Jackson trial off to slow start with jury selection

LOS ANGELES Thu Mar 24, 2011 9:35pm EDT

Doctor Conrad Murray, the late Michael Jackson's personal physician, listens during his arraignment on a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the pop star's death, in Los Angeles, California, January 25, 2011. REUTERS/Irfan Khan/Pool

Doctor Conrad Murray, the late Michael Jackson's personal physician, listens during his arraignment on a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the pop star's death, in Los Angeles, California, January 25, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Irfan Khan/Pool

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Nearly all the possible jurors in the manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson's doctor told a judge on Thursday they knew of the case, underscoring the difficulty lawyers face in picking an impartial panel.

Questioning of a potential jury got underway on Thursday in the widely-watched trial that will determine if Dr. Conrad Murray is guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the pop star's drug overdose death in 2009.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor said that with opening arguments set for May 9, the target date for completing the trial is July 1.

Typically, judges and attorneys seek jurors with little or no knowledge of a case's details in order to pick an open-minded panel, but doing so will be hard in this case given Jackson's celebrity and his death's widespread publicity.

Murray was the King of Pop's personal physician and was at the singer's Los Angeles house when he died in June 2009. Murray is accused of giving Jackson a fatal dose of the powerful anesthetic propofol as a sleep aid.

He has pleaded not guilty and his attorneys are expected to argue Jackson administered the drug to himself.

Pastor, prosecutors and Murray's attorneys sifted through a group of about 160 prospective jurors on Thursday, with only two saying they knew nothing about the case against Murray.

About 100 of them were released after they filled out a questionnaire describing how serving on the lengthy trial could be a financial hardship.

Fifty-nine people from the remaining pool were given another 27-page questionnaire, which is meant to help attorneys determine their views on issues relating to the case. The questionnaire has not been publicly released.

On Friday, another 170 potential panelists are due in court for the same process.

Judge Pastor said that he aims to have a group of less than 100 potential jurors by May 4, when attorneys will question them in open court. Eventually, the panel will have 12 jurors.

Murray appeared in court on Thursday, dressed in a black suit and colorful striped tie.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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