Michael Jackson returned to court Tuesday after a week’s delay and the judge assured prospective jurors that the singer really had been ill and there was no plot to put off his child molestation trial.
Jackson, dressed in black, chatted with his attorneys at the defense table before questioning of prospective jurors started.
Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville told prospective jurors that he understood their frustrations over “a couple of false starts.” He referred to Jackson’s illness, which closed down jury selection for a week, and an earlier delay caused by the death of defense attorney Thomas Mesereau’s sister.
He said the delays were not part of a calculated attempt by anyone to slow down the trial.
“Mr. Jackson really was sick. He really did have the flu,” the judge said. “I talked to his doctor. ... I wouldn’t let anyone take advantage of us that way.”
The judge said several names had been added to the defense’s celebrity-studded witness list, including Macaulay Culkin, Eddie Murphy and Smokey Robinson. More than 300 names submitted earlier by the defense included Kobe Bryant, Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross and Jay Leno.
Prosecutors began interviewing jury prospects who were previously questioned by defense attorneys.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen asked the prospects if they had seen a recent Geraldo Rivera interview with Jackson on Fox News, in which Jackson said many stories about him are not true. No one said they had seen it.
Zonen also asked prospective jurors about their own experiences with allegations of child molestation. One woman who had previously said she was twice accused of improper behavior with children added Tuesday that she herself was a victim as a child. She said she slightly favored Jackson.
Another prospect said she saw an interview that made her unsure of her ability to be fair in the case. She did not describe the interview.
Jury selection was abruptly cut off last Tuesday when Melville announced that Jackson had been rushed to an emergency room with flu-like symptoms. Jackson was released from a hospital on Wednesday.
Before jury selection was canceled last week, Mesereau asked prospects about their interest in the arts, their feelings toward Jackson, and whether they believed child witnesses could be led to lie. The defense will argue that the mother of Jackson’s 15-year-old accuser, a former cancer patient, has told him to lie.
Attorneys are trying to select 12 jurors and eight alternates from a pool of 242 potential jurors. Each side can ask to remove an unlimited number of jurors for bias, and eliminate 10 jurors without cause.
Jackson, 46, is accused of molesting the boy, plying him with wine, and conspiring to hold his family captive.