SANTA MARIA, Calif. – Jury selection in Michael Jackson's (search) child molestation trial wrapped up Thursday after eight alternate jurors were chosen, setting the stage for opening statements to begin next week.
The alternates were chosen a day after the regular jury of 12 was sworn in by Judge Rodney S. Melville (search), bringing a rapid completion to the process. Opening statements start Monday.
The main jury includes several fans of Jackson's music, four parents of young children, one woman whose grandson was convicted of a sexual offense, and a man who visited Jackson's Neverland ranch (search) as a child.
The jurors, drawn from the region where Jackson lives and ranging in age from 20 to 79, will decide whether the pop star molested a 13-year-old former cancer patient at the ranch and plied him with alcohol.
The court has not disclosed the races of jurors, and lawyers and jurors are under a gag order not to discuss the case. Race could be a factor because public opinion polls show blacks are less inclined to believe the charges against Jackson.
The jury is mostly white and Hispanic; the alternate panel included one black man.
The alternate panel also includes a man who had been to Jackson's Neverland Ranch with his three children because his mother-in-law used to be a housekeeper for Jackson. The former housekeeper is on the list of possible witnesses, but the man told attorneys he would be able to treat his mother-in-law like any other witness.
Other alternates include a 26-year-old woman with two young children who said she went to Neverland with a friend several years ago.
Jury selection had been expected to last several weeks, but was completed on the sixth court day. There were two week-long breaks in the process due to the death of an attorney's sister and Jackson's hospitalization with flu-like symptoms.