<
>

Strawberry visits pop star with church group

12/22/2003

TAMPA, Fla. -- Pop singer Michael Jackson has found a friend in another celebrity who's had his own brushes with the law: former baseball star Darryl Strawberry.

Strawberry, a member of the Without Walls International Church
in Tampa, ministered to Jackson during a trip to the singer's
Neverland Ranch this weekend, said Randy White, the church's head
pastor, on Monday.

Jackson invited Strawberry, televangelist Paula White and associate pastor Rob Mallan after meeting members of the
church at a birthday party earlier this year for his father, Joe
Jackson, White said. Strawberry could not be reached for comment
Monday, and others on the trip did not return calls for comment.

The trio attended a gathering titled "You Are Not Alone,"
after a Jackson song. The event drew about 600 people, including
tennis star Serena Williams, rapper MC Hammer and comedian Eddie
Griffin.

Strawberry, 41, has been making a new career for himself,
sharing his experiences and talking about how his faith helped him
turn his life around since his release from prison earlier this
year.

The eight-time All-Star and member of two World Series winners
was released a Florida prison in April after serving 11 months of
an 18-month prison sentence for violating probation on cocaine
possession charges.

Jackson, 45, 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 has been free on $3 million bail since he turned himself
in Nov. 20.

Randy White, who was not on the trip, said Strawberry also
talked to Jackson about dealing with media attention. Whether
Jackson is guilty of molestation wasn't an issue in the meeting,
White said.

"If he is guilty, he needs some type of ministry and
counseling," White said. "And if he's not guilty, he needs some
kind of ministry and counseling with all he's been through. We are
not the judge. We are waiting to see the outcome."

Jackson spokesman Stuart Backerman said Strawberry was at the
event, but couldn't confirm he ministered to Jackson when the two
met privately.