Jury Selection Begins in Ahmaud Arbery Death Trial | News from USA®
By RUSS BYNUM, Associated Press
BRUNSWICK, Ga (AP) – As jury selection began slowly on Monday in the trial of three white men accused of shooting Ahmaud Arbery while running in their Georgia neighborhood, potential jurors said they were came with negative feelings about the case and worried about the personal consequences of serving on the jury.
The murder of the 25-year-old black man sparked a nationwide uproar fueled by graphic video of the shooting leaked online more than two months after Arbery’s murder. Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan are charged with murder and other crimes in Arbery’s death on February 23, 2020, just outside the port town of Brunswick.
With hundreds of appeals, jury selection could last two weeks or more. Arbery’s father said he prayed for an impartial panel and a fair trial, saying victims of black crimes have too often been denied justice.
“It’s 2021, and it’s time for a change,” Marcus Arbery Sr. told The Associated Press. “We must be treated equally and get fair justice as human beings, because we have been treated badly for so long.”
The first panel of 20 jurors were sworn in and questioned Monday afternoon.
When Judge Timothy Walmsley asked the group if their minds were neutral on both sides of the case, only one raised their hand. When asked if they were ever leaning to either side, about half raised their hands to indicate yes.
“Please hold your card up if you wish to be part of this jury,” said prosecutor Linda Dunikoski as she finished her questions for the group.
At first, no one did. Finally, a young man raised his hand.
Jason Sheffield, one of Travis McMichael’s attorneys, asked the group if they had any negative feelings about the three defendants. More than half raised their hands.
After being interviewed as a group, potential jurors were interviewed individually. Their responses reflected the intense attention the case has attracted, their existing ideas about the case, and their apprehensions about being involved in such a high-profile case.
An Air Force veteran and gun owner who was first interviewed said he had a negative impression of Greg McMichael but not of the other defendants.
“I got the impression he was stalking,” the man said, saying he was basing himself on media coverage and after seeing video of the shooting “less than five times”.
“From what I observed, he appeared to be the lead dog,” the panel member said of Greg McMichael, a retired investigator from the local prosecutor’s office. Still, he said he didn’t make his decision on innocence or guilt.
Another panelist said he saw so much about the murder in the news and on social media that “I’m sick of it.”
He said he shared video of Arbery’s shooting on social media and discussed the case with his brothers – one of whom was also among 1,000 people who sent a summons to the jury in the case.
A retired accountant said she had negative feelings towards the defendants, but tried to avoid an opinion of guilt or innocence. She also expressed concerns about the possibility of serving on the jury.
“How would I feel if I was asked to give an unpopular verdict?” ” she said. “Any verdict, guilty or innocent, will be unpopular with some people. “
“Maybe I would even feel in danger,” she added.
The court did not identify the race of any of the potential jurors.
Arbery’s murder stoked outrage during a period of nationwide protests against racial injustice. More than two months passed before the McMichaels and Bryans were charged and jailed – only after the video leaked online and state investigators took over the case.
Prosecutors said Arbery was just jogging when the McMichaels grabbed guns and chased him in a van. Bryan joined the chase in his own truck and recorded the now infamous video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery three times at close range with a shotgun.
While being questioned by defense attorneys, a potential juror – a young female teacher – had harsh words for Bryan.
“Her video recording of the scene was disgusting and vicious,” she said. “However, at the same time, I am grateful that he did, because we are able to see what happened.”
Defense lawyers insist the three men did not commit any crime. Greg McMichael told police they believed Arbery was a burglar after security cameras had already recorded him entering a nearby house under construction. He said Travis McMichael fired in self-defense after Arbery punched him and attempted to grab his gun.
Investigators said they found no evidence of crimes committed by Arbery, who was unarmed, in the Satilla Shores subdivision.
As a precaution against the coronavirus, 600 members of the jury were ordered to appear in a gymnasium to make room for social distancing. They were called to the courthouse in groups of 20, Glynn County Superior Court clerk Ronald Adams said.
Ultimately, 12 jurors will be seated plus four alternates to replace jurors who fall ill or are fired before the trial is over.
The judge dismissed eight potential jurors in total before adjourning Monday night. Four others were interviewed individually but no final decision was made on their status. The selection of the jury was to resume Tuesday morning.
Once a jury is seated, the trial itself could take more than two weeks, Adams said.
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