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Jackson Jury Pool Queries Begin

Michael Jackson turns to look toward his fans at his arrival at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse , Monday, Feb. 14, 2005 in Santa Maria, Calif., during jury selection for Jackson's trial on charges of child molestation(AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant)
AP
A judge urged prospects to relax and to keep an open mind as questioning began Monday for potential jurors in Michael Jackson's child-molestation trial.

Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville told about 240 prospects that a litigant's greatest fear is a judge or juror in a case has been "bought and paid for."

"I'm not bought and paid for. I have not made up my mind in this case and I want to select a jury that feels exactly the same way," Melville said.

"You might be able to relax a little bit if you think of this as a job interview," the judge added, eliciting laughter.

"The fact that we've seen a higher percentage of people to serve on this jury is a reflection that this is a celebrity case and those prospective jurors understand they might likely be mini celebrities themselves," reports CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales.

As the process got under way, prosecutors and defense attorneys immediately agreed to dismiss an 81-year-old man who said he has a serious health condition.

Jackson is accused of molesting a 13-year-old former cancer patient, giving the boy alcohol and conspiring to hold him and his family captive.

Last week, Melville released juror questionnaires that previewed some of the issues attorneys will focus on. Jurors were asked whether they or someone they knew had experienced improper sexual conduct, if they could judge people of a different race fairly, and if they had followed the 1993 molestation allegations involving Jackson.

Jury selection had been delayed a week because of the death of lead defense attorney Thomas J. Mesereau Jr.'s sister.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys are trying to thin the nearly 250 potential jurors who filled out questionnaires into 12 panelists and eight alternates.

The prospective jurors' job titles range from engineer to student to janitor, and their ages spanned from 18 to the early 80s. The average was 46, which is also Jackson's age.

The possible jurors were predominantly white, and about a third Hispanic, with only a half-dozen black prospects.

Defense attorneys were expected to try to weed out parents of young children who might be especially afraid of child abuse. Prosecutors were likely to look for jurors who looked up to law enforcement.

During questioning of would-be jurors, each side has an unlimited number of challenges for cause — challenges that let them remove someone because of obvious bias. In addition, each side has 10 "peremptory" challenges to remove jurors without explaining why.

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