(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Jury selection in the Michael Jackson molestation trial was delayed one week after a reported death in the family of the singer’s attorney.
On Feb. 14, prosecutors and Jackson’s defense team will begin choosing 12 jurors and eight alternates from a pool of 250. The entire process is expected to last at least two weeks before opening arguments begin. Jurors will have to decide whether the 46-year-old singer gave a 13-year-old recovering cancer patient alcohol and then molested him on four different occasions. The incidents allegedly occurred at his Neverland ranch and in a Miami hotel in 2003.
On his official Website last week, Jackson proclaimed his innocence in a taped recording. “Please keep an open mind and let me have my day in court,” Jackson said in the tape. “I deserve a fair trial like every other American citizen. I will be acquitted and vindicated when the truth is told.”
The singer has pleaded not guilty and is free on $3 million bond.
At times described as bizarre, but a musical genius and international icon in his own right, the pop star has made headlines over the last few years more for his eccentric behavior than his music. Ten years ago, Santa Barbara County district attorney Tom Sneddon attempted to build a child molestation case against Jackson, but the case ended after a reported $20 million payout to the accuser.
Many people might also remember his declaration of racism against Sony Records chairman Tommy Mattola when Jackson’s Invincible record fell short of sales expectations, and the infamous baby dangling incident in 2002.
Around the country, college students’ opinions about the proclaimed king of pop are mixed. Maegan Mitchell, a senior at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., says Jackson’s past behavior makes him appear guilty now. “He’s already been accused of child molestation and paid the family off,” Mitchell says. “So you’d think he’d stop inviting little boys into his bedroom after that, regardless of what he was doing.”
University of Mississippi student Millie Waring says that even though she is a fan of his music, she would not be surprised if Jackson is found guilty.
“His kids wear masks; he’s had a strange life,” Waring explains. “I rock out to Michael Jackson’s number ones, but that’s what he is to me, fun music. It doesn’t mean anything about his mental health.”
But George Washington University student Chuck Davis disagrees. “Our Constitution says that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Many people forget that. I admit he is weird, but being weird doesn’t mean he’s a molester.”
When Jackson enters the Santa Maria, Calif., courtroom each day, he is met by adoring fans, curious spectators, and hundreds of journalists and television cameras, all seeking a rare glimpse into the singer’s life. Because cameras are not allowed in the courtroom, the public will have to rely on reporters to detail the day’s events.
To succeed in the trial, Jackson’s lawyers must break down the story of the boy, now 15, as false accusations made by a confused child. The singer’s defense team and the Jackson family have repeatedly said that he would “never harm a child.”
Once opening arguments begin, the trial could last up to six months. If he is acquitted, some say the affect on Jackson’s reputation will still be damaging.
“His reputation is ruined already no matter what the outcome,” says student Anthony Taylor, a senior at Columbia College in Chicago. “He was one of the greatest entertainers ever, but he has had some serious problems.”