Trailed by a phalanx of TV cameras, a handcuffed Michael Jackson was booked on suspicion of child molestation Thursday after arriving by private jet to face charges that could finish off his already declining career and send him to prison for years.
The self-styled "King of Pop" immediately posted $3 million bail. He waved to reporters and flashed a V-sign before leaving the Santa Barbara County jail in a black Suburban escorted by three sheriff's motorcycle officers.
"He's come back specifically to confront these charges head-on," defense attorney Mark Geragos said. "He is greatly outraged by the bringing of these charges. He considers this to be a big lie."
"Lies run sprints, but the truth runs marathons," Jackson added in a statement issued by a spokesman. "The truth will win this marathon in court."
With Jackson's riches and global fame, the advent of 24-hour cable news channels, and the rise of TV cameras in the courtroom, the allegations set the stage for what would be one of the most sensational celebrity court cases the world has ever seen.
Authorities released no details of the case beyond a warrant accusing the 45-year-old Jackson of multiple counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14, an offense punishable by three to eight years in prison.
But news reports have said the child was a 12- or 13-year-old boy who visited Jackson at his Neverland Ranch, a storybook playland where the singer was known to hold sleepovers for children and share his bed with youngsters.
Jackson returned to California from Las Vegas, where he was making a video, a day after authorities announced a warrant for his arrest had been issued.
Jackson's leased jet landed at Santa Barbara Municipal Airport and rolled its nose into a hangar before those aboard stepped out. A law enforcement convoy took him to the main county jail, where the handcuffed singer, wearing a black coat and pants with a white shirt and white tie, was escorted inside and booked for investigation of child molestation.
Sheriff's Sgt. Chris Pappas characterized Jackson and his representatives as cooperative during the 30- to 45-minute booking.
Reporters had swarmed the Santa Barbara airport, the jail and sheriff's headquarters, awaiting Jackson's return. Outside the jail, college student Cesar Mendoza held a homemade sign reading "Moonwalk 2 jail."
"I love his music, but I don't know if I can support him now. This is his second time. I can't believe him anymore," said Mendoza, 22, of Isla Vista.
Jackson, who has three young children, flew back to a Las Vegas-area airport, where what appeared to be three children covered by blankets were carried aboard the plane by assistants. They were then carried off, and Jackson exited the plane as well.
Assistants tried to shield him from TV cameras by holding up sheets, but he was visible to helicopter cameras. He briefly flashed a peace sign before disappearing into a black Lincoln Navigator. Groups of people on roadsides waved at his passing motorcade and some ran up to the car at stops.
In a scene reminiscent of O.J. Simpson (news)'s infamous slow-speed chase in a white Ford Bronco, television helicopters followed the motorcade's roundabout, two-hour, 30-mile route to the Green Valley Ranch hotel-casino in Henderson, where Jackson has been staying.
About 40 fans gathered outside the hotel, some carrying signs reading "100 percent innocent" and "Leave him alone."
Jackson's brother Jermaine denounced the allegations in a CNN interview as "nothing but a modern-day lynching."
"This is what they want to see: him in handcuffs. You got it. But it won't be for long, I promise you," Jermaine Jackson said.
District Attorney Thomas W. Sneddon Jr. said Wednesday that charges would be filed soon in the case, but Pappas said Thursday that Sneddon "has announced that no charges will be filed until after Thanksgiving."
Jackson was given a Jan. 9 arraignment date.
Geragos, who also is defending Scott Peterson (news - web sites) of Modesto, Calif., in the high-profile Laci Peterson (news - web sites) murder case, had arranged Jackson's return from Las Vegas.
"He understands the people who are outraged, because if these charges were true, I assure you Michael would be the first to be outraged," Geragos said outside the jail.
"I'm here to tell you today, Michael has given me the authority to say on his behalf these charges are categorically untrue. He looks forward to getting into a courtroom as opposed to any other forum and confronting these accusations head on."
Michael X. Dean, deputy director of Santa Barbara County Social Services, declined to comment on whether there were plans to take Jackson's children into protective custody, citing confidentiality rules. He said that generally, criminal charges can prompt a child welfare investigation, but said such an investigation is not automatic.
Jackson dominated pop music in the 1980s but was damaged by a similar molestation allegation in 1993. But no charges were ever filed. Jackson maintained his innocence but reportedly paid the boy's family a multimillion-dollar civil settlement, and the child refused to testify in any criminal proceedings.
The district attorney has said the youngster in the latest case is cooperating with investigators and has no plans to sue. He also said prosecutors could be helped by a law, passed since the earlier Jackson investigation, that was designed to keep civil suits from interfering with criminal cases.
Even beyond the earlier molestation allegation, Jackson's unusual lifestyle has often drawn ridicule, occasionally outrage.
He has slept in a hyperbaric chamber, tried to buy the Elephant Man's bones, gone through a pair of quickie marriages that befuddled many, and utterly transformed his face through plastic surgery. His skin tone has changed from dark to a pale white, a change Jackson blames on vitiligo, a disorder marked by pigment loss.
While Jackson's career has faded as his behavior has gotten increasingly bizarre, his last album, 2001's "Invincible," sold about 2 million copies — great numbers for most artists but far below his once phenomenal sales.