SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- Attorneys in Michael Jackson's child-molestation trial are turning to the tough job of finding jurors who can judge the pop star not as a legend but as a defendant.
Finding a jury of peers is a daunting task when the defendant lives in a storybook mansion with its own amusement park.
"If you talk about a jury of your peers, it would have to be Madonna, Liza Minnelli, and maybe Elvis," said former San Francisco prosecutor and trial watcher Jim Hammer. "Michael looks like nobody else in the courtroom."
Jackson is black, while the community that will supply the jury is mostly white. Many prospects who appeared in court two weeks ago to fill out eight-page questionnaires told the judge they were barely scraping by.
"This would be a financial devastation for me," said one 67-year-old man, explaining he could not afford to miss work for what is expected to be a six-month trial.
Today, attorneys on both sides begin thinning the nearly 250 prospects who filled out detailed questionnaires to 12 jurors and eight alternates. Jury selection was delayed a week because of the death of Jackson attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr.'s sister.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers will probably not bother trying to find jurors who share much with Jackson, who is accused of plying a boy, then 13, with alcohol, molesting him, and conspiring to hold his family captive.
Instead, they will look to dismiss those who are biased.
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. Also, each side has 10 "peremptory" challenges to remove jurors without explanation.
Jackson's lawyers will be conscious of the jury's racial composition and jurors' views on race. On the questionnaires, prospects were asked whether their "feelings about or experiences with" people of other races would affect their ability to be fair. All but 16 of the 242 respondents answered "no."