Jury selection underway in trial of 3 men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery

·4 min read

Prosecutors and defense attorneys Monday began questioning the first group of 20 prospective jurors for a high-profile trial of three white men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black man whose 2020 caught-on-video shooting in Georgia helped fuel a wave of protests against systemic racism.

The session began shortly after 1:30 p.m. at the Glynn County Courthouse. About a thousand people have been summoned for jury duty in the case, with 600 of them ordered to appear in court Monday. The questioning could go as late as 9 p.m., Court TV reported.

The first panel of 20 prospective jurors was sworn in and grilled Monday afternoon, with Judge Timothy Walmsley asking the group if their minds were neutral regarding both sides of the case. Just one person raised a hand, The Associated Press reported.

About half indicated they were already leaning toward one side or the other. Only one young man raised his hand when they were asked by prosecutor Linda Dunikoski whether any of them wanted to serve on the jury.

When defense attorney Jason Sheffield asked whether they had any negative feelings about the three defendants, more than half raised their hands. Walmsley dismissed one of the group, a law enforcement officer, before the others were individually questioned.

The joint trial of father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan is likely to last several weeks.

Opening statements will begin once prosecutors and the defense agree on a panel of 12 jurors and four alternates, a process expected to be lengthy and complicated given the number of lawyers involved.

All three suspects are charged with felony murder, among other charges. It was the younger McMichael who fired the shots that killed Arbery, but his ex-cop father and Bryan are both accused of chasing and ambushing the 25-year-old victim before the daylight killing on Feb. 23, 2020.

Attorneys for the trio will try to convince the jury that the men were trying to carry out a citizens arrest after believing Arbery fit the description of a supposed burglary suspect in their Satilla Shores neighborhood, just outside the coastal city of Brunswick, Georgia.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, will try to prove that Arbery was jogging that day when the three accused killers targeted him, because of his race. The suspects have denied any racist motives.

The three men avoided arrest for more than two months and were charged only after Bryan’s cell phone video of the incident emerged on social media, sparking widespread outrage and accusations of racism. The shocking video, described by many as an example of modern-day lynching, went viral shortly before the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, leading to a historic movement against racial discrimination across the country and overseas.

Arbery’s family members and supporters, including civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, were seen marching toward the courthouse with their fists raised Monday morning.

“You can’t lynch a Black man in 2021 and think you can sweep it under a rug,” Crump told reporters.

He later went on Twitter to call for justice.

“We will NEVER forget about the unjustified killing of Ahmaud Arbery’s for #JoggingWhileBlack!” Crump wrote. “His killers MUST be convicted for this senseless murder!”

“This is 2021, and it’s time for a change,” Marcus Arbery, Ahmaud Arbery’s father, told the AP. “We need to be treated equally and get fair justice as human beings, because we’ve been treated wrong so long.”

Recent court motions suggest prosecutors will bring up evidence allegedly showing Travis McMichael using racist slurs in online communications, as well as testimony from an investigator who said Bryan heard the shooter use the N-word while standing next to Arbery’s body after the killing. Prosecutors also plan to show the jury a photo of Travis McMichael’s Georgia flag-themed vanity license plate, which includes a Confederate symbol.

Finding a jury that has not formed a strong opinion about the case may also prove challenging in a community where the killing has dominated news coverage.

Prospective jurors were given a questionnaire about their general knowledge of the case, if any, and what news and social media sources they use for information. They were also expected to be asked about their views on racism and Black Lives Matter.

Earlier Monday, Walmsley heard a series of motions in the case, including whether to give each side additional peremptory strikes, the right to reject a potential juror without offering a reason. He ruled that the state will have 12 while each defense attorney will have eight.

If the jury is not fully seated by the end of the week, the other 400 prospective jurors will be asked to report to court next week.

The suspects have also been charged with hate crime in a federal case set to go to trial in February.


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