After more than two weeks of jury selection, a panel of 48 potential jurors from an initial 600 was narrowed to a final jury of 12 – with only one black juror
In Brunswick, Georgia, black people account for nearly 55 percent of the population, while white people make up 40 percent – 25 percent of the pool from which the final jury was chosen was black
Judge Timothy Walmsley agreed with prosecutors that ‘there appears to be intentional discrimination’
Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was killed on February 23, 2020, while he was out for a run in his neighborhood, in Brunswick, Georgia, by a group of three vigilantes, all white males
The case is just coming to trial because, the first two counties were reluctant to bring charges against the accused men, until federal oversight caused the case to be transferred to a third jurisdiction in Georgia, leading to indictments for all involved
The judge Wednesday stating he has limited authority to intervene because defense attorneys gave nonracial reasons for their decisions to strike the potential black jurors
However, the judge observed, “One of the challenges that I think counsel recognize in this case is the racial overtones in the case, and … we have not been able to escape those discussions”
Kevin Gough, a defense lawyer for one of the men accused of killing Arbery, said he was concerned there aren’t enough ‘Bubbas’ or ‘Joe six-packs’ on the jury
‘We want a diverse jury,’ he said. ‘But we’re missing a segment of what would normally be here’
Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, their friend and neighbor William ‘Roddie’ Bryan Jr, are charged with chasing down and killing Arbery
The defendants instigated contact with the 25-year-old black man who was unarmed, then shot him three times at close range, with a rifle
Final panel of 12 jurors and four alternates, which includes 12 women and four men, was selected from a group of 600 people called for jury duty
Jurors will be sworn in 9 a.m. Friday, followed by opening arguments in a trial that’s expected to stretch into the week of Nov. 19
Is the Arbery murder trial already tinted before it even starts?
The judge in the racially-charged case of Ahmaud Arbery’s death slammed his own trial for ‘intentional discrimination’ after just one black juror was picked to sit on the 12-person jury to decide the fate of three white men accused of hunting down and murdering the black jogger.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley expressed his concern over the racial makeup of the jury after eight other black potential jurors were booted following objections from defense lawyers.
‘This court has found there appears to be intentional discrimination in the panel,’ judge Walmsley said.
However, Walmsley said, he had limited authority to intervene in jury selection because the defense attorneys were able to give nonracial reasons for their decisions to strike the potential black jurors from the panel. The judge made the observation after the final 12 were narrowed from a pool of 48 potential jurors, over the last two weeks.
“One of the challenges that I think counsel recognize in this case is the racial overtones in the case, and … we have not been able to escape those discussions,” Walmsley said.
In Brunswick, Georgia, where Arbery was killed and the trial is being held, black people account for nearly 55 percent of the population of 16,000 while white people make up 40 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
But in Glynn County, which encompasses Brunswick, black people account for nearly 27 percent of the population of 85,000, with 69 percent identifying as white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The judge said 25 percent of the pool from which the final jury was chosen was black.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski challenged the defense attorneys’ decision to strike eight specific black jurors, arguing they were cut from the panel because of their race.
Countering Laura Hogue, an attorney for Greg McMichael, denied that the black panelists’ race was considered in decisions to strike them from the jury pool: ‘We have a very clear selection process within the defense team, and the issue of race is not one of the factors,’ Hogue said.
‘I can give you a race neutral reason for any one of these.’
She noted one such juror, identified in court as No. 218, had written on her juror questionnaire that Arbery was shot ‘due to his color’ and told attorneys during questioning that she felt the defendants were guilty.
Dunikoski noted that many prospective jurors questioned in open court expressed strong opinions about the case, but all who remained in the pool from which the 12 jurors emerged said they could be impartial and base a verdict solely on the trial evidence.
‘The defense has not made a case as to why this juror and her opinions are any different than anyone else, black or white,’ Dunikoski said of No. 218.
‘She said the same thing almost every other juror said. So many had opinions. And they said they could put them aside.’
In issuing his decision not to change the makeup of the jury, Judge Walmsley said defense attorneys ‘have been able to explain to the court why besides race those individuals were struck from the panel.’
