The jurors and alternates selected in the Michael Jackson molestation trial reflect the tremendous influence the pop star has had on the community surrounding his Neverland Ranch. One juror and two al

The jurors and alternates selected in the Michael Jackson molestation trial reflect the tremendous influence the pop star has had on the community surrounding his Neverland Ranch. One juror and two alternates have visited the California ranch, and the mother-in-law of one of those backup jurors is a former Jackson employee who may testify at the trial.

A 71-year-old retired librarian on the panel said that as a volunteer for Santa Maria's Chamber of Commerce, she appreciated the tax revenue from Jackson's spending in the area.

Still, Judge Rodney S. Melville repeatedly told attorneys questioning prospective jurors that he was more concerned about their ability to be fair than their personal ties with Jackson.

In any other trial, it would be unlikely to have jurors who have been to the defendant's home. But since buying the ranch in 1988, Jackson has invited thousands of people to his theme park of a home, which includes an arcade, trains, amusement rides and a zoo.

The main jury includes several fans of Jackson's music, four parents of young children, one woman whose grandson was convicted of a sexual offense and a man who visited Jackson's Neverland ranch as a child.

The jurors, drawn from the region where Jackson lives and ranging in age from 20 to 79, will decide whether the pop star molested a 13-year-old former cancer patient at the ranch and plied him with alcohol. He has pleaded innocent.

The judge said he will hear motions from attorneys today (Feb. 25). He urged them to have witnesses and evidence available and not to waste the jury's time. "I will not abide not having witnesses ready," the judge said. Opening statements were to begin Monday.

The court has not disclosed the races of jurors, and lawyers and jurors are under a gag order not to discuss the case. Race could be a factor because public opinion polls show blacks are less inclined to believe the charges against Jackson.

The jury is mostly white and Hispanic; the alternate panel included one black man.


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