SANTA MARIA, Calif. - The judge in Michael Jackson's molestation case delayed a ruling Friday on when to hold the singer's preliminary hearing after the defense said it hasn't had enough time to review the prosecution's evidence.
Friday's proceedings were held in an atmosphere much more subdued than Jackson's arraignment last month, when thousands of fans came to the courthouse and Jackson danced atop a vehicle. This time, Jackson wasn't present and there were only a few fans on hand.
All parties in the case agreed to come back to court on April 2 to set the date for Jackson's preliminary hearing, the proceeding in which prosecutors will lay out their case and Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville will decide whether it should go to trial.
Defense attorney Mark Geragos said he had just received 400 pages of evidence from Santa Barbara County District Attorney Thomas Sneddon and would need time to review it.
Geragos said he understood that the prosecution was "halfway there" in turning over all of its evidence.
The judge advised the attorneys that he hoped for the case to go to trial by the end of the year and all parties agreed that was possible.
Melville also ruled on a media request to unseal documents related to all searches in the case. He said the documents will remain sealed but he will release edited versions, possibly by next week.
The ruling was similar to one he made Jan. 16 regarding search warrants and documents related to the November search of Jackson's Neverland ranch. The released versions of those documents deleted references to many of the items seized. The judge also did not release the affidavit law enforcement officials filed when they sought that warrant. The affidavit contains their reason for the search.
Jackson is charged with seven counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 and two counts of giving the child an "intoxicating agent." He pleaded innocent Jan. 16.
Unlike the circus-like atmosphere surrounding last month's arraignment, at which more than 3,000 fans packed the streets, singing and chanting, only about two dozen fans showed up at the courthouse Friday.
Jackson supporter Marina Sali, a 25-year-old college student from New York City, was among them. She said it didn't matter that Jackson wasn't expected to be at court. "Michael to me means everything," she said. "I will do anything to prove my point of view."
Tierra Alexander, 20, had the words, "Just leave him alone" on the back of her shirt. Her friend, Tamika Myles, 21, wore a shirt with the phrase "Just stop dogging him around" on the back.