By contrast, one of the defense lawyers raised his concerns that there aren’t enough ‘Bubbas or Joe six-packs’ on the final panel of 12 jurors.
The comments were made by Kevin Gough, the defense attorney representing William Bryan, who is facing a murder charge for filming the shooting death of Arbery in February 2020.
Gough expressed his skepticism over the now-decided pool of jurors, which wasn’t determined at the time of his interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, saying it lacked white men over 40 without a four-year bachelor’s degree.
‘We want a diverse jury,’ he said. ‘But we’re missing a segment of what would normally be here.’
The slaying dominated news coverage and social media feeds leading court officials to take extraordinary steps in hopes of seating an impartial jury.
The final panel of 12 jurors and four alternates, which includes 12 women and four men, was selected from a group of 600 people called for jury duty. The court mailed 1,000 jury duty notices, and nearly 200 people were questioned by the judge and attorneys at the courthouse during jury selection.
Defense attorney Kevin Gough, representing William Bryan, was concerned there weren’t enough ‘Bubbas or Joe six-packs’, or college-educated white men over 40, in the group of potential jurors. Before a final jury is seated, attorneys in a criminal case get to take turns eliminating a significant number of prospective jurors from the final pool, for virtually any reason. The final process of elimination consisted of a bailiff passing a list of the potential jurors back and forth between the prosecutors and the three defense teams. Lawyers used the list to silently choose people to strike from the jury.
On February 23, 2020, Greg McMichael and his adult son, Travis McMichael, armed themselves and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck when they spotted him jogging after having entered a home under construction in their neighborhood, about 70 miles south of Savannah.
A neighbor, William ‘Roddie’ Bryan,’ joined the chase in his own truck and took cellphone video of the fatal encounter. Video shows the McMichaels stop their truck in front of Arbery as Travis McMichael aims his gun at the young black man.
In the footage, Arbery tries to run around the truck before getting into a physical altercation with Travis McMichael and being shot three times.
Defense attorneys say the McMichaels and Bryan committed no crimes. They say Arbery had been recorded by security cameras inside the home that was under construction and they suspected him of stealing.
Former cop Greg McMichael told police his son opened fire in self-defense after Arbery attacked with his fists and grappled for Travis McMichael’s shotgun. Investigators however, say Ahmaud Arbery was unarmed and there’s no evidence he had stolen anything.
No one was charged in Arbery’s death until more than two months later, when the video of the shooting leaked online. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police and soon arrested all three men on nine charges, which include malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Arbery’s death became part of the broader reckoning on racial injustice in the criminal legal system and across the country after a string of fatal encounters between black people and police continued to make national headlines— George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, among others.
The judge said the jury, along with four alternates, will be seated and sworn in Friday, when opening statements in the trial are expected.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who has worked with the Arbery, Floyd, and Taylor families, responded to the jury selection in the McMichaels and Bryan trial: ‘After being hunted down, cornered, and shot for being a Black man in a white Georgia neighborhood, Ahmaud Arbery is again denied justice.
‘His killers’ fate will be decided by a nearly all-white jury after defense attorneys denied eight potential Black jurors. Even the judge acknowledged ‘there appears to be intentional discrimination in the panel.’
‘A jury should reflect the community. Brunswick is 55% Black, so it’s outrageous that Black jurors were intentionally excluded to create such an imbalanced jury in a cynical effort to help these cold-blooded killers escape justice.’
Arbery’s family has also commented on the ‘injustice’ of the jury selection.
His aunt, Thea Brooks, said: ‘I wasn’t surprised. That’s just some of what we’ve already been facing in this case. Just another of the injustices that we see here in Glynn County. Not just with this case, but with many. So it’s just another part of what we face every day.’
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, told reporters she found the selection: ‘devastating.’ But she said: ‘I’m very confident that they’ll make the right decision after seeing all the evidence.’
Her attorney, S. Lee Merritt, said he remains confident the trial will end in a conviction, despite the his belief the defense lawyers had: ‘created a jury that was more favorable for their defendants, an almost entirely white jury.’