SANTA MARIA, Calif. – Michael Jackson (search) made a surprise visit to Los Angeles' pre-eminent black church a day before he was to face off in court against the man who has put him on trial — Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon (search).
Jackson, who wore a dark blue velvet jacket with a gold armband on one sleeve, went to the First AME Church (search) on Sunday, appearing with his attorney, Tom Mesereau Jr., brother Randy and comedian Steve Harvey (search ).
During a meeting with about 35 Sunday school students, Jackson was asked by one girl if the children could visit Jackson's Neverland (search ) ranch, to which the pop star replied: "You're welcome to come anytime."
When asked about the visit by ABC's "Good Morning America," Jackson said he went to the church "to worship and to see the children."
Jackson, 45, is charged with committing a lewd act upon a child, administering an intoxicating agent and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. He has pleaded not guilty and is free on $3 million bail.
The focus of Monday's hearing was to be Sneddon's actions in the weeks before the charges were filed. The defense seeks to show 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.
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 already 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 (search ).
The defense says any materials seized from Miller's office should never see the light of day as evidence.
The seized materials are believed to be crucial to the prosecution case — among them, a videotape of Jackson's 12-year-old accuser and his family praising the singer's character.
Prosecutors claim the tape was made under duress, with Jackson holding the family prisoner at his Neverland ranch. Without the tape, a central theory of the case against Jackson would be severely undermined.
Jackson has decided he wants to be present for this confrontation. In the audience are expected to be his parents, Joseph and Katherine, and siblings including Janet, LaToya, Jermaine and Jackie.
"It's a faceoff between Jackson and Sneddon," said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola University law professor and former federal prosecutor. "And emotionally, it's a big moment in the case. This is high drama."
Ten years ago, Sneddon tried to build a child-molestation case against Jackson. But it fell apart when the singer's accuser reportedly accepted a multimillion-dollar civil settlement and refused to testify in any criminal case.
Prosecutors got a boost Sunday when word leaked that the state attorney general's office has concluded that Jackson was not "manhandled" by sheriff's deputies who took him into custody last year on the molestation charges, CBS News reported Sunday.
The findings were contained in a three-page letter Martin A. Ryan, chief of the attorney general's California Bureau of Investigation, sent to Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Anderson, CBS reported.
A spokesman for the attorney general did not immediately return a call for comment.
Jackson told CBS' "60 Minutes" last year that he was "manhandled" by sheriff's deputies who deliberately handcuffed him in a way they knew was "going to hurt" and that dislocated his shoulder. After he was taken to jail, he said, he was placed in a feces-smeared restroom for 45 minutes before being released.