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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 February, 2005, 13:33 GMT
Santa Maria prepares for Jackson
By Peter Bowes
BBC News in Santa Maria, California

After months of delays and false starts, the trial of Michael Jackson will finally get under way in Santa Maria, California, on Monday.

Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson is already familliar with the security checks in court
Opening statements are scheduled to take place in what has become the most closely watched celebrity case ever.

"He is one of the most interesting people that has ever been on this earth," said Steve Cron, Los Angeles-based defence lawyer and media pundit on the Jackson trial.

"People are going to want to know: What did he do? Who did he do it to and why?"

The singer has denied molesting a 13-year old boy and plying him with alcohol.

There is a palpable tension around the courthouse.

Everyone has a job to do and the world will be watching. Over the weekend more makeshift TV studios were erected on the grounds of the court complex.

Reporters from around the world have once again descended on this quiet California town. Everyone is eager to get their hands on one of the 40 passes for a seat in the main courtroom.

Wall of steel

Other members of the media will be accommodated in an overflow area with a closed circuit television feed of the proceedings.

The local police have been reinforcing a wall of steel along the front of the building. Two-layers of chain link fence will restrict fans to the main street.

The trial - and the frenzied activity surrounding it - has often been likened to the OJ Simpson case. But there are significant differences.

"When the OJ Simpson case was going on all you had to do was turn on the television and you could watch it from gavel to gavel," explained Mr Cron.

"It was all on live TV and people were watching all around the world. With the Michael Jackson case that's not going to happen."

Susan Yu and Thomas Mesereau
Two of Mr Jackson's lawyers - Susan Yu and Thomas Mesereau
The judge, Rodney Melville, has banned cameras from the courtroom and the lawyers are prohibited, under a gag order, from talking to the media.

"Half the show will be what's happening outside the courtroom. His fans are loyal - there are people that have sent me hate e-mail if I've said anything critical of Michael Jackson even though I have got nothing to do with the case," added Mr Cron.

Rehearsed routine

For most people - court officials, the media and fans - the daily routine of the trial has been well rehearsed. The crowds are not expected to be as big as the now infamous day Michael Jackson leapt onto his SUV to salute his supporters.

"The number of fans doesn't really matter," said BJ Hickman, from Tennessee.

"We can not always be here in person but we're always here in spirit. But I think it will be pretty wild here on Monday - there'll be a whole bunch of people here so that we can support Michael and support the truth. We know that he didn't do anything wrong."

Many of Michael Jackson's supporters are keen to address what they see as a distorted image of them in the media.

"Most fans are normal hard working people," according to Lee, who lives close to the singer's Neverland ranch.

"What you get on television is an image of lunacy and crazy people which is not true at all. People scream and act ridiculous and that's not necessarily a good representation of what we do out here," he said.

Michael Jackson fans
Mr Jackson's fans will turn out in force on Monday
But television coverage of what the judge has acknowledged is a "circus" is bound to dominate the first few days of the trial.

'Fair trial'

"It will be the most highly covered criminal case in the nation," said Gloria Allred, a Los Angeles defence lawyer who describes herself as a "voice in the wilderness saying will someone please make Michael Jackson accountable".

Ms Allred briefly represented the boy who made child abuse allegations against the singer in 1993 and recently called for Mr Jackson's own children to be taken away from their father.

"The judge is going do everything he can to make sure the defendant gets a fair trial and I hope that the alleged victim gets a fair trial," she said.

"Whatever is happening with Michael Jackson I believe he has brought it on himself. He has to be accountable for whatever his actions have been."

Michael Jackson's lawyers have suggested that the trial could last for up to five months. Already, some observers are speculating about the day of reckoning for the superstar.

J Randy Taraborrelli, the author of Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness, said the singer would have trouble coping even if he was found not guilty.

"I'm not really sure how he will be able to pick up the pieces after all of this," he said.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he just doesn't want to be in the public eye any longer and doesn't want that kind of scrutiny."

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