SANTA MARIA, Calif. – The judge in Michael Jackson's (search) child molestation case ended hardship screening of potential jurors a day early on Tuesday, saying there were roughly 250 people willing to serve.
Attorneys will begin individual questioning on Monday.
Screening of prospective jurors had been scheduled through Wednesday and was initially planned to include up to 750 prospects, but Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville (search) ended the process after about 430 were screened.
Three hundred prospects had been summoned Tuesday, but the judge ended the process after talking with the first group, which numbered slightly under 150.
Lawyers were to spend the rest of the week reviewing prospects' questionnaires to see if both sides could agree on further reducing the size of the pool by jointly agreeing on which prospects could be removed. Besides 12 jurors, Melville wants eight alternates.
Jackson arrived not long before 1 p.m. EST on Tuesday; 1 p.m. was the scheduled start of court proceedings. He was dressed in a black suit with a gold and red stripe down the pants, a more conservative look than the flashy white suit he wore Monday. Thirty or 40 fans waited outside the courthouse.
On Monday, Jackson rose and remained standing and smiling as two batches of prospective jurors — about 150 in the morning and another 150 in the afternoon — filed into the courtroom.
The singer, his lawyers and prosecutors remained silent as the judge questioned the prospects about their willingness to serve.
By the end of the day, Melville had listened to 138 people ask to be excused, but the only person he dismissed immediately was a woman who was eight months pregnant.
Jury selection is expected to take up to six to eight weeks, and jurors are expected to serve for about six months.
Outside on Monday, about 150 fans from around the world — somewhat less than expected — shouted their support, some dressed like the superstar. There also was a contingent of people who came to support the alleged victim.
Security fences kept order, unlike a year ago at Jackson's arraignment when 1,500 or more watched the pop star dance on an SUV and surged after his vehicle as he motored away.
Holding signs that read, "Dear God, Please Give Michael Justice" and "Smooth But Not a Smooth Criminal," fans sang along with a Jackson song that derides the prosecutor in the case as a "cold man."
The target of their ire, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon (search), did not come to court. A deputy represented the prosecution.
Jackson, 46, is charged with molesting a teenage boy and plying him with alcohol at his Neverland Ranch (search). He also is accused of conspiring to hold the boy and his family captive.
Robert Wagner, former security chief at Jackson's Neverland Ranch, who has published a book titled "My Three Years Working for Michael Jackson," told FOX News Tuesday morning that he liked working for the singer ... at first.
"And then when I started feeling uncomfortable [about] the number of children that were sleeping in his bedroom. In that three years that I worked there, in excess of 100 had slept in his bedroom — not 100 children, but 100 times," Wagner said, adding that he found it fishy that parents were not allowed at Neverland.
Early Sunday, Jackson issued a court-approved video statement on his Web site, proclaiming his innocence and predicting he would be acquitted.
Selecting the Jurors
The jury pool Monday was predominantly white. About a quarter appeared to be Hispanic, and only a few were black.
One of the black men in the pool told the judge he was unemployed and "six months will affect my future. I think I should worry about myself and not the defendant."
A white man said during a stint in jail he got into a dispute between a black prisoner and a white prisoner and had been branded a racist, even though he was not.
Another man who had been convicted of an undisclosed crime said he was on an electronic monitor and confined to his home. Melville ordered the man to remain in the jury pool and said he would inform those monitoring him.
Another prospect said he is chief launch coordinator at nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base. He said he has two launches in the near future and can't take time off to be a juror.
Many of the prospective panelists reflected the small-town feel of northern Santa Barbara County, a Central California region known for wine, agriculture and Jackson's Neverland Ranch. One woman said she could get a medical excuse from her doctor across the street. A few said they have friends who worked at Neverland.
One woman said that at 75, she was "just too old." The woman said she was willing to serve if she had to, but noted she had "a multitude of illnesses."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.