The Judge’s first question to the one hundred and fifty-nine prospective jurors in a Los Angeles courthouse was simple: How many of you have not heard about the case of the doctor accused in Michael Jackson’s death?
First there was silence and then two lonely hands rose.
As jury selection began Thursday in the involuntary manslaughter trial of Dr. Conrad Murray, another, more complicated question became apparent: How will the judge shield jurors from the media circus that awaits, and help them do their duty?
“Real live cases are not scripted episodes of TV shows,” Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor cautioned.
He warned the prospective jurors not to read blogs or the Internet and not to tweet. He refused to allow cameras in court during jury selection, though he will allow them during testimony.
The selection process was so tightly guarded that prospects were not allowed to leave the jury room until they finished the twenty-nine page questionnaires that determine their eligibility, suitability and ability to serve. Concerned that outsiders might try to reach the panelists, Pastor had his staff post signs in all elevators and courthouse hallways warning of the penalty for contacting jurors.
For the first time ever, the court catered lunch for the huge jury pool. The meal, the judge said, would not be “one of the great culinary experiences of your life,” but would enable them to stay in one place.
Dedicated fans lined up for a lottery giving out six public seats in the courtroom. They have vowed to be present at all proceedings and have been vocal outside court about blaming Murray for their idol’s death.
Jackson’s family did not attend the opening session, which was little more than a formality designed to screen prospective jurors for possible hardships that would prevent them from serving on a two-month trial.
By day’s end, one hundred of the prospective jurors were excused from serving in the case, but assigned to other trials.