Jackson Charged with 9 Felony Counts

12/18/2003 AT 01:00 PM EST

Nearly one month after his arrest, Michael Jackson was formally charged Thursday with seven felony counts of child molestation -- and another two felony counts of giving his alleged victim an "intoxicating agent," Santa Barbara County prosecutors announced.

Jackson, 45, is accused of committing "lewd and lascivious acts" upon a child under 14. The accuser has been identified as a cancer patient who visited the pop star's Neverland Ranch and appeared in the controversial Jackson TV documentary, "Living with Michael Jackson," which aired on ABC last February.

The documentary showed the child, now 14, holding hands with Jackson and speaking about sleeping in the same bedroom with the singer. But the charges allege that the molestation occurred after the documentary aired -- between Feb. 7 and March 10, according to the Smoking Gun Web site, which has published copies of the felony counts.

Each molestation count carries possible prison sentences of three, six or eight years, the Associated Press reports. Jackson, who is free on $3 million bail, denies the allegations, calling them a "big lie."

In announcing the charges Thursday, Santa Barbara District Attorney Tom Sneddon rebuffed recent speculation that prosecutors have a weak case. "I want to categorically say that is false," he said.

Earlier this month, the Smoking Gun published a memo from authorities in Los Angeles who looked into abuse allegations against Jackson by the same accuser and called the claims "unfounded." Sneddon dismissed that report, adding, "To call that an investigation is a misnomer. It was an interview."

The accuser's family history also has raised some questions. In 1998, the family filed a lawsuit claiming that the boy, his brother and mother were beaten by security guards while leaving a Southern California J.C. Penney store carrying clothes that weren't paid for, AP notes. The mother also claimed to have been sexually assaulted, and the family received a $137,500 settlement.

If there was any good news for Jackson on Thursday, it's that he will be allowed to leave the country. Sneddon said prosecutors and the court have agreed to allow Jackson to travel to Britain to fulfill contractual obligations to promote his new greatest-hits collection, "Number Ones."

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