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Jury selection suggests tack of Murray trial

Panel picked to decide case against Jackson's doctor to hear opening arguments Tuesday.

September 24, 2011|Harriet Ryan and Victoria Kim

Lawyers finalized a jury to decide the guilt of Michael Jackson's personal physician during proceedings Friday that suggested the trial will be a battle over the role the singer had in his own death.

The panel of seven men and five women will hear opening statements in the manslaughter case against Dr. Conrad Murray on Tuesday. In their questions to potential jurors, prosecutors and defense attorneys laid the groundwork for their vastly different views of the physician's culpability.

The defense is expected to argue Jackson was a desperate addict who gave himself the fatal dose of the surgical anesthetic propofol. Defense attorney Ed Chernoff pounced when one female juror said she thought of the singer "as a child."

Was he so childlike he was incapable of making decision? the attorney asked. No, she replied. The juror was excused.

Turning to the group, he asked, "Does anybody think that Michael Jackson should be held to a different standard of responsibility?" No hands were raised.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, September 27, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
Conrad Murray trial: In the Sept. 24 LATExtra section, a headline on an article about a jury being seated in the manslaughter case against Dr. Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson's personal physician, erred in describing the next stage in the trial. The jury will hear opening statements, as the article noted, not opening arguments.

A prosecutor focused his questions on whether panelists could convict Murray if they found Jackson had contributed to his own death. Deputy Dist. Atty. David Walgren asked would-be jurors to consider a hypothetical situation in which a reckless driver runs a red light and kills a pedestrian who was "also not being safe as he could be and steps out in front of a car."

"You could say the driver is not 100% responsible, but he did play a substantial role," Walgren said, echoing the wording of the involuntary manslaughter charge. "Could you find him guilty?" he asked juror after juror.

All said they could, but one man asked if the pedestrian had used a crosswalk. Prosecutors later dismissed that juror.

Chernoff later built on Walgren's analogy, proposing scenarios in which a person parachutes off a plane onto the road ahead of the driver, or suddenly runs in front of the car. He made the case that the driver would be culpable only if the pedestrian's death was a "natural and probable consequence" of his actions.

Extensive questionnaires filled out by the jurors were released at the end of the day after the panel was seated. The final 12 range in age from 32 to 57 and cover a gamut of professions, including a letter carrier, a management consultant, a school bus driver, a paralegal and a former animator. Five alternates also were selected.

Half the panelists had responded on the questionnaires that they had considered themselves fans of Jackson or his family at some point.

"When I was a kid I liked the Jackson Five," one of the jurors wrote in his questionnaire. "Things change as you get older. I'm more of a Jay-Z fan."

Several jurors said they had followed previous high-profile cases. Three said they had followed the O.J. Simpson trial -- "Who didn't?" one of them wrote -- and three said they followed parts of Casey Anthony's murder trial in Florida.

During questioning from attorneys Friday, one juror said she watched "bits and pieces" of the Anthony trial.

"It was on a lot. It was kind of hard not to see it," she said.

Another juror, the animator, told the judge he was briefly introduced to Jackson three decades ago on the Disney lot.

One panelist who was not selected was civil rights attorney Connie Rice. The prosecution excused Rice, a longtime critic of the Los Angeles Police Department, the lead agency in the death investigation.

On her questionnaire, Rice wrote that she knew plenty of people treated badly by law enforcement because "our police abuse class-action cases in the 1990s were full of clients who were treated unconstitutionally and unfairly."

Now, however, she has a positive view of those agencies, Rice wrote, noting that she had worked with both the LAPD and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

"After 15 years of being opponents, we are now allies," she wrote.

Rice wrote that she was a fan of Jackson, having grown up "to his music."

"He was a once in a generation talent," she wrote.

In court, Walgren questioned Rice whether she could abide by jurors' "limited role" and accept that there may be unanswered questions in a case.

Rice said she could.

"Extraneous information or other considerations or possibilities, they don't play any role after you have the evidence," she said.

More than 80 news outlets from around the world have applied to cover the trial, a number that eclipsed the previous record of 52 for the Chris Brown domestic violence case.

To dole out coveted seats in the courtroom, officials held a lottery at the front door of the courthouse. One of a throng of sheriff's deputies standing watch in the hallway cautioned Jackson fans about their attire. The deputy told two women wearing red T-shirts with the message "JUSTICE 1958-2009" that they would have to cover it up.

"You can't have shirts that say 'Peace,' 'Justice' or anything like that," the deputy told them.

harriet.ryan@latimes.com

victoria.kim@latimes.com

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