LOS ANGELES, Calif.–A seven-man, five-woman jury was chosen today from an original pool of 84 people in the trial of Michael Jackson’s personal physician, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter for the pop superstar’s 2009 death.
Opening statements in the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray were expected to begin Tuesday.
Attorneys in the case spent the day questioning prospective jurors who had already filled out an extensive questionnaire quizzing them about their knowledge of the case. The pool began with 84 people, but by midday, 10 had been dismissed for hardship reasons and 16 others were removed from the panel through peremptory challenges–which attorneys can use to dismiss jurors without a specific reason.
The 12-person panel was chosen by mid-afternoon, and attorneys began selecting alternates. It was not immediately clear how many alternate jurors would be selected.
With 27 prospective panelists in or near the jury box at a time, defense attorney Edward Chernoff asked them if they could honestly say they had never read, heard or seen anything about Jackson’s lifestyle, family or personality, or about his own client, Dr. Conrad Murray.
None raised their hands.
Deputy District Attorney David Walgren asked one of the potential jurors why she had put an exclamation mark on her jury questionnaire after responding “no” to a question about whether she had seen ‘This Is It,” the documentary made from rehearsal footage of the singer in the days before his death from propofol intoxication on June 25, 2009, at the age of 50.
“That was an emphatic no,” she responded. “I wasn’t interested.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael E. Pastor told the group that today’s proceedings were an opportunity for the attorneys to ask follow-up questions stemming from the detailed 30-page questionnaires the prospective jurors filled out earlier this month, noting that none of the questions were designed to embarrass or humiliate them.
“It’s not going to take all that long,” he said, light-heartedly comparing the process to speed-dating.
After dismissing 10 people for hardship reasons that had arisen since they filled out the questionnaires, the judge reintroduced his courtroom staff, the attorneys and Murray, who stood up and said, “Good morning.”
Pastor noted that the trial will be televised, although jury selection is not, and promised them that “at no time will jurors be photographed or filmed or otherwise recorded.”
“We take your privacy seriously,” he said.
Chernoff also noted that “there is a lot of publicity involved in this case,” and that it “may be an interesting case” and may be “fascinating” for those who like science.
The defense attorney asked if anyone wanted to be a juror on the trial because of either Jackson or Murray. No one raised their hand.
When asked to describe Jackson’s personality, one woman said she remembered him “as a child, his dancing, his music” and remembered the Jackson 5, the group comprised of a young Jackson and four of his older brothers. She said she did not still think of him as a child.
In his questioning, Walgren quizzed potential jurors on what they would do if they were left with unanswered questions during the trial and whether they believed they could be fair.
“I feel I’d be fair … Everything I hear will be the first time,” one man said after Walgren noted that he reported in his questionnaire that he knew very little about the case. He was later dismissed by the defense.
Among the jurors who was dismissed was a nurse who got visibly emotional under questioning by Chernoff. She was called to a private, sidebar conversation with the judge and attorneys, after which she and another prospective juror were excused.
Murray, 58, is accused of administering propofol, a powerful anesthetic, to Jackson to help him sleep, then failing to properly monitor him.
The defense has suggested Jackson–who was preparing for a series of comeback concerts in London–could have given himself a larger dose of propofol by orally ingesting it while the doctor was out of the singer’s bedroom in a rented Holmby Hills home.
Murray has been free on $75,000 bail since being charged in February 2010.
After finding there was enough evidence to require Murray to stand trial, Pastor ordered the cardiologist to “immediately cease and desist” practicing medicine in California while the criminal proceedings are pending.
Last month, the judge denied the defense’s request to sequester jurors during what is expected to be a televised and highly publicized trial that could last four to five weeks.
The judge said Aug. 25 that he has “tremendous faith in the jury system” and noted that jurors–who will eat their snacks and meals in a jury room–would be subject to “very strict rules and regulations.”
By Terri Vermeulen Keith and Fred Shuster | City News Service