A pool of prospective jurors appeared ready for the news delivered to them Thursday by a judge: They had been summoned to serve on Los Angeles' biggest trial of the year -- the involuntary manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson's doctor.
No one flinched at the announcement. And when Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor asked whether anyone in the courtroom was unaware of the case against Dr. Conrad Murray, not a single hand was raised among the 160 or so people in the room.
The judge was not surprised.
"We didn't expect you'd been living under a rock for the past several years, or that you made a pit stop from Mars," Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor said.
Murray has pleaded not guilty in the case. Authorities contend he gave Jackson a lethal dose of the anesthetic propofol in the bedroom of the pop superstar's rented mansion in June 2009, but attorneys for the physician deny he administered anything that should have been fatal. They will contend that Jackson swallowed an overdose of propofol when Murray wasn't watching.
Murray sat with his lawyers on one side of a long table and prosecutors on the other in the vast jury assembly room which was transformed into a courtroom for the first round of a jury selection process that will take two weeks to find a pool of 100 people willing and qualified to serve on the case which Pastor said would last about five weeks.
Those who passed the first hurdle of having no hardships were given a 30-page questionnaire to fill out. The judge said it was one of the most extensive such forms ever, probing jurors' lives and their knowledge of a case focusing on the death of one of the world's most famous men, the King of Pop, Michael Jackson.
"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen," Murray said softly as he was introduced to the panelists. Attorneys also arose and greeted the prospects, who responded with a calm, "Good morning."
For the rest of the 20-minute session, Murray sat starting straight ahead, showing no reaction.
The judge told prospects he had decided against sequestering the jury because he felt, "Jurors would, in effect, be prisoners if they were holed up in a hotel.
"I chose not to follow that path," he said "and by making that choice I am reiterating my faith in every juror chosen in this case."
A central focus of his talk was the Internet and all of its offshoots.
"I certainly realize that for some of us, especially those who have grown up in the Internet age, searching the Internet is as easy as breathing," Pastor said.
But he warned that jurors must avoid online reports about the case.
"If you want to Google, Google away," he said. "Surf the Net, but not about anything to do with this case."
He read an admonition that will be repeated daily forbidding them to discuss the case with anyone, to post messages on social networks or to read any tweets about the case.
He warned they must wait until 90 days after the case is over to negotiate any deals to be paid for information.
"This is not a case about whether Dr. Murray is guilty or innocent," he said. "It's about whether the people can meet the burden of proving him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."
On Thursday, those who had no hardships, filled out a 30-page questionnaire aimed at determining their level of knowledge of the case and any strong views about Jackson or Murray.
This was the second attempt to start jury selection. In May, the judge aborted an earlier session because lawyers needed more time to prepare. Prosecutors and defense attorneys will have several days to scrutinize the responses before direct questioning of potential jurors begins on Sept. 23.
Jackson's death on June 25, 2009, stunned the world. The singer had been in final preparations for a series of comeback concerts in London, and the focus quickly turned to Murray, his personal physician.
The Houston-based cardiologist faces up to four years in prison and the loss of his medical license if convicted.
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