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Jurors warned to keep mum about trial of Michael Jackson's doctor

By Alan Duke, CNN
  • NEW: "Disobedience will not be tolerated," the judge told the jury pool
  • More than 400 potential jurors will be questioned to find a fair jury
  • Dr. Conrad Murray is charged with causing Michael Jackson's death
  • Opening statements are set for September 27

Los Angeles (CNN) -- The judge warned potential jurors Thursday in the trial of Michael Jackson's doctor they could face jail if they violate his order not to talk to anyone about the case, including with "telepathic communication."

The search began Thursday for 18 Los Angeles County citizens who can put aside what they've heard about the pop star's death so they can sit in judgment of Dr. Conrad Murray, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter.

"Disobedience will not be tolerated. It can undermine our system of justice," Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor told the potential jurors. "Violation of my orders can lead to an unjust verdict, a mistrial, emotional turmoil and distress."

Pastor's order also bans jurors from researching the case online, or using a dictionary or the Bible, he said.

"Things on the Internet can be inaccurate and misleading," Pastor said. "We have this need today to share information with 750 million other people we don't even know. We don't know their agenda or the truth of what they say on the Internet."

When the judge asked for a show of hands from anyone who has not heard of the case, no hands were raised.

In all, up to 450 potential jurors will report to the courthouse in downtown Los Angeles between Thursday and Monday for the selection process in the trial.

When Murray was introduced to the first group of 160 potential jurors Thursday, he stood up and said "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen." Many of them responded in unison, "Good morning."

Pastor's first task is to decide who in the pool of potential jurors likely would not endure the duration of the trial. While the 12 jurors and six alternates will be allowed to return home after court each day, the five weeks or more of testimony can take a toll on their finances and families.

For a hardship to cause someone to be dismissed it "must be extreme," the judge said.

Those who are kept are being given about 30 pages of questions to determine if they are qualified to be on the jury.

They will return September 23 for face-to-face questioning by lawyers as the final list of jurors is chosen.

Opening statements for the trial, which will be televised, are scheduled for September 27. The judge told the jury pool he expects their service will be over on or about October 28.

The last roadblock to the start of Murray's trial came Wednesday when a California appeals court rejected the defense's petition for a delay so that the issue of jury sequestration could be reconsidered.

Murray's lawyers had argued that Pastor had abused his discretion by rejecting a request that the jury be kept in a hotel for the duration of the trial.

They compared the upcoming trial to the recent coverage of the Casey Anthony murder trial in Florida and said Murray could not get a fair trial if the jury was not isolated from what they expect will be non-stop media coverage.

"Petition is denied in the absence in a showing of abuse of discretion," the brief appeals ruling said.

Meanwhile, evidence intended to prove Jackson could not have caused his own death might not be allowed in trial, Pastor said in a hearing Wednesday.

Murray's defense is built on the theory that Jackson drank propofol, the surgical anesthetic the coroner concluded killed him, while the doctor was away from his bedside on the morning of June 25, 2009.

Prosecutors want jurors to hear expert testimony based on a recent experiment conducted on six university students in Chile that they argue proves there is "zero possibility that the propofol was orally ingested."

Pastor raised questions about the experiment in a hearing Wednesday.

"I need more information about the underlying data since it is not a scientific published article," Pastor said. "I don't know the source of the information."

The judge will allow a prosecution expert to testify about a study on piglets conducted at a veterinary college in Norway, a report defense attorneys argued has nothing to do with how oral ingestion of propofol would affect a human being.

The study involved five piglets that "have propofol suppositories shoved up their rectums and they are watched to see if they went to sleep," defense attorney Michael Flanagan said. "The rectum is at the other end of the (gastrointestinal) system."

Prosecutors contend Murray, who was hired as Jackson's personal physician as the singer rehearsed for comeback concerts, used a makeshift IV drip to administer propofol intended to help Jackson sleep, a practice they argue violated the standard of care and led to the pop icon's death.

In Session's Jean Casarez contributed to this report