The judge in Michael Jackson’s child molestation trial abruptly ended the first phase of jury selection Tuesday — a day ahead of schedule — after quickly finding a pool of about 250 people willing to serve on the case.
Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville put the pool together in just a day and a half, then adjourned court until next Monday, when prosecutors and Jackson’s attorneys will begin questioning the would-be jurors more closely.
“I think we have enough (potential) jurors,” Melville told the attorneys and Jackson before dismissing them shortly before noon Tuesday.
The judge must ultimately swear in a jury of 12 people to sit through the trial and weigh the evidence against the 46-year-old Jackson, who is charged with molesting a young boy at his Neverland Valley Ranch and conspiring to commit extortion, child abduction and false imprisonment.
Jackson has pleaded innocent to the charges and vowed to be acquitted and vindicated at trial.
It could take about a month before a panel, including eight alternate jurors, is chosen to hear the case, legal experts said.
The entertainer could face more than 30 years in prison if he is convicted on all 10 counts of the indictment against him from a Santa Barbara County grand jury. His accuser is a boy, now 15, seen with the performer in a 2003 documentary by British journalist Martin Bashir.
Jackson attended both days of the proceedings, waving to fans and flashing a victory sign as he came and went, but did not address the court. On Tuesday, he smiled cheerfully, dressed in a black suit and a white vest, as the prospective jurors filed into the room.
While Melville appeared pleased to have chosen his pool of 250 possible jurors in less than two days, legal experts said the remarkable willingness of so many people to serve on a six-month child molestation case could complicate matters for all sides.
“I think people want to be on this jury and that’s terrible for the prosecution,” former San Francisco prosecutor Jim Hammer, now a media analyst following the Jackson case, said. ”The district attorney wants reluctant jurors. People who have families, lives, jobs. People who are invested in the community.”
Hammer said jurors eager to serve on the case may have a hidden agenda that will be difficult for Melville or the attorneys to discern and could influence their verdict.
When the would-be jurors return Monday, they will be questioned at length about their opinions of Jackson, knowledge of the case, ability to be fair and willingness to sit through sometimes graphic testimony about sexual abuse.
Jackson’s young accuser and members of his family are expected to take the witness stand during the trial. Defense attorneys have not said if Jackson will testify.
More than 1,000 journalists from Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Switzerland and the United States have applied for credentials to cover the trial.
The media and Jackson’s fans have nearly swamped Santa Maria, a working-class town of about 80,000 people on California’s scenic central coast.