Michael Jackson appeared in court Monday for the beginning of jury selection in his child-molestation case, just one day after releasing a videotaped statement in which he urged potential jurors to keep an open mind.
The singer, wearing an all white suit, showed up at the Santa Maria, California, courthouse about five minutes before the session began, accompanied by an entourage that included defense attorney Thomas Mesereau and his team as well as bodyguards and assistants, one of whom carried an umbrella over Jackson during the short walk from his vehicle. Exiting a black SUV, Jackson smiled, waved to fans and made peace and victory signs to the crowd, which included hundreds of fans and members of the media.
The proceedings were delayed slightly because of the time needed to get would-be jurors through the security screening. Some 750 potential jurors are expected to go through the selection process, which could take up to a month, at which point opening arguments can commence. The first members of the jury pool to be dismissed were those for whom it would be a hardship to serve on a trial that is expected to last up to six months, as this one is.
On Monday morning, approximately 66 out of the first pool of 150 questioned requested to be excused due to hardship claims. A second pool of another 150 are being questioned during the afternoon session. Once all of those who need to be excluded on those grounds are excused, probably by Wednesday, the judge will then give those remaining a seven-page questionnaire to fill out, which both sides will use to whittle the group down to 12 jurors and eight alternates.
"Most of us have relatives who have fought and died to protect this," Judge Rodney Melville reminded potential jurors. "Freedom is not free. Jury duty is part of the cost of freedom."
In his videotaped statement Sunday, Jackson had his own message for potential jurors, asking them not to judge him before they'd heard his side of the story (see "Michael Jackson Says He Regrets Letting Accuser Into His Home, Asks For Fair Trial"). "Let me have my day in court," he said. "I deserve a fair trial like every other American citizen. I love my community and I have great faith in our justice system. I will be acquitted and vindicated when the truth is told."
Jackson's family members had wanted to attend the proceedings but were left to make their appearances on television instead, after Melville decided there was no room in his courtroom to accommodate them, given the large number of potential jurors being questioned. Jackson's mother and father appeared instead Monday morning on CBS' "The Early Show," where Katherine Jackson defended her son and called the molestation claims "ridiculous," while Joseph Jackson said the accusations were "about money."
For full coverage of the Michael Jackson case, see "Michael Jackson Accused."