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Jury selected for Jackson doctor's trial

Sep 23, 2011, 5:38 p.m.
Activist Najee Ali holds a poster with photos of late pop star Michael Jackson outside the Criminal Courts building in Los Angeles, California as jury selection begins in the involuntary manslaughter trial of Jackson's doctor Conrad Murray September 8, 2011. REUTERS/David McNew

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A 12-person jury was selected on Friday to hear the manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson's former doctor in a process one prosecutor likened to "speed dating."

The panel of seven men and five women includes one man who said he briefly met Jackson when he worked at Walt Disney Co in the 1980s and the singer was starring in a "Captain EO" film that was a Disney theme park attraction. That juror told attorneys he could approach the trial fairly.

The jurors have a wide range of professions, including a bookseller, school bus driver, paralegal and professor, according to questionnaires released after the selection.

Half of the panelists selected were Caucasian and five were Hispanic. The panel also includes one African American juror. Jackson was black and so is the defendant, Dr. Conrad Murray.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor limited the amount of time lawyers for both sides could question potential jurors on Friday, when the first day of direct questioning began. He aimed to seat the panel quickly and stay on track to begin the trial's opening arguments on Tuesday.

Friday's proceeding is the culmination of weeks of close scrutiny of the jury pool. Earlier this month 370 potential jurors completed a 30-page questionnaire, beginning the process of narrowing the pool to the 12 people now selected.

Murray is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the "Thriller" singer's death on June 25, 2009, at age 50.

Prosecutors said Murray caused Jackson's death by giving him the powerful anesthetic propofol as a sleep aid at the singer's Los Angeles mansion and not properly monitoring him.

Defense attorneys are expected to say Jackson administered a fatal dose himself while Murray was out of the room.

FAMILIAR CASE

At the start of Friday's questioning, all the potential jurors said they were familiar with the case, and on Friday some of them were asked to speak about their views of Jackson in open court.

One woman said she remembers him from his days as a singing child star with the Jackson 5 decades ago. Murray's lead defense attorney, Ed Chernoff, asked if she thought Jackson was particularly childlike as an adult. The woman said "no."

Chernoff also asked potential jurors if they believed that, due to a childlike nature, Jackson was less able to make reasonable decisions.

"Does anyone think Michael Jackson should be held to a different level of responsibility?" Chernoff asked the potential panelists. None of them said Jackson should.

The answers to that question could be a key determining factor for Murray's attorneys if they seek to show the "Thriller" singer bore some responsibility for his own death, which medical examiners have said resulted from an overdose of propofol and sedatives.

Deputy district attorney David Walgren used an analogy to jurors: Imagine a drunken driver listening to music and hitting a pedestrian who was also not paying attention as he walked into the street.

That hypothetical appeared to be an attempt to elicit views of whether Murray or Jackson was most at fault. Potential jurors' responses varied, but some of them said the driver might be guilty if he bore some responsibility for the death.

Murray faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison if convicted.

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Cynthia Johnston)

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