Celebrity, Sex and Race: Part 2, The Jury

"He has strong faith in God and in the judicial system. He knows his fate is in the hands of 12 jurors." Raymone Bain, Jackson's spokesperson, is more than right about the 12 jurors that will decide Jackson's fate. Whether the jurors will reward his faith in the criminal justice system or not is another matter.

For Jackson, that would mean a clean acquittal on all charges. For Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon, it will mean a conviction on at least some of the charges. But whichever way it goes, Jackson's jurors and the jury system are now under intense public and media glare. Before the first juror was seated, there were big questions about who would sit on Jackson's jury and how they'd decide his fate. Santa Barbara County had the dubious distinction of being among the 14 California counties, most of which are small, rural, and white, and conservative, that had ignored a mandate from California's Judicial Council Blue Ribbon Commission that all California counties use a revamped jury selection method to eliminate racial bias. The bias in this case was the gross under representation of Latinos in the county's juror pools. That plainly worried Jackson and his defense team. Ultimately, the four Latinos picked for Jackson's jury made up exactly one third of the jury. That was not necessarily consolation for the defense. In a pre-trial poll, the number of Latinos that thought Jackson was innocent was only marginally higher than that of whites. That shattered the myth that non-whites (and that included many blacks) are more predisposed toward sympathy with a wealthy, celebrated icon, even a black one named Michael Jackson than whites.

White jurors, though, still made up the majority of Jackson's jurors. The conventional racial wisdom is that they are much more likely to reflect conservative, middle-class values and beliefs. They're more likely to believe the testimony of police and prosecution witnesses than black defense witnesses and defendants. Black lifestyles, language, body cues, and mannerisms are often uncharted territory to many middle-class whites. They are grossly unfamiliar with, misread are hostile to, or repelled by any type of behavior that departs from middle-class norms. More than a dozen prospective jurors that filled out the Jackson juror questionnaire openly said that they were racially biased and probably couldn't be impartial to a black defendant.

But Jackson hardly fit the racial stereotype of a poor, inner city, young black male. That seemingly can be a plus for him with a non-black jury. The downside is Jackson's cartoonish appearance, his eccentric, and even, bizarre lifestyle, can be just as big a turnoff to older more conservative jurors. Also, some of the jurors are parents with young children. To most parents, the slightest hint of child sexual abuse is abhorrent and terrifying. If the jury is indeed a pro-prosecution jury, Jackson's A-Team legal defense team will be hard pressed to win acquittal. Before the first juror was officially seated, a pricey team of trial consultants took over. They did everything humanly possible to eliminate juror bias toward Jackson. A biased juror can tip a jury decision to either the prosecution or the defense based not on the testimony and evidence but on their own personal bias.

Prosecutors were and are deeply worried that juror dishonesty can hurt them as well. They fear that some of the prospective jurors might try to conceal their sympathies to Jackson, or to get their fifteen minutes of fame, might lie to get on the jury. Short, of giving each juror a lie detector test, which is hardly fail safe either, there is absolutely no fool proof way to ever eliminate pro or anti-prosecution or defense bias in celebrity high stakes trials.

Jackson is by any standard a special case. Given his wealth, popularity and legendary eccentricity, there is no way to tell whether that supposed inherent juror bias will tilt toward or away from him. The sole gauge of the possible sentiment of Santa Barbara county jurors toward Jackson is how he fared in two prior civil trials. Jackson's courtroom scorecard was fifty-fifty. In a lawsuit in 1997, they found for him. In a lawsuit in 2002, they found against him. Even if his jurors are scrupulously fair, his celebrity status can still be a double-edged sword for him. Jurors can see the ex-pop king as a victim of a vengeful, and jealous legal system bent on prosecuting him not for his alleged crimes but because of his wealth and fame. Or they can stand his wealth and fame on its head and resent him for being a pampered, spoiled celebrity that has used his wealth and fame to get special treatment and believed that that put him above the law.

One way or another, those 12 jurors that he professes to have faith in will determine whether he can salvage his much damaged and tarnished reputation, and resume his entertainment career. Jackson will need all the faith in God and the criminal justice system he can muster.


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