Jury selected in Michael Jackson molestation case

SANTA MARIA, California - A jury of four men and eight women have been chosen in the Michael Jackson child molestation case, including one woman whose sister was raped and another whose grandson is a registered sex offender.

At least three of the jurors are Hispanics but no blacks were selected. All potential jurors were asked if race would be a consideration in their deliberations and all said no.

Jackson, 46, is an African American.

The panel, which was selected faster than legal experts had expected, includes a widowed 79-year-old great grandmother whose grandson has registered with police as a sex offender, and a 42-year-old school aide whose sister was raped at age 12. The second woman also said she had two nieces who had been sexually molested.

The jury, which ranges in age from 20 to 79, also includes a civil engineer, a horse trainer, a physical therapy aide, a wheelchair-bound student and a student nurse whose aunt visited Jackson’s Neverland Valley estate, where a boy, now 15, claims the pop star molested him two years ago.

Most of the panel said they had read or watched a little news about the case. They all said they could be fair in their deliberations.

None of the jurors was identified by name but all had filled out seven-page questionnaires.

Jackson is accused of molesting the boy when the boy was 13 years old at Neverland, shortly after he revealed in a British documentary that he was sleeping with the boy, a cancer victim, in his bed.

Once the jury was selected, prosecutors and defence lawyers began the process of picking eight alternates, who will take the place of any jurors who are dismissed during the trial. Opening statements could begin as early as next week.

Jackson is charged in a 10-count indictment with molesting the boy, plying him with liquor and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. He has pleaded innocent.

Jury selection began in earnest this week after two weeks of delays, and court observers were surprised how quickly the proceedings went under the direction of Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville.

Jackson arrived at court and waved at a crowd of several dozen supporters chanting "Innocent." The pop star was wearing a black suit and a red vest.

Court observers now believe that Judge Melville will swear in the 12-member jury and eight alternates by Friday. Opening statements could follow as early as next week, after the judge considers last-minute motions by both sides.

Legal experts say Melville streamlined jury selection by placing strict time limits on prosecutors and Jackson’s lawyers as they question jury candidates.

"It’s unheard of in a case like this to have a jury this fast," former San Francisco prosecutor and legal analyst Jim Hammer said.

Among those potential jurors who were dismissed were a woman who said she had twice been falsely accused of child molestation and another who described herself as a close follower of celebrity trials.

- REUTERS

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