Jury selection to begin trial over Ahmaud Arbery’s death

Hundreds of people were ordered to report to Georgia on Monday for what could be a long and laborious effort to find jurors to hear the trial of three white men accused of shooting Ahmaud Arbery while running in their neighborhood.

The murder of the 25-year-old black man sparked a nationwide uproar fueled by graphic video of the shooting. 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.

The 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.

“We are in 2021, and it is time for a change,” Marcus Arbery Sr. said in an interview. “We need to be treated equally and get fair justice as human beings because we have been treated badly for so long.”

Before the selection process began, Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley first scheduled a morning hearing to address the legal issues that need to be resolved before the trial begins.

Glynn County Courts have sent juror notices to 1,000 people, expecting a potentially slow process to find jurors in a community where murder dominated media coverage and swamped social media feeds.

The case will also be closely followed outside Georgia. Arbery’s murder stoked outrage in the summer of 2020 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 video of the shooting leaked online and state investigators took the matter back to local police.

Prosecutors said Arbery was just jogging when the McMichaels armed themselves with 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.

Defense lawyers insist the three men did not commit any crime. Greg McMichael told police they pursued Arbery on suspicion of being a burglar after security cameras had already recorded him entering a house under construction nearby. He said Travis McMichael fired his gun in self-defense after Arbery attacked him, punching him and trying to grab the gun.

Investigators said they found no evidence of crimes committed by Arbery in the Satilla Shores subdivision. He was not armed.

As a precaution against the coronavirus, 600 members of the jury were ordered to appear in a gymnasium on Monday to make room for social distancing. They will be summoned to the courthouse in groups of 20, Glynn County Superior Court clerk Ronald Adams said.

In addition to their jury summons, pool members received a three-page questionnaire by mail asking them what they already knew about the case and which media or social media platforms were their main sources of information.

The form also asks if potential jurors posted comments online about Arbery’s murder and whether they attended the shooting scene or did any other research on the case on their own.

Lawyers on both sides will spend the next few days questioning jurors, as a group and individually, to determine if they have formed opinions on the case that render them incapable of serving.

Ultimately, the judge must seat a jury of 12, plus four alternates who will be on standby to replace jurors who fall ill or are fired before the trial is over.

Once a jury is seated, the trial itself could take more than two weeks, Adams said.

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By RUSS BYNUM

Martin E. Berry