada, who had asked the pop star to cheer up the young cancer victim. At the time, the boy had been given three weeks to live. His spleen and one of his kidneys had been removed because of stomach cancer.

The boy's current medical condition is unclear. Masada has said his remaining kidney is failing, while Halpern has said the boy is in good condition. The boy's mother has declined to speak to the media.


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