The search for unbiased jurors in the trial of Conrad Murray will prove to be a marathon. Trial proceedings began on March 24th when potential jurors arrived for preliminary screening. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor ordered them not to talk or read about the case in any form — Twitter, social networks, TV, magazines or newspapers.
Pastor erupted on the bench March 24th, after the TMZ.com gossip site published six questions that potential jurors supposedly were being asked on a sealed questionnaire. Not one of the questions was in the survey, but Murray’s defense fired its publicist after she admitted leaking to the website questions, that had been suggested by the defense, but not adopted by the judge.
This week, lawyers will get their first look at what potential jurors think about the case, when twenty-nine page juror questionnaires are turned over to the defense and prosecution. Pastor and the attorneys expect so many legal challenges over bias that an unusually large group of four hundred and seventy potential jurors was summoned to court over three days. Only three told Pastor that they hadn’t heard of the case. Pastor excused those who said serving during the expected two-month trial would cause hardship.
Among one hundred and seventeen questions, panelists were asked whether they regularly view websites or blogs including TMZ, PerezHilton, SmokingGun and RadarOnline and whether they themselves have “posted any blogs concerning Michael Jackson or Conrad Murray.”
“Everybody’s heard of the case,” prosecution spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons says.
On May 4th, both sides will start questioning panelists in court. Lawyers’ opening statements are scheduled for May 9th. The trial will be televised and streamed on the Internet.