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Jackson faces a breathtaking fall from dizzying heights

Santa Barbara (California), Nov. 21 (Reuters): Michael Jackson, who soared to dizzying heights as an entertainer, found himself today facing the possibility of a breathtaking fall as he awaited child molestation charges that could destroy his career and send him to prison if convicted.

But the self-proclaimed “King of Pop” — who was whisked from Las Vegas to California and back yesterday just long enough to surrender to police and post $3 million bail — called those charges an outrageous lie and predicted that he would ultimately be exonerated.

“Lies run sprints, but the truth runs marathons,” Jackson said, according to a written statement released by his publicist. “The truth will win this marathon in court.”

Jackson’s legal drama, which began on Wednesday when more than 60 police officers raided his Neverland Valley Ranch looking for evidence, has riveted much of the nation and produced stunning pictures of one of the world’s best-known pop stars in handcuffs.

The mug shot taken of Jackson, posted on the sheriff’s website and widely circulated on the Internet, showed the 45-year-old singer in lipstick and eyeliner, his cheeks sunken, looking tense and haggard with long hair hanging over one eye.

The cameras kept rolling as Jackson returned to Las Vegas, where bystanders raced into the streets to greet his car as it travelled through that city. At stoplights, Jackson’s arm extended from a passenger window to shake hands with fans.

Though Jackson’s arrest came after a lengthy investigation by Santa Barbara county authorities, no formal charges have yet been levied against him and a police spokesman said it could be several more days before the papers were filed.

District attorney Thomas Sneddon has said Jackson will be charged under a California law that defines molestation as “arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust, passions or sexual desires of” the offender or a child under age 14.

The charge carries a penalty of three to eight years in prison and stems from accusations made by a single young boy who stayed at Jackson’s ranch in the hills above Santa Barbara.

Authorities have refused to characterise their evidence against Jackson, but spent more than 14 hours combing through his Neverland ranch as well as two unspecified locations in the Los Angeles area.

It was the second time in 10 years that such allegations have been made against the performer, who rose to fame as the young lead singer of the Jackson Five during the 1960s, came of age as a wildly popular solo star and now fancies himself as a modern-day “Peter Pan,” the boy who never grew up.

But Jackson’s record sales have slumped over the past decade, he has struggled with mounting debts and in recent years controversy surrounding his personal life has overshadowed his fame as an entertainer.

Earlier this year, Jackson said in a TV documentary that he had shared his bed with children and appeared on camera holding hands with a 12-year-old boy who had been an overnight guest.

Jackson insisted then there was nothing sexual about such sleepovers, which he viewed as an innocent form of affection.

Jackson’s attorney, famed celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos, said outside the sheriff's office that his client “has given me the authority to say on his behalf, these charges are categorically untrue.”

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