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Jackson could be charged this week

LOS ANGELES -- Nearly a month after his arrest, Michael Jackson is expected to be charged this week in a child molestation case that legal specialists say will require strong physical evidence for prosecutors to overcome questions about the accuser's credibility.

Criminal charges are usually announced soon after an arrest, but Santa Barbara County District Attorney Thomas Sneddon did not immediately file a formal complaint after Jackson's Nov. 20 booking. He said officials needed until this week to set up a website they would use to distribute the charging documents to hundreds of news organizations following the case.

Law enforcement officials have not discussed their evidence since Jackson turned himself in. But Jim Thomas, a former Santa Barbara County sheriff who has discussed the case with Sneddon, expects the charges to allege that Jackson molested one child repeatedly, probably over a period of more than a month.

Legal analysts said the charges will not attempt to answer challenges to the credibility of the accuser and his family. Charging documents usually include only basic information, analysts said, such as the nature of the alleged offenses and when and where they would have occurred. Recent findings that have raised credibility questions include a confidential memo leaked last week that showed Los Angeles County child welfare officials determined in February that there was no basis for allegations that Jackson had molested the boy.

In the memo, Jackson's accuser, his brother, and his mother all denied that the boy had been molested. Sneddon said in a statement that he was aware of the memo when he sought the arrest warrant and did not expect it to affect the case.

The child's family also filed a lawsuit in which they alleged that they were beaten by mall security guards in 1998 and that the mother said she was sexually assaulted during the incident. The family received a $137,500 settlement.

Russell Halpern, an attorney for the accuser's father, has said his client's former wife had a "Svengali-like ability" to make her children lie in testimony.

Jackson's defense attorney, Mark Geragos, declined to comment. He has previously said Jackson is innocent.

Leonard Levine, a defense attorney who specializes in sexual assault cases, said Sneddon's decision to press ahead despite credibility problems with the accuser suggests the district attorney has strong evidence he has not yet released.

"I would be very surprised if the sole evidence that they had is simply the complaint of the alleged victim," Levine said.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, who has spoken with Sneddon several times since Jackson's arrest, said prosecutors will need physical evidence or an additional witness because of the credibility questions. But he said Sneddon seems certain that he can prove Jackson guilty.

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