SANTA MARIA, Calif. – The judge in the Michael Jackson (search) molestation case ended the first stage of jury selection a day early, in part because of a surprisingly large number of prospective jurors who said they were willing to serve.
Santa Barbara County Judge Rodney S. Melville (search) said roughly 250 of the 430 prospects screened Monday and Tuesday were willing to serve during the six-month trial.
He called off plans to interview 300 prospects Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, saying there were plenty of people who could serve on the panel of 12 and eight alternates.
"I think we have enough jurors," Melville said.
Individual questioning of the prospects was to begin Monday.
Trial watchers said the jury selection process had been sped along by the high percentage of prospects who had no objections to serving.
"Normally when you have a trial where judges estimate six months, you're gonna get two-thirds, three-quarters or more saying they can't do it for one reason or another," said Michael Brennan, a law professor at the University of Southern California.
"There are going to be some people who want to be on this jury, just for the notoriety. Some of these people are going to end up at the end of the day making some money," he said.
Jackson, 46, is charged with molesting a teenage boy and plying him with alcohol at his Neverland Ranch in early 2003. He also is accused of conspiring to hold the boy and his family captive.
Tuesday's session began on a much lower key than Monday, when Jackson was cheered by several hundred supporters as he arrived for the first day of jury selection in a glistening white suit. Fewer than 100 fans were on hand Tuesday as he arrived and entered court in a black suit with gold and red stripes down the pant legs.
During the 1 1/2 days of screening jurors, prospects asked to be removed from consideration for reasons ranging from age to sick relatives to employers who wouldn't pay them while they were on jury duty.
Jackson smiled Tuesday as he rose to face the potential jurors. He took notes on a yellow legal pad as Melville questioned prospects about hardships they would face if required to serve.
Melville listened to brief descriptions of each person's hardship and rarely asked any follow-up questions, merely saying, "All right, thank you." It appeared that he granted most of the requests to serve on shorter trials.
Among those seeking to avoid the trial were people who said they could not leave their posts at nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base, several pregnant women who are expecting in the next few months, and a large number of self-employed workers who said they would lose their livelihood if they had to serve on the Jackson jury.
Also seeking to be excused were full-time students, a man who said he had to train horses for upcoming equestrian shows and a Navy seaman who didn't know if he would be paid during jury service.
Lawyers will review the remaining prospects' written questionnaires to see if both sides can agree on which prospects should be removed before beginning intensive questioning in court Monday.