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Feb 22, 2005. - Los Angeles Times

Potential Jackson Jurors May Be Put Off by Delay

By Steve Chawkins, Times Staff Writer

When prospective jurors in the Michael Jackson trial return to court in Santa Maria, Calif., this morning, the last big news about the child-molestation case that they will be allowed to know will already be a week old: The pop icon spent one night in the hospital, laid low by a nasty flu.
      If they followed the orders of Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville during a weeklong postponement, they would have avoided all news of the case. They would not have glanced at hundreds of pages posted on the Web of purported grand jury testimony that cast Jackson as a sexual predator, and they would not have sat through another two-hour television special with journalist Martin Bashir stressing the star's alleged fondness for young boys.
     But even if they managed to avoid hearing all the media speculation and lawyerly spin about the singer, some may be miffed by what they know for sure: They had to alter their schedules for a week because a big star had the flu.
     "Some of them are going to feel somewhat annoyed by the delay," said Marshall Hennington, a Los Angeles trial consultant. "Others will think it's nothing more than a PR stunt by Team Jackson to manipulate them, to conjure up emotions of sympathy, empathy, pity and compassion. Then there will be those jurors who are genuinely concerned about his health and well-being."
      Such neighborly concern may come naturally to a number of potential panel members, according to a Times analysis of a court-administered jury questionnaire.
      In the findings, 7% of the 243 potential jurors whose responses were reported said they or someone close to them personally knew the ordinarily reclusive Jackson. Twenty-six percent said they or someone they knew have dropped by the star's Neverland ranch — which the singer occasionally opens to groups of ill and underprivileged children.
      Numbers like that can be good news for Jackson's lawyers, who are trying to cast the 46-year-old entertainer as a well-regarded, if eccentric, fixture in the community.
      On the other hand, more than 44% of prospective panel members have some close connection with law enforcement, and nearly 72% have ties to the military. The region's largest employer is Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, and the federal penitentiary at Lompoc also is a major source of jobs.
     "That's problematic," said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a former federal prosecutor. "Michael Jackson doesn't fit in with the military image of how people should behave."
      Lawyers on both sides will have other numbers in mind as well when they examine prospective jurors. More than 34% of the potential panelists know someone who has been accused of a serious crime or have been accused themselves. More than 60% know about allegations of sexual molestation lodged against Jackson in 1993. (No charges were filed in that case.) And more than 71% have either had cancer or have a family member who has had the disease — a figure that may be significant because Jackson's accuser is a leukemia survivor.
      When the jurors are finally selected, perhaps in a few weeks, Jackson must avoid upsetting them with another delay, experts said.
     "He's spent his capital," Levenson said. "You get one strike. After that, they'll really hold it against him."
      In the past, Jackson has had a tough time maintaining his health for court appearances. A 2002 civil trial in Santa Maria and one in Indianapolis the following year, both concerning contractual disputes, were marked by delays because Jackson fell ill.
      Brian Oxman, one of his attorneys in Indianapolis, explained at the time: "It makes him ill to have to cope with litigation that people seem to heap on him."
     Oxman is also one of Jackson's attorneys in the current criminal case.

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