Jackson appears confident as jury selection begins
Pop star greeted by crowd of about 100 fans
SANTA MARIA, California (CNN) -- Pop star Michael Jackson appeared confident as jury selection began in his child molestation trial Monday, smiling and laughing in court while prospective jurors craned their necks to catch a glimpse of him.
Cheered by a crowd of about 100 fans, Jackson strutted into the Santa Barbara County courthouse wearing a white suit with a jewel-encrusted vest and a gold-link charm belt.
He seemed to be in an upbeat mood for most of the morning session, even walking over to shake hands with the court clerk.
"How you doing, buddy?" one of his attorneys said.
"I'm fine, I'm fine," Jackson responded.
A day earlier, Jackson released a court-approved message over his Web site saying he would be "acquitted and vindicated" of all charges against him.
Jackson, 46, is accused of multiple counts of child molestation against a cancer-stricken boy who Jackson once befriended. Jackson has pleaded not guilty in the case.
The proceedings on Monday began more than an hour later than expected because of the time-consuming task of sending dozens of potential panelists through a thorough security screening.
But once that was taken care of, more than 150 prospective jurors filed into the courtroom for the first part of jury selection.
Another 150 people were brought in for the afternoon session, and jury selection will resume Tuesday morning with more prospects.
Jackson stood between his lawyers as soon as the first prospective jurors entered court, eyeing those who walked in. Many of the prospective panelists likewise watched him.
When all of the candidates were seated, it seemed all eyes were on Jackson. Many of the prospective jurors craned their necks to look at him, while those in the front of the room just stared.
More than half of the potential jurors said they felt they could serve on the panel for the duration of the trial, which is expected to last six months. But 138 asked to be let go, citing financial hardships and other concerns.
One person said he was under house arrest and pointed out the ankle bracelet strapped to his leg.
During one exchange with a potential juror, Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville indicated he had no plans to keep the jury sequestered for the trial.
Melville also said he planned for the court sessions to end at 2:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m. ET) every day.
One of the surprises of the day was that Santa Barbara County District Attorney Thomas Sneddon -- the longtime prosecutor whom Jackson has accused of having a vendetta against him -- was not in court.
He sent Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen to represent the prosecution.
By contrast, Jackson had four attorneys -- including high-profile attorney Thomas Mesereau Jr. -- and a jury consultant in court Monday.
The pop star arrived at the courthouse in a black SUV with tinted windows and briefly waved at fans who were behind a chain-link fence shouting for their idol. "We love you, Michael," they chanted.
Others in the crowd supported the alleged victim. "We believe, we support the victims," one sign read.
One person was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace after trying to take away a sign from a member of a group called "My Private Parts," an anti-pedophile organization, according to Sgt. Jerald Haley of the Santa Maria Police Department.
Jackson has been indicted by a grand jury on four counts of child molestation, four counts of administering an intoxicating agent, one count of attempted child molestation and one count of conspiracy to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.
Earlier this month, ABC News reported details of secret grand jury testimony that included lurid allegations from Jackson's accuser about what the cancer-stricken boy said happened between him and Jackson behind closed doors at the singer's Neverland Ranch in early 2003.
Jackson's attorneys blasted the release of the material, noting that it had been ordered sealed by Melville.
They also complained that because grand jury proceedings include the prosecution but not the defense, the accuser's statements were never subject to challenge during cross-examination.
In his video statement Sunday, Jackson said the leaked information was "ugly" and "malicious" and that the grand jury testimony "took place in a proceeding where neither my lawyers nor I ever appeared."
"Please keep an open mind and let me have my day in court," he said. "I will be acquitted and vindicated when the truth is told."