SANTA MARIA, Calif. – Four out of every five prospective jurors in the Michael Jackson (search) trial are parents, a fact that could influence how they view charges that the pop star molested a teenage boy, as well as the accuser's credibility.
Of 242 potential jurors, 189 have children, according to an Associated Press analysis of juror questionnaires.
Legal experts said the large number of parents could cut either way for the singer: Parents with young children might be especially upset by the allegations, but they may also believe, based on their own experiences, that children can be dishonest.
"The ones with younger children may have a gut reaction that this could happen to my children, and that could make the defense very nervous," said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School (search) professor.
Jackson, 46, is charged in Santa Barbara County Superior Court (search) with molesting a teenage boy and plying him with alcohol at his Neverland Ranch. He also is accused of conspiring to hold the boy and his family captive.
Defense attorney Thomas Mesereau asked prospective jurors last week whether they believed young witnesses could be encouraged to lie, possibly setting up a defense argument that the accuser's mother is pulling his strings.
Jurors' answers depended largely on their experiences as parents. Some recounted their children's elaborate explanations for missed curfews, while others said children tend to tell the truth.
"If it benefits them, they might twist it a little bit," said Juror No. 80, who has two adult children.
"I was a homemaker, and I spent my time teaching mine not to lie," said Juror No. 89, who has four adult children and said they were honest.
Legal analysts said parenthood will be an important factor because parental instincts are so strong, shining even through the rigid format of juror questionnaires. One woman wrote of her 4-year-old, in response to a question about her children's occupations, "He's my baby."
Another juror expressed concern about Jackson's past behavior, which has included letting children sleep in his room. "Having three children of my own, I am very sensitive to any type of child abuse," Juror No. 40 wrote in her questionnaire.
Of course, parenthood isn't the only characteristic that makes jurors more agreeable to one side or the other in jury selection. Attorneys will scrutinize every aspect of each person's background.
Although her faith in children's honesty might ingratiate Juror No. 89 to prosecutors, the defense might like her because she, like Jackson, is black — especially since the jury pool is mostly white, and polls have found that whites are far more likely than blacks to think Jackson is guilty.
As attorneys try to whittle the jury pool down to 12 jurors and eight alternates, each side can challenge an unlimited number of jurors for any signs of bias and reject 10 jurors without cause. Jury selection was delayed last week when Jackson was hospitalized with the flu but was scheduled to resume Tuesday.
Of the potential jurors who are parents, 98 have children under 18, according to the questionnaires. That's two out of five total prospects.
Fifteen prospective jurors have sons who are either 15, like the accuser, or 13, the accuser's age at the time of the alleged molestation.
With so many parents in the jury pool, Jackson's lawyers will have to accept several on the jury, said Jean Rosenbluth, a University of Southern California law professor. That means they will have to pick jurors who may be favorable to their client in some other way.
"Some of those folks might have had their children go to Neverland on a school trip and might have had a positive experience and a good time," Rosenbluth said. "Or they might be parents who have small children, which might not be a good thing for the defense, but they might be Michael Jackson fans or skeptical of the charges."
Twenty-nine of the 98 prospects with minor children — almost one in three — answered yes on the questionnaire when asked if they have ever known anyone who has met Jackson or been to Neverland.
Jackson's lawyers can also try to connect with parents by reminding them that Jackson is a parent, too. Among the hundreds of people listed as possible defense witnesses last week were Jackson's daughter Paris and son Prince Michael.