SANTA MARIA, Calif. — The jurors deciding Michael Jackson’s fate are nothing like the pop star — a world-traveling entertainer for most of his life who lives on a sprawling estate with a storybook name that has its own amusement park.
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The panel, whittled down from a pool of 250 prospective jurors, includes a retired computer programmer, a horse trainer and a student. Eight jurors are parents. Six said they are fans of Jackson’s music. Only one has ever been to Jackson’s Neverland ranch — a 21-year-old man who uses a wheelchair, who said he once visited with a cerebral palsy group.
These are the people who must judge the pop star who described in a videotaped interview writing songs in his “giving tree,” his dream of a holiday for children and his desire to hold a party for animal celebrities, including Cheetah from the Tarzan movies and Lassie.
For three months, the jurors listened silently to testimony and were barred from discussing the case until they received it Friday. Their deliberations resume Monday.
When attorneys on both sides interviewed prospective panelists in February, they listened for
anything that might hint at what possible jurors might ultimately decide about Jackson.
Prosecutors sought parents
The 46-year-old singer is charged with molesting a 13-year-old boy in February or March 2003. He is also accused of plying him with wine and conspiring to hold his family captive.
Prosecutors sought parents, especially those with young children, who legal analysts said are particularly offended by allegations of child molestation.
Defense attorneys asked potential panelists about their interest in the arts, trying to find people who might have grown up with Jackson’s music and be able to relate to him.
Some jurors met the criteria of both sides. One 45-year-old woman has sons 14 and 16 and was one of six jurors who praised Jackson’s music during the selection process. She called him a “wonderful entertainer,” adding: “I guess because we’re the same age, I kind of grew up with his music.”
Others weren’t so impressed. A 22-year-old mother of girls ages 1 and 4 described Jackson’s music as “a little before my time.” She said she once had a chance to go to Neverland but passed.
All the jurors have now seen Jackson’s property via videotape and been shown detailed layouts of his bedroom, where the molestations were alleged to have occurred.
Willing to view graphic material
They all have at least one thing in common. During the selection process, they said they would be willing to look at graphic sexual material. It turned out the lawyers were referring to dozens of adult magazines seized from Jackson’s home.
Slideshow: Michael Jackson: 1958 - 2009 They are fairly well educated. All but two have had at least some college education, and three have graduate degrees.
They were not asked about their ethnicity on questionnaires, but two said English was their second language. One woman said her first language was “Spanish-Castillian,” and another said hers was Indonesian.
Jackson’s attorneys objected to the prosecution’s decision to reject two black women from the panel. Surveys taken before the trial found that blacks were significantly more likely than whites to believe in Jackson’s innocence.
Grandmother of sex offender
The jurors range in age from 20 to 79. The oldest is a woman whose grandson is a sex offender. She was by far the most talkative member of the panel during the selection process.
Under questioning by lawyers, she described her affiliation with several groups, including the Gold Star Wives, a military widows association, and described shopping often at J.C. Penney, the retail chain sued by the accuser’s family in 1999.
The accuser’s family received a $152,000 settlement after alleging they were beaten by guards when the boy left with clothes that had not been paid for. Jackson’s attorneys, who have accused the family of setting up the singer to extort him, claim the lawsuit proves the family has a history of using the legal system to get money.
Under prodding from Judge Rodney S. Melville, the woman juror told the court about her grandson, whom she said was on probation for committing a sex crime that did not involve children.
She said wrote a letter telling him he had made “some bad decisions,” adding: “And I love him dearly.”
Asked if her grandson believes he was treated fairly in the legal process, she responded: “You bet he does.”
She then said: “I really want Mr. Jackson to get a fair trial.”
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