Connections hamper jury selection in Jackson case

By Linda Deutsch
AP Special Correspondent

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The extensive connections of Michael Jackson, his family and friends became a challenge Monday for a judge trying to seat an impartial jury for his mother’s wrongful death lawsuit against the company that promoted Jackson’s ill-fated “This is It” concert.

As individual questioning finally began, some jury prospects who had passed the written portion of the process had to be excused because of personal connections.

Among them was David Walsh, a Canadian singer-songwriter who said he had met members of the musical Jackson family and was friends with Lisa Marie Presley, Jackson’s ex-wife. He said his own manager was on the witness list.

“I’ve had friends in Michael’s band and my best friend was a backup singer on the ‘This Is It’ concert,” Walsh said.

Walsh said he had formed opinions about the case that were probably unshakable.

Katherine Jackson’s suit claims AEG endangered Jackson’s life by hiring an incompetent doctor, Conrad Murray, to look after the superstar singer. AEG lawyers are expected to argue that Jackson was complicit in his own demise by insisting on hiring Murray and demanding the anesthetic propofol to help him sleep.

The latest phase of jury selection came after jurors filled out questionnaires about their views on Jackson, his family and his life and death.

A preliminary group of 104 prospects was immediately reduced by six when members reported hardships or acquaintances on the witness list.

A medical student said one of her UCLA professors was on the list, but she was allowed to remain when she said she would have no bias about the testimony.

Another panelist said she and her husband do business with one of the law firms involved in the case and that would get in the way of her impartiality.

A woman who is a superior court judge said she knew a number of people on the witness list but it would not interfere with her ability to be impartial, and she remained on the panel.

By day’s end, 17 prospects had been excused, most because the extended length of the trial would cause them financial hardships. The case is expected to last through the summer.

More panelists sent notes to Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos before court recessed for the day, asking to be excused. She said she would consider their requests Tuesday.

One member of the jury pool said he had met Dr. Conrad Murray at a barbecue sometime after Jackson’s death and they had a social conversation. But he said he didn’t realize who Murray was, and once he did he stopped talking to him. He remained on the panel.

Murray is serving a prison term after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Jackson’s death from an overdose of propofol. Jackson died in his bed in June 2009 at the age of 50.

Complicating the case is the fact that neither Jackson nor AEG had signed Murray’s $150,000-a-month contract. Jackson died before Murray was paid.

Katherine Jackson’s lawyers contend AEG was negligent in failing to investigate Murray’s qualifications before hiring him.