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Jackson Jury Pool Narrowed To 250

The judge in the Michael Jackson child molestation trial Tuesday completed the first phase of jury selection after choosing 250 people as potential jurors to decide the pop singer's fate.

Jackson returned to court Tuesday and watched as dozens of prospective jurors in his child molestation case explained why they could not sit through the projected six-month trial.

Jackson, wearing a black suit with a gold and red stripe down the pants and an insignia on the left side of the jacket, was greeted by fewer than 100 fans on Tuesday — down from several hundred outside for the first day of jury selection.

About 60 of the first 150 brought into court Tuesday raised their hand when Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville asked who was willing to serve. He then questioned the rest on why they sought to be excused.

On Tuesday, a woman asked to be excused because she is four months pregnant.

"I don't know if I'd make it through the trial," she told the judge.

"It's a good question," he said, but he did not dismiss her.

Of about 300 prospects screened Monday, 138 asked to be excused. Melville granted only one release immediately, to a woman who was eight months pregnant.

Those not immediately excused were to fill out questionnaires to be studied by attorneys before individual questioning later. Besides 12 jurors, Melville wants eight alternates.

"As the potential jurors came in, Jackson, his four attorneys and his jury consultant all stood. Jackson clasped his hands in front of him and flashed a broad smile at the jurors as they came in," reports CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales.

Melville told both groups of prospective jurors that they might have to serve for about six months, and that it was an important duty.

"Most of us have relatives who have fought and died to protect this system," Melville said. "Freedom is not free. Jury duty is part of the cost of freedom."

The jury pool was predominantly white. About a quarter appeared to be Hispanic, and only a few were black.

One of the black men in the pool told the judge he was unemployed and "six months will affect my future. I think I should worry about myself and not the defendant."

A white man said during a stint in jail he got into a dispute between a black prisoner and a white prisoner and had been branded a racist, even though he was not.

Another man who had been convicted of an undisclosed crime said he was on an electronic monitor and confined to his home. Melville ordered the man to remain in the jury pool and said he would inform those monitoring him.

Another prospect said he is chief launch coordinator at nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base. He said he has two launches in the near future and can't take time off to be a juror.

Many of the prospective panelists reflected the small-town feel of northern Santa Barbara County, a Central California region known for wine, agriculture, and Jackson's Neverland Ranch. One woman said she could get a medical excuse from her doctor across the street. A few said they have friends who worked at Neverland.

One woman said that at 75, she was "just too old."

"You don't look a day over 60," the judge replied.

The woman said she was willing to serve if she had to, but noted she had "a multitude of illnesses."

Hardship screening was to continue Wednesday. Those not immediately excused were to fill out questionnaires to be studied by attorneys before individual questioning later. Besides 12 jurors, Melville wants eight alternates.

Jackson, 46, is charged with molesting a teenage boy and plying him with alcohol at his Neverland Ranch. He also is accused of conspiring to hold the boy and his family captive. Early Sunday, Jackson issued a court-approved video statement on his Web site, proclaiming his innocence and predicting he would be acquitted.

The turnout of Jackson supporters, has been much smaller than the throng that showed up a year ago for his arraignment, when he entertained them with a dance atop a car and they chased his vehicle through town.

An array of security fences has now been set up outside the tiny courthouse to maintain crowd control.

On Monday, supporters held signs that read, "Dear God, Please Give Michael Justice" and "Smooth But Not a Smooth Criminal," fans sang along with a Jackson song that derides the prosecutor in the case as a "cold man."

"No other defendant in American history has had to bring into trial all the baggage that Jackson brings into this trial," says Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen.

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