Thousands of fans greet Jackson for start of trial

AFTER MANY preludes, the circus has finally begun. Thousands of fans, many of whom had camped out all night, screamed encouragement and pressed against barricades as Michael Jackson arrived at the courthouse in Santa Maria, California, yesterday, for the beginning of what is being called the "trial of the century".

Accompanied by family members, lawyers and bodyguards, one of whom held an umbrella over Mr Jackson's head, the singer smiled and waved towards the sea of placards brandished by his fans. In the hours before his arrival, the fans had held an impromptu party to keep spirits up, singing, dancing and chanting support for their idol. Then, dressed in white, Mr Jackson waited his turn to pass through the metal detectors at the doors of the courthouse and held his arms out to be scanned by a security guard.

The case is being heard in Santa Maria (population 85,000) because Mr Jackson's Neverland Ranch, the scene of the alleged offences, is in northern Santa Barbara County. Mr Jackson faces 10 charges of child molestation, plying children with alcohol and conspiring to commit the crimes of abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. The first task of the court will be the selection of 12 jurors from up to 750 candidates. That is expected to take a month.

Businesses in the town are expecting a financial bonanza. All hotel rooms have been booked for months. Many residents have rented their houses to news organisations and bars and restaurants have laid in extra supplies of food and drink. Rooftops surrounding the courthouse are being rented to television networks for pounds 1,200 a day; parking spaces are pounds 250.

Although more than 1,000 journalists are in the town, few will have seats in the courtroom. A pool of six reporters was allowed in yesterday and others listened to the proceedings in an overflow room. The courthouse was jammed, with the first batch of 150 jurors who will be given seven- page questionnaires to fill in before being questioned by lawyers for both sides and by the Santa Barbara County Judge, Rodney Melville.

The prospective jurors are being checked for attitudes on issues that include racial prejudice, divorce, plastic surgery and child abuse. Many are expected to be excused because they cannot afford to stay away from work for the six months that the trial is likely to take. Others will ask to be exempted because of sexual abuse they or people close to them suffered as children.

Legal experts say they will also be asked whether celebrities in trouble get the justice they deserve or the justice they can buy. They will be judged on whether they can fairly weigh the claims for and against a wealthy neighbour.

Lawyers will be watching for "stealth jurors", those who see jury duty as a chance to advance themselves, either by writing a tell-all book, rescuing their endangered idol or striking a blow for abused children. Although Neverland Ranch is in the hills above Santa Maria, the self-proclaimed King Of Pop is rarely seen in the town and has little in common with the 12 residents who will sit in judgment of him.

The charges against Mr Jackson stem from accusations made by a 15-year- old cancer patient who was 13 at the time of the alleged offences. He was seen holding hands with Jackson in the controversial BBC documentary Living With Michael Jackson, which will be shown to the jurors when the trial begins. The interviewer, Martin Bashir, will also be called as a prosecution witness.

On Sunday, Mr Jackson released a videotaped statement saying leaks to the media about testimony in the case contained information that was "disgusting and false" and he predicted victory at trial. "I love my community and I have great faith in our justice system," he said. "Please keep an open mind and let me have my day in court. I deserve a fair trial like every other American citizen. I will be acquitted and vindicated when the truth is told."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea