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Family, Friends Flock to Jackson’s Ranch

December 20, 2003

LOS OLIVOS, Calif. (AP) _ Friends and relatives of Michael Jackson descended on his Neverland Ranch on Saturday to show their support for the entertainer who is fighting child molestation charges.

The private gathering behind the gates of the sprawling estate was described as a homecoming for Jackson, who has kept a low profile in Las Vegas and undisclosed locations since surrendering to authorities on Nov. 20 and being released on $3 million bail.

More than 150 cars entered the ranch’s main gate, and uninvited supporters staking out the entrance ran up to one black Mercedes carrying two people who appeared to be Jackson’s parents.

One sign pasted on a fan’s car read: ``Michael is innocent! Leave him alone!″

One of the invited guests was fan Sheree Wilkins, who said she was contacted Thursday by an assistant to Katherine Jackson, the pop star’s mother.

``That’s Michael’s style. When he wants to say thanks, he does it big and invites the people who care about him,″ said Wilkins, 32, of Inglewood, who said she has visited the Neverland compound several times before.

Jackson spokesman Stuart Backerman had said the crowd would include some celebrities but he had no names from the guest list. He said as many as 600 people could attend.

Jackson was charged Thursday with seven counts of performing lewd or lascivious acts upon a child under 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent. He maintains his innocence.

Jackson was looking forward to thanking people who have stood by him, said Brian Oxman, a lawyer and Jackson friend who planned to attend Saturday’s gathering.

``It’s for family and friends to say thank you from Michael to people he loves and who have supported him,″ Oxman said. ``It’s not a party. It’s not a pep rally. It’s not hoopla or celebration.″

Jackson soon will travel to England to fulfill unspecified contractual obligations. There have been reports he will be promoting his latest CD, ``Number Ones,″ which is doing better in the United Kingdom than it is in the United States.

Mark Beaumont, a staff writer at music magazine NME, said he doesn’t expect a rapturous welcome for Jackson if he goes ahead with his visit to England.

``There will always be the hardcore fans but that is a relatively small group now and people are becoming more suspicious,″ Beaumont said.

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