Viral Video, Opinions Challenge Georgia Jury Selection for Arbery Case | Top news
(Reuters) – A Georgia court this week struggled to seat jurors in the trial of three white men charged with the murder of black jogger Ahmaud Arbery, underscoring the challenge of finding people who have not formed opinions farms based on a viral video of the shooting.
‘I have seen the news reports and I have seen the video footage of the crime, and I have already formed a guilty opinion of the crime,’ a woman said in court earlier this week.
Arbery’s murder just outside the coastal town of Brunswick, Georgia in February 2020 sparked national outrage and protests after cellphone video taken by one of the three accused became viral.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors say they are not looking for jurors who have not seen the video or are unaware of the case. Rather, they try to determine whether potential jurors can overrule their opinions and make a decision based on the evidence presented in court.
Former police officer Gregory McMichael, 65; his son Travis McMichael, 35; and his neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, face charges of murder, aggravated assault and forcible confinement. If found guilty on all counts, they could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley told prosecutors and defense attorneys to speed things up. “I’m not comfortable with it,” he said of the pace of Monday’s first day of jury selection.
As of the end of Thursday evening, of 80 Glynn County residents surveyed, only 23 residents had been prequalified for a panel of 64, from which the ultimate 12 jurors and four alternates will be selected to hear the case.
Walsley said Thursday the selection could last until next week or possibly the week after. The court was not in session on Friday; Jury selection is expected to resume on Monday.
Defense attorneys have said in interviews that they plan to base their case largely on a now-defunct version of a “citizen’s arrest” law that allows state residents to detain a person they suspect of a crime. All three defendants told police they believe Arbery was a burglar and the shooting was in self-defense after Arbery struggled with a shotgun pointed by Travis McMichael.
Arbery, an avid runner and former high school football star, was shot three times and fell on the street in the suburban neighborhood.
A potential juror has been dismissed because he watched the video more than six times and told the court he believed the men were ‘guilty. They killed him. They did it as a team “.
Another said: ‘The only time I heard of a citizen’s arrest was on ‘The Andy Griffith show’, the 1960s TV comedy about a small town sheriff.
The man added that he would listen to both sides in the case. “Everyone deserves their day in court. It’s the foundation of our country, it’s the rule of law.”
Of the 80 people on trial through Thursday, a few said they had seen only snippets of the video, and only two people told the court they had not seen it.
“I didn’t want to see anyone killed,” said a 70-year-old man.
Chris Slobogin, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, said selecting fair juries was more difficult in the age of cellphones and social media.
“I mean, everyone has seen this video,” he said. “I think the judge will end up finding 12 jurors, but the job is to figure out if a person is being candid when they say they can put aside what they saw.”
A nurse told the court she had thought a lot about whether she could be a fair and impartial juror and had “prayed about it”.
“I feel strongly that I could do it,” she said.
Another potential juror, a retired auto shop owner, said the video would be hard to ignore.
“Some things you can’t ignore,” he said.
(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.