SANTA MARIA, Calif. — The barricades are up and court officials are braced for a return visit by Michael Jackson today to the small courthouse where he faces child molestation charges.
Police Chief Danny R. Macagni said law enforcement officials in this northern Santa Barbara County city are expecting Jackson's arraignment to draw a crowd of about 2,500 supporters, plus hundreds of media representatives from around the world.
Already charged with nine felony counts in December, Jackson is expected to be arraigned for a second time on a new indictment issued secretly last week by a special 19-member grand jury tasked with deciding if there is sufficient evidence to hold him for trial.
All details about the indictment, including the issue of whether new charges may have been added or old charges dropped, will be kept secret until its contents are revealed at the hearing.
The new indictment is just one of many new aspects to a case that has taken several dramatic shifts in recent days.
According to sources close to the Jackson family, the grand jury's decision to indict brought home the seriousness of Jackson's situation and was a catalyst for a power shift within the inner circle of the entertainer's closest advisors.
Jackson's first move was to fire his two lead defense lawyers, Los Angeles attorney Mark Geragos and New York lawyer Benjamin Brafman. The entertainer said in a strongly worded statement that he needed a lawyer who could devote undivided attention to his case, a reference to Geragos' involvement in the Scott Peterson murder case.
Sources close to the case said Jackson's brother Randy was a pivotal force in the move to oust the two lawyers. The new lawyer, Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., briefly represented actor Robert Blake in his murder case, and is widely respected in the African American community for years of donating free legal services to help poor black defendants throughout the U.S.
While dropping Geragos and Brafman, Jackson retained two other members of his legal team, Steve Cochran and Robert Sanger.
There were conflicting reports over whether he has also broken ties with the Nation of Islam, which has been providing security for Jackson since his arrest in December.
Macagni said he had a meeting scheduled with Nation of Islam representatives for Wednesday, but received a call from them telling him they had been replaced by a private security firm. A meeting with the private security firm was subsequently set for Thursday morning, Macagni said. But he added that he received another call saying the firm had been removed from the case. A third security firm will be used, officials said.
Leonard Muhammad, son-in-law of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, has been a prominent member of Jackson's inner circle for months. But sources said that relationship has cooled dramatically, partly as the result of arguments by Randy Jackson that Muhammad was playing too strong a role in Jackson's affairs.
Raymone K. Bain, a spokeswoman for Jackson, said there was no truth to talk about a fallout between Jackson and the Nation of Islam.
Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville has said he hoped a trial could begin by December. Others predict it will begin early next year.
Jackson, 45, is charged with molesting a young cancer patient at his Neverland ranch early last year. He is free on $3-million bail.