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Michael Jackson Accused

Jury consultant Marshall Hennington analyzes the case against the pop star

Dec. 17, 2003

Court TV Host: We're going to be chatting about the Michael Jackson case with jury consultant Marshall Hennington. He was on Catherine Crier Live last night, and he's joining us right now to continue the discussion.

Court TV Host: Welcome, Marshall Hennington. Thanks for being our guest today.

Court TV Host: Anything you didn't get a chance to say on TV last night that you'd like to start with here?

Marshall Hennington: Thank you. I would like to mention that this is a case in which there have been numerous accusations that have been flying around, and we're not even at the trial stage yet -- in terms of the accusers, the witnesses, the family members, and the defendant and his role in this unusual circumstance. First off, Michael Jackson is an international celebrity, and if they have the trial in Santa Maria, people are still going to know who he is, and they're going to have opinions about his guilt or innocence. What's going to be challenging from the perspective of both sides will be to tap into how many jurors are going to support his case and which jurors, or which type of juror, is not going to support his case. That is why pre-trial research is conducted in these high-profile trials, so that each side has a chance and opportunity to know which type of juror is good for them and which type is bad for them. I did not have a chance to elaborate on that last night. Some of the toxic issues that are going to come up and that Michael Jackson and his team of litigators are going to have to address, are: did Michael Jackson in fact molest a cancer patient? how is he going to explain how sleeping with a total stranger is appropriate behavior, let alone with an underage child? In addition to that, if the 1993 evidence is admitted, then perhaps a pattern of this type of conduct will be shown to jurors. And if that's the case, then I really believe that the Jackson defense team has to really devise some elaborate strategies to counter this.

Question from THEHANGINGJUDGE: Have you been approached at all about the Jackson case itself?

Marshall Hennington: Approached is a strong word. Let's say that there has been interest, but I don't want to elaborate any more about where the interest has come from.

Question from mistyva: Will MJ have option of jury or no jury?

Marshall Hennington: There's going to be a jury trial -- it's not going to be a court trial. He doesn't have the option of having the trial in front a judge. In the state of California, it's a jury trial. I'll tell you what's going to be interesting about this case: a couple of issues will be: will Michael Jackson's celebrity status supercede his race? Another issue is, for individuals that have children, how will Michael Jackson's team feel to them, knowing that this could have possibly have happened to their child, if their child was left alone with Mr. Jackson. Another issue in addition to that, is the issue that he, Michael Jackson, settled the 1993 case for a reported $20 million -- if you're innocent, why do you settle? Some people may feel that he bought justice.

Question from Fleep-CTV: Why do lawyers need jury consultants, isn't filtering the jury part of their job?

Marshall Hennington: Because a lot of attorneys don't have good common sense. I know some high powered attorneys who don't have good common sense. They need the assistance of someone like myself who has a PhD in understanding human behavior to help them relate to jurors, and more importantly, to have the jurors embrace their case. Lawyers rely on jury consultants to give them scientific research that will enable them to know the strengths and weaknesses of their cases, the problem areas, and to help counter arguments that will arise during the course of the trial.

Question from lvale: What would a jury of MJ's peers really be?

Marshall Hennington: That's a good question. Michael Jackson's camp is in the process of addressing that issue. I think it's too early to tell what the prototype jury will be to help him with his case, however, from my perspective, it would have to be jurors who think outside the box, are liberal, and that would also be influenced by his celebrity status. Those are advantageous jurors for him.

Question from TODD: Wouldn't the fact that Michael Jackson admittedly shares his bed with young boys be enough for some jurors to convict him?

Marshall Hennington: That could be the case. It really depends on where people stand on the moral part of the equation. Some people might say that just because he's in bed with the child doesn't mean that he was touching the child. And if he was touching the child, who's to say that he was inappropriately touching the child? He may have just been playfully wrestling with the child. If that's the case, does that constitute child molestation? You know what's interesting about this case as compared to the 1993 case is that he has family members that are speaking out on his behalf. Some of his family members have said things that could possibly come back to bite them during trial. I also find it interesting that parents have given interviews, whereas in 1993, no family members gave interviews. Some prospective jurors might view this as an act of desperation to minimize the alleged acts that Michael has been accused of.

Question from CHELE-OHIO: Do you think that Michael Jackson can get a fair if he is charged?

Question from pepsigirl: Is it possible for MJ to get a fair trial?

Marshall Hennington: The word fair is a purely subjective term. What's fair to the winning party is not going t be fair to the losing party. So the long and short of it is that trials are never fair. All trials require that each party goes above and beyond what is necessary to win their case.

Question from Fleep-CTV: What can you do about a case before the actual jury selection process begins?

Marshall Hennington: Take a look at Runaway Jury.... Just kidding! My firm offers a number of services to help cases that have major problems to prevail, to end up on the winning side at trial. Prior to trial, we meet with clients, experts, attorneys, as well as conducting mock trials, focus groups, community attitude surveys, designing jury questionnaire, and literally crafting the case themes and the opening statements, for the attorneys. We also assist with grading the juror profiles, as well as assisting with jury selection. Those are just some of the services we provide before trial.

Question from CindyInWonderland: Have you ever felt like your firm got a criminal off only to go out and commit more crimes? If so did it bother you?

Marshall Hennington: Each person deals with their feelings about a client and the dynamics of the case prior to accepting the case. I've never had any bad feelings about the clients that my firm represents. We don't represent pedophiles, mass murderers, rapists, or people that have extremely questionable character. We do represent companies that have been allegedly involved with wrongdoing, and individuals. And in my business, you have to have inner strength to deal with the egos that attorneys have as well as the complexities that will arise throughout the trial. Because the days in which you have a slam dunk case are over. Winning verdicts are becoming more difficult to obtain, and with the tort reform issues, many legislators are discussing putting caps on damage awards. Therefore in my profession we need to think of other ways to make the case as compelling as possible, to win a favorable verdict. If there are any other questions that people may have, they can feel free to e-mail me through my web site, juryconsulting.com Thank you very much, to all of the people who have logged on to chat with me, and I'm sure we will have another opportunity to chat as the trial unravels.

Court TV Host: Thanks, we'll look forward to it. Thank you for chatting with us today.

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