SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Michael Jackson returned to court Tuesday and watched as dozens of prospective jurors in his child molestation case explained why they could not sit through the projected six-month trial.
Jackson, wearing a black suit with a gold and red stripe down the pants and an insignia on the left side of the jacket, was greeted by fewer than 100 fans on Tuesday - down from several hundred outside for the first day of jury selection.
About 60 of the first 150 brought into court Tuesday raised their hand when Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville asked who was willing to serve. He then questioned the rest on why they sought to be excused.
Another 150 prospects were scheduled to be screened for hardship during an afternoon session.
Of about 300 prospects screened Monday, 138 asked to be excused. Melville granted only one release immediately, to a woman who was eight months pregnant.
On Tuesday, a woman asked to be excused because she is four months pregnant.
"I don't know if I'd make it through the trial," she told the judge.
"It's a good question," he said, but he did not dismiss her.
Another prospect said her hardship was that she had to take her son to a medical appointment on Feb. 9.
"You don't know how lucky you are," Melville said. "We're going to be closed down February 9" for a scheduled recess.
Hardship screening was to continue Wednesday. Those not immediately excused were to fill out questionnaires to be studied by attorneys before individual questioning later. Besides 12 jurors, Melville wants eight alternates.
Jackson, 46, is charged with molesting a teenage boy and plying him with alcohol at his Neverland Ranch. He also is accused of conspiring to hold the boy and his family captive. Early Sunday, Jackson issued a court-approved video statement on his Web site, proclaiming his innocence and predicting he would be acquitted.
The turnout of Jackson supporters, has been much smaller than the throng that showed up a year ago for his arraignment, when he entertained them with a dance atop an SUV and they chased his vehicle through town.
An array of security fences has now been set up outside the tiny courthouse to maintain crowd control.
On Monday, supporters held signs that read, "Dear God, Please Give Michael Justice" and "Smooth But Not a Smooth Criminal," fans sang along with a Jackson song that derides the prosecutor in the case as a "cold man."
On the Net:
Michael Jackson: http://mjjsource.com
Santa Barbara District Attorney: http://www.countyofsb.org/da/index.asp
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