SANTA MARIA, Calif. – Michael Jackson (search) on Monday received a greeting few accused child molesters will ever know: A screaming throng of fans, dancing and crying, some holding up signs proclaiming his innocence.
The pop icon smiled as he faced the first group of prospective jurors filing into the courtroom. He greeted the clerk with a handshake at the courthouse in this small city in central California about 15 miles from the coast.
Jackson, 46, is charged with molesting a cancer patient — then aged 13, now 15 — after plying him with alcohol.
About 150 prospective jurors were screened for hardship and filled out questionnaires. More groups of jurors were to follow. The judge hopes to find 12 jurors and eight alternates, but the process could take a month or more.
Some predicted jury selection could take a month or more.
Jackson left the courthouse around 4:30 p.m. PST. Court resumes on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
Outside, several hundred fans from around the world pressed up against a chain-link fence and shouted words of encouragement, holding up signs that read, "Dear God, Please Give Michael Justice" and "France Supports and Loves MJ."
Supporters blasted a Jackson song deriding the district attorney and booed a woman who held a sign backing the alleged victim. Many had camped out overnight.
The pop icon got to court about noon EST (9 a.m. PST) wearing all white and shielded from the sun by an umbrella. He waved to supporters as he strode inside.
After more than an hour's wait, Jackson and his attorney stood and faced the first group of prospective jurors filing into the courtroom.
Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville told the prospective panelists they might have to serve for about six months, but that it was an important duty.
"Most of us have relatives who have fought and died to protect this service," he said. "Freedom is not free. Jury duty is part of the cost of freedom."
When Melville asked the first group how many would not seek to be removed from the case, at least half raised their hands. He then began questioning prospects who were seeking deferrals of jury service.
On Sunday, Jackson posted a videotaped plea on his Web site proclaiming his innocence.
"Please keep an open mind and let me have my day in court," Jackson said in the clip, looking directly into the camera. "I deserve a fair trial like every other American citizen. I will be acquitted and vindicated when the truth is told."
His parents also spoke out in his defense, saying the star's young accuser was after his fortune.
"I know my son, and this is ridiculous," his mother, Katherine Jackson (search), said in an interview broadcast on CBS' "The Early Show" Monday morning. She said people who believe her son is guilty "don't know him."
Jackson's father, Joe Jackson (search), said his son was beloved around the world but had trouble in the United States because of racism. He said the accuser's motives were clear: "It's about money."
Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville (search) summoned 300 people to court for the first round of jury selection. Another 300 were to follow on Tuesday, with a final 150 scheduled to arrive on Wednesday.
From that pool, the judge hopes to find 12 jurors and eight alternates.
On Monday, Jackson spokeswoman Raymone K. Bain said the pop star's "spirits are great," and shot down rumors that he had been suicidal.
"He has the support of his family, his children, his friends," she said. "You're going to see a Michael Jackson who is going to be here today who is very serious — very businesslike and very serious."
Jackson is opposed by Santa Barbara County district attorney Tom Sneddon (search), 61, who has pursued the celebrity for over a decade. Jackson has derided Sneddon in song as a "cold man" with a vendetta and likened the case to persecution.
Ten years ago, Sneddon tried to build a child-molestation case against Jackson. But it fell apart when the singer's accuser reportedly accepted a multimillion-dollar civil settlement and refused to testify in any criminal case.
The referee is Melville, 63, a veteran of the bench who has refused to tolerate tardiness or even, in one case, a bathroom break for the defendant. At the final pretrial hearing Friday, Melville made it clear that a gag order stands and he won't abide lawyers attacking each other.
As jury selection neared, competition for a scoop undermined Melville's efforts. The 1,900-page transcript of the case prosecutors presented to the grand jury that indicted Jackson was leaked this month to Thesmokinggun.com and ABC News.
Among other things, the transcript included the accuser's testimony that Jackson closed his eyes tightly while molesting him on a bed, and that the pop star ignored the child's warnings that he shouldn't drink alcohol because of his medical condition.
More than 1,000 applications for media access to the courthouse complex have been submitted, some of them from as far away as Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, Canada and Mexico.
Jackson's family members were expected to attend much of the trial, although the judge said he would not permit them in the courtroom when it is packed with prospective jurors.
After three days of preliminaries, lawyers will be given time to study prospective jurors' written answers and return to court next week to excuse those who have strong views that clearly exclude them from service. The lawyers will then begin questioning in depth those still in the jury pool.
The challenge facing the court is not to find jurors ignorant of the case but to find those who say they can put aside everything they have heard and look at the evidence as if they had heard nothing.
"This is an extremely high profile case locally, nationally and internationally," Jackson's lawyer, Thomas Mesereau Jr. (search), said in a recent motion. "The publicity is so widespread that there is no jurisdiction in the state or perhaps in this country that would afford Mr. Jackson a trial in front of jurors who have not been influenced by the publicity."
Criminal defense attorney David Wohl told FOX News the defense is hoping for "a clone of the O.J. [Simpson] jury."
"They want conspiracy theorists. They want cop haters. They want people who in no way, sense, shape or form are going to buy into the fact that Michael Jackson could conceivably be guilty in this case. So it's going to be tough up here. This is a very conservative part of Santa Barbara county," he said.
Richard Gabriel, former jury consultant on the Simpson case and past president of the American Society of Trial Consultants, told FOX News the perfect juror [for the defense] is somebody who has "very open, liberal views on affection and contact and has basically a trusting world view."
The jurors would "say that there are people that are good in this world, that Michael Jackson is good. I think they are looking for people also who can be incredibly suspicious of the police, [and] prosecutorial and even parental motives in pressing forward with this case," he said.
Gabriel added that the case comes down to the question: "Jackson, perennial child or pedophile?"
"The core issue really is does he have some sort of malevolent intent, both with fondling this child? Does he have a pattern of predatory behavior? As such, the jury selection is really going to focus on people's fundamental attitudes toward affection, toward pornography and whether that equates to pedophilia, and whether there's sort of the intent on his part to do this and then cover it up," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.