23 Sep 2011
Jury two strikes away in Conrad Murray trial
updated 4:09 PM EST, Fri September 23, 2011
Los Angeles (CNN) -- Lawyers and prosecutors were each just two peremptory strikes away Friday from choosing the 12 jurors and six alternates who will hear the involuntary manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson's doctor.
The trial of Dr. Conrad Murray officially started Friday morning when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor swore in 84 prospective jurors in a packed courtroom.
That began what Deputy District Attorney David Walgren described as "a courtroom version of speed dating."
Each side was given barely 20 minutes to question the first 27 potential jurors about their ability to decide guilt and innocence without what they already know or believe biasing them.
The face-to-face interaction helped them decide how to use the 10 peremptory challenges allotted to each side, in which they can dismiss prospective jurors without stating a reason.
Walgren used much of his time to gauge the potential jurors' willingness to find someone guilty if they were significantly responsible for a death even though the alleged victim shared some responsibility.
A man who appeared to hesitate when asked if that was fair was the first prospective juror stricken from the jury pool by the prosecution.
One woman said she'd "prefer not to be in a position where I would have to judge," but she assured the judge she could be a fair juror.
"If I have a job to do, then I finish it," she said. The prosecution struck her from the jury.
A prospective male juror said he always turned the channel with news coverage of Jackson's death was on television, so it would be easy for him to be fair since "everything I hear would be for the first time." The prosecution also used a peremptory strike to have him dismissed from the pool.
The only two African-Americans among the first 27 questioned were stricken by the prosecution, including a man who manages a large office of social workers. An older African-American woman was later added to the panel of juror prospects and could survive to be on the jury.
The pool of 84 potential jurors appeared diverse, although only six were African-American. Ten people were quickly dismissed Friday after they told the judge that serving in the five-week trial would be a financial or family hardship.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers mutually agreed in closed-door sessions Wednesday and Thursday on which potential jurors in a pool of 145 were too biased to put their prejudices aside to decide if Murray is criminally responsible for the pop icon's death, according to Murray defense lawyer Michael Flanagan.
"Both sides just want to get a fair jury that hasn't made up their mind and is willing to make a decision based upon the facts," Flanagan said after Thursday's jury selection session.
Lead defense lawyer Ed Chernoff said there were no surprising reasons for striking jurors "for cause," and the pool was filled with people who could be open-minded. "Time ameliorates things," Chernoff said.
Murray, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter in Jackson's death, could face up to four years in prison if the jury finds him guilty.
The "for cause" strikes were based mostly on written answers potential jurors gave earlier this month to 113 questions.
Lawyers had a week to study the questionnaire responses, a process they went through once before in April before the trial was delayed for several months.
"One of the things that we learned in the case the last go-around in the jury selection, it's absolutely shocking how many jurors think already they know everything about this case," Chernoff said in an interview last week with Jean Casarez, a reporter with CNN sister network In Session.
Opening statements for the trial, which will be televised, are scheduled for Tuesday. The judge told members of the jury pool he expects their service will be over on or about October 28.
The Los Angeles coroner has ruled that Jackson's death on June 25, 2009, was caused by an overdose of the surgical anesthetic propofol combined with other drugs.
Prosecutors have accused Murray, who served as Jackson's personal and full-time physician at the time, of having a role in the overdose.
They contend Murray used a makeshift intravenous drip to administer propofol intended to help Jackson sleep, a practice they argue violated the standard of care and led to the pop music icon's death.