BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — Jury selection got underway Monday in Georgia, with hundreds of people ordered to report for what could be a lengthy effort to find jurors in the trial of three white men charged with fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery as he was running in their neighborhood.
The slaying of the 25-year-old Black man sparked a national outcry fueled by graphic video of the shooting leaked online more than two months after Arbery was killed. 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 Feb. 23, 2020, just outside the port city of Brunswick.
Jury selection could last two weeks or more. Arbery’s father said he’s praying for an impartial panel and a fair trial, saying Black crime victims too often have been denied justice.
“This is 2021, and it’s 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’ve been treated wrong so long.”
The first panel of 20 jurors was sworn in and questioned Monday afternoon.
When Judge Timothy Walmsley asked the group if their minds were neutral regarding both sides of the case, only one raised a hand. Asked if they were already leaning toward either side, about half raised their hands to indicate yes.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski questioned the group next. “Please raise your card if you would like to serve on this jury,” was her final question.
At first, nobody did. Finally, one young man raised his hand. He was the only one.
Jason Sheffield, one of Travis McMichael’s attorneys, asked the group whether they had any negative feelings about the three defendants. More than half raised their hands.
The judge dismissed one of the group — a law enforcement officer — before the lawyers began individually questioning others.
The first to be questioned was an Air Force veteran and gun owner who said he has a negative impression of Greg McMichael, but not the other defendants.
“I got the impression he was stalking,” the man said, saying he based that on news coverage and from seeing the video of the shooting “fewer than five times.”
“From what I observed, he appeared to be the lead dog,” the panel member said of Greg McMichael, a retired investigator for the local district attorney’s office.
He said he had not made up his mind about Greg McMichael’s innocence or guilt.
The court hasn’t identified the race of any of the prospective jurors.
Court officials in Glynn County mailed jury-duty notices to 1,000 people, expecting a potentially slow process to find jurors in a community where the slaying dominated news coverage and swamped social media feeds.
Arbery’s killing stoked outrage in the summer of 2020 during a period of national protests over racial injustice. More than two months passed before the McMichaels and Bryan were charged and jailed — only after the video of the shooting leaked online and state investigators took over the case from local police.
Prosecutors say Arbery was merely jogging when the McMichaels armed themselves with guns and chased him in a pickup truck. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck and recorded the now-infamous cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery three times at close range with a shotgun.
Defense attorneys insist the three men committed no crimes. Greg McMichael told police they pursued Arbery suspecting he was a burglar after security cameras previously recorded him entering a nearby home under construction. He said Travis McMichael fired his gun in self-defense after Arbery attacked him, punching him and trying to grab the weapon.
Investigators have testified that they found no evidence of crimes by Arbery, who was unarmed, in the Satilla Shores subdivision.
As a precaution against the coronavirus, 600 jury pool members were ordered to report Monday to a gymnasium to provide room for social distancing. They were summoned to the courthouse in groups of 20, Glynn County Superior Court Clerk Ronald Adams said.
Along with their jury summons, pool members were mailed a three-page questionnaire asking what they already knew about the case and what news outlets or social media platforms were their main sources of information.
The form also asks whether prospective jurors posted any online comments about Arbery’s killing and if they visited the scene of the shooting or did other research into the case on their own.
Ultimately the judge needs to seat a jury of 12, plus four alternates to fill in for any jurors who get sick or are dismissed before the trial ends.
Once a jury is seated, the trial itself could take more than two weeks, Adams said.
Sign up for the WTAJ Newsletter for the latest local news, weather, and community events that matter to you.