In surprisingly quick time, a jury was selected that will decide Michael Jackson’s fate on child sex charges.
“We have a jury,” Judge Rodney Melville announced yesterday in Santa Maria, California. The judge then began the process of selecting eight alternates for a trial projected to last six months.
The panel consists of four men and eight women, ranging in age from 20 to 79.
Jury selection had been expected to last several weeks, but took only five court days, which were interrupted by a one-week break due to the death of a lawyer’s sister and another one-week break because Jackson was in hospital with flu-like symptoms.
Selection moved at a fast pace when the judge imposed tight time limits on how long each prospective juror could be questioned.
Among the jurors were a woman who said her grandson was required to register as a sexual offender because of a crime; a 20-year-old man who likes The Simpsons TV show; and a man who likes Western art and country music.
One of the jurors had been asked during selection if he recognised celebrity witnesses in the case including self-help guru Deepak Chopra. He responded: “I think he’s a rapper.”
The court has not disclosed the races of jurors and lawyers are under a gag order not to discuss the case. According to one public opinion poll, blacks are less inclined to believe the charges against Jackson.
The jury seated yesterday was primarily white and Hispanic and did not appear to include any of the half-dozen black prospective jurors who were in the initial pool.
Two black women who had been questioned as potential jurors were rejected by prosecutors. The defence objected on both occasions – one Tuesday, the other yesterday – and Jackson appeared upset when each woman was removed.
The second woman claimed her husband had been treated with prejudice while working for the sheriff’s department. During questioning by a prosecutor, she criticised the make-up of the jury pool.
“Just look around us. A jury of his peers would be people of his age and people of colour, mixed diversity,” she said. “How diverse is this jury looking to you right now?”
Jackson nodded as the woman described her husband’s experiences of discrimination and turned to watch her leave the courtroom.
Some prospective alternate jurors were dismissed for hardship because of job commitments and several others because of personal experiences that could affect their judgment.
One of those excused said he was close friends with one of Jackson’s cousins and also said his children had been to the pop star’s Neverland ranch and had watched a film and had ice cream with Jackson.
Selection of the alternate panel will continue today.
Jackson, 46, is accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy at Neverland, plying him with alcohol, and conspiring to hold him and his family captive. He denies all the charges.
During questioning of prospective jurors, defence lawyer Thomas Mesereau asked prospects about their interest in the arts, their feelings toward Jackson, and whether they believed child witnesses could be led to lie.
The defence will argue that the mother of Jackson’s accuser has told him to lie.
Prosecutor Ron Zonen’s questions included whether prospects were fans of Jackson, and whether they had seen a recent Fox News interview with Geraldo Rivera in which Jackson said many of the news reports about him were untrue.