SANTA MARIA, Calif. (AP) – Attorneys in Michael Jackson’s child-molestation trial are turning to the tough job of finding jurors who can judge the pop star not as a legend but as a defendant.

Finding a jury of peers is a daunting task when the defendant lives in a storybook mansion with its own amusement park.

“If you talk about a jury of your peers, it would have to be Madonna, Liza Minelli and maybe Elvis,” said former San Francisco prosecutor and trial watcher Jim Hammer. “Michael looks like nobody else in the courtroom.”

Jackson is black, while the community which will supply the jury is mostly white. Many prospects who appeared in court two weeks ago to fill out eight-page questionnaires told the judge they were barely scraping by.

“This would be a financial devastation for me,” said one 67-year-old man, explaining he couldn’t afford to miss work for what is expected to be a six-month trial.

On Monday, attorneys on both sides begin thinning the nearly 250 prospects who filled out detailed questionnaires to 12 jurors and eight alternates. Jury selection was delayed a week because of the death of Jackson attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr.’s sister.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers won’t likely bother trying to find jurors who share much with Jackson, who is accused of plying a boy, then 13, with alcohol, molesting him and conspiring to hold his family captive.

Instead, they’ll look to dismiss those who are biased.

During questioning of would-be jurors, each side has an unlimited number of challenges for cause – challenges that let them remove someone because of obvious bias. In addition, each side has 10 “peremptory” challenges to remove jurors without explaining why.

Jackson’s lawyers will be conscious of the jury’s racial composition and jurors’ views on race.

On the questionnaires, prospects were asked whether their “feelings about or experiences with” people of other races would affect their ability to be fair. All but 16 of the 242 respondents answered “no.”

There does, however, seem to be a racial divide in how people view Jackson: A recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that almost three-fourths of whites believe the charges are probably or definitely true, while about half of blacks feel that way.

The questionnaire also probed whether prospective jurors had experienced or been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior and how closely they had followed the current Jackson case, as well as the molestation allegations he faced a decade ago.

Potential jurors also were asked whether they have worked with abused children and whether they have been diagnosed with cancer. Jackson is accused of molesting the boy at his Neverland Ranch as the boy recovered from cancer.

In the end, the defense needs just one juror on its side to prevent a conviction. Prosecutors must persuade all 12 that Jackson is guilty.

Lawyers for Jackson will have to overcome his “weirdness factor” and must try to keep parents with young children off the jury, said former federal prosecutor Jean Rosenbluth, now a University of Southern California law professor.

She believes defense attorneys should go for people who grew up with Jackson’s music and might blame his unusual childhood and life in the public eye for his eccentricities – including his acknowledgment that he has shared his bed with children, though not in a sexual way.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, should look for parents as well as elderly people who admire law enforcement, said Santa Maria defense attorney Michael B. Clayton.

If he represented Jackson, Clayton said he would want jurors who dressed rebelliously – a tip-off they are free thinkers.

“I’m gonna put 12 people in the jury box who can’t make a decision together,” Clayton said.



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