Jacko Jury Cloaked In Secrecy

A grand jury hearing evidence in the Michael Jackson with child molestation case completed its first day of work on Monday at a secret location away from the Santa Barbara courthouse where grand juries normally sit.

In a related development, a judge slightly eased restrictions on the media's access to jurors and witnesses in the case.

Superior Court Judge Clifford R. Anderson III amended his earlier order, lifting restrictions on photographing jurors and witnesses outside the courthouse. The change also appeared to relax restrictions on reporters' ability to communicate with jurors and adult witnesses outside the courthouse.

But the new order also added restrictions, forbidding anyone to communicate with or photograph any minor called to testify.

The grand jury's secret location prompted news crews to stake out various court branches, roam Santa Barbara County, and call and visit local hotels in a search for the meeting place.

The Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday that the grand jury met at a sheriff's training facility on the northern outskirts of Santa Barbara. The facility was barricaded to keep the media away.

Last week, several reporters questioned spouses of prospective grand jurors as they entered an assembly room, and at least one photographer removed images from his digital camera after a deputy asked him to do so.

Jackson, whose Neverland estate is in Santa Barbara County, was charged by the district attorney late last year with seven counts of committing lewd or lascivious acts upon a child under age 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent to the child. Jackson has pleaded not guilty.

A pretrial hearing in the case is scheduled for Friday.

Prosecutors are now seeking a grand jury indictment, which would mean they would not have to present evidence at a preliminary hearing to determine if the case should go to trial.