SANTA MARIA, Calif. (AP) – Fans of Michael Jackson erupted in cheers Monday as the pop star emerged from a double-decker tour bus and went into court for a showdown with the prosecutor who has pursued him for years on child molestation charges.

In court, District Attorney Tom Sneddon and Jackson attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. engaged in a heated exchange, prompting a warning from Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville.

“Mr. Sneddon, I’m going to ask you not to spar with the attorney,” the judge said.

Jackson, wearing a white suit with a mustard yellow armband, entered the court with several family members, also dressed in white. A bodyguard held a black umbrella over the singer, who flashed a peace sign to the crowd.

About 100 mostly young fans pressed against a chain-link fence and hoisted signs saying “Our Love is With You” and “Michael Jackson is Innocent” outside the hearing on whether prosecutors can use evidence seized from the office of a private investigator working for the singer.

Dozens of police and a small group of people demonstrating in support of sexual abuse victims were also at the court.

Like other Jackson supporters, Olivia Baker, 20, of San Diego, said the singer has been unfairly targeted by Sneddon.

“No human being deserves that, especially since he’s given his whole heart to the world,” said Baker, wearing a Jackson-trademark black fedora. “His heart is honest. I don’t believe he would ever hurt a child.”

The hearing comes amid dueling public relations moves.

Jackson made a surprise visit to Los Angeles’ pre-eminent black church on Sunday, which legal experts said was an effort to boost his reputation ahead of the showdown with the Santa Barbara County prosecutor.

In an added public relations flourish, Jackson decided to attend Monday’s pretrial hearing with his parents, Katherine and Joseph Jackson, and siblings Jermaine, Janet, Jackie and LaToya.

Prosecutors received their own boost Sunday with the release of a leaked report by the state attorney general that rejected Jackson’s charge that he was “manhandled” when sheriff’s deputies took him into custody last year.

“The timing is amazing,” said Loyola University Law School professor Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor. “This means both sides are playing the public relations game. No matter who leaked it, prosecutors want the public to see Michael Jackson as a manipulator and a liar. And it gets some of the spotlight off Sneddon.”

The report to Santa Barbara County Sheriff Jim Anderson, which was posted on the CBS News Web site, casts doubt on Jackson’s claim that his shoulder was dislocated when he was handcuffed.

Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville had rejected Anderson’s request Friday to publicly release the report.

Jackson’s appearance at First AME Church in South Los Angeles the day before his attorney was to challenge Sneddon in court also raised eyebrows.

“Jackson has never been involved with the African American community in the past,” Defense attorney Steve Cron said. “I can’t imagine why else he would suddenly get religion.”

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 the hearing is Sneddon’s actions in the weeks before the charges were filed. The defense seeks to show that the prosecutor violated attorney-client privilege between Jackson and his former attorney, Mark Geragos, 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 Geragos.

The conspiracy count has become a centerpiece of the prosecution case with allegations that the 12-year-old accuser and his family were coerced into making a videotape praising the singer’s character.

The tape and other materials seized from Miller’s office are at issue in the hearing. A ruling that they must be suppressed because they were wrongfully seized would seriously undermine the prosecution’s case.

AP-ES-08-16-04 1633EDT

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