SANTA MARIA, Calif. - After two weeks of fits and starts, jury selection in the Michael Jackson trial resumed yesterday, with the judge setting a crisp and efficient pace.
Judge Rodney S. Melville of Santa Barbara County Superior Court began the morning by apologizing to the jury pool, who are mostly middle-aged parents.
"We've had a couple of false starts here," Melville said, alluding to the death two weeks ago of the sister of the lead defense lawyer, Thomas A. Mesereau Jr., and then Jackson's hospitalization last week, both of which led to delays. "Mr. Jackson really was sick. He really did have the flu. I talked to his doctor."
By the midday break, seven potential jurors had been dismissed, five women and two men. Each side used two of its 10 peremptory challenges, which allow lawyers to dismiss jurors without cause.
Jackson is accused of molesting a 13-year-old cancer patient at his Neverland Ranch in 2003, plying the boy with liquor and conspiring to hide him and his family from authorities. If convicted on the 10 felony counts, Jackson, 46, could be sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison.
Before the questioning of the jury pool got under way yesterday morning, the judge introduced two dozen more potential witnesses, including comedian Eddie Murphy and actor Macaulay Culkin, who was a friend of Jackson's and stayed at Neverland when he was a child.
The prosecution asked potential jurors their feelings on intimacy, fame and the news media, and their treatment at the hands of police. Most said they had only a passing knowledge of Jackson, his music and his troubles.
"Have you followed the case?" Mesereau asked a former schoolteacher.
"Very little," she said.
In the age of mass media, answers like these must be taken with a dose of skepticism, legal experts said, turning jury selection into a sort of calculus.
Others in the pool were frank about the level of pretrial exposure to Jackson. Juror No. 63, for instance, an older woman, said she had seen a recent interview with one of the lawyers and had been put off by his behavior.
She was dismissed by the judge.
Jackson's record sales peaked in the 1980s, and while he is a celebrity, it appeared by the answers given yesterday that he is known more for his behavior than his music. Few of the jurors said they owned a recording of Jackson's. One person acknowledged seeing Jackson dance on top of a sport utility vehicle during his arraignment.
Another woman in the 242-person pool said she kept track of celebrities and had read a half-dozen books on the O.J. Simpson case. She was dismissed by the judge, as was a woman who said she had twice been falsely accused of sexual misconduct.
Many questioned yesterday said that either they, a family member or a friend had been sexually molested or accused of molestation, highlighting the potential pitfalls that Jackson's defense must circumnavigate.