SANTA MARIA, Calif. (AP) – The judge in the Michael Jackson child-molestation case Friday set a tentative trial date of Sept. 13 over the objection of the pop star’s lawyer. The defense also asked that Jackson’s $3 million bail be lowered.

Jackson was not in court, and few fans turned out for the hearing. Judge Rodney Melville delayed a ruling on a defense request to reduce Jackson’s $3 million bail.

Melville made it clear he won’t let the public or press in on much pretrial material in the case, maintaining a lid on such basic documents as the grand jury indictment. He promised written rulings on media requests for access and rebuked attorneys for failing to file some motions under seal. “I do not feel you are taking my orders for sealing as seriously as I am giving them,” Melville said.

Defense attorneys objected to setting a trial date, saying the prosecution had not given the defense all evidence in the case.

“We have a client who has endured the cloud of this case for the better part of six to seven months,” said defense attorney Steve Cochran, “and we still don’t have the forensic tests … The materials we’re seeing make reference to informants, but we have not been given the identities of the informants.”

We have been given some tape recordings that are inaudible.”

Cochran implored the judge to order prosecutors to disclose all their evidence to the defense. Prosecutors said they have already turned over almost all the evidence, including 2,202 pages of reports, 69 audio tapes, two videotapes and one CD-ROM of photographs.

After a half-hour conference in the judge’s chambers, which also remained secret, the judge said it wasn’t necessary to issue an order and he was convinced the prosecution would comply.

Prosecutor Ron Zonen called Jackson’s bail “roughly comparable to what he would spend in a weekend in Las Vegas,” and noted that the pop star is a self-declared billionaire.

The prosecution suggested in court papers made available Sunday that Jackson could be a flight risk because he is “known and adored” in several countries that lack extradition treaties with the United States.

Defense lawyer Thomas Mesereau Jr. cited his client’s charitable contributions, lack of criminal record and substantial assets in Santa Barbara County, including his Neverland Ranch, in urging the judge to lower bail. He said the bail is wildly excessive for the crimes charged and suggested bail should be $435,000 at most.

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.

Also Friday, Melville decided not to release the full indictment or grand jury testimony, as requested by news organizations including The Associated Press.

The judge excised the names of five alleged unindicted coconspirators from the indictment as well as 28 acts that prosecutors contend are incriminating. The judge set a June 25 hearing on the grand jury transcripts.

AP-ES-05-28-04 1726EDT



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