Michael Jackson pleaded innocent today (Jan. 16) to child-molestation charges as a throng of news media and fans swarmed around the small courthouse in the semi-rural central California town of Santa

Michael Jackson pleaded innocent today (Jan. 16) to child-molestation charges as a throng of news media and fans swarmed around the small courthouse in the semi-rural central California town of Santa Maria for his first appearance in a case that could send him to prison for years. Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville immediately scolded him for arriving 21 minutes late to the arraignment.

"Mr. Jackson, you have started out on the wrong foot here. I want to advise you that I will not put up with that. It's an insult to the court," Melville said.

Minutes earlier, fans cheered and chanted as Jackson arrived pop-star style in a caravan of vehicles. Wearing a dark suit, glittery shoes and big sunglasses, he shook hands with fans and waved as he slowly made his way into the courthouse.

The arraignment drew a horde of news media and Jackson fans to the usually quiet Santa Maria Valley in Santa Barbara County, where the pop star is alleged to have committed the crimes at his Neverland Ranch. Fans drove in from Los Angeles and Las Vegas in a "Caravan of Love."

"There's strength in numbers," said supporter Amber McCrary, 26, who boarded a bus in a suburban Los Angeles Kmart parking lot with her two little children.

Hundreds of fans chanted and sang outside the courthouse before dawn, holding signs that read "Stay Strong Michael" and "We Believe In Michael Jackson. Leave Him Alone."


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