BRUNSWICK, Ga. – The judge asked potential jurors for patience Wednesday as the slow jury selection process entered Day 3 in Brunswick. Attorneys continue the work of finding an impartial jury in the murder trial for the three men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery.
Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and a neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, are charged with murder and other crimes in the 25-year-old Black man’s death after a cellphone video of the Feb. 23, 2020, killing was leaked online two months later.
After the first two days of jury selection, just 40 out of 600 potential jurors had been questioned at the Glynn County Courthouse. After three days in court, 15 potential jurors are now moving on to the next step of the process. Attorney’s are hoping to have a pool of 64 potential jurors. From there they will work to find the 12 jurors and 4 alternates needed for the trial.
Many community members like Travis Riddle want justice even if it takes more time.
Walk into his restaurant, Country Boy Cooking, and you’ll see photos on the wall of Arbery and a snapshot of the moment one of the suspects was taken into custody.
“Whatever time they need to take let’s just take the time. Let’s just make sure we get it right. We don’t need to rush through nothing, we just need to get it right,” Riddle said.
LIVESTREAM: News4Jax.com and News4Jax+ will carry all of the trial allowed by the judge (There are strict limits on live coverage during jury selection)
Supporters for Arbery’s family were back at the courthouse on Wednesday. Arbery’s father walked up to the building and stopped to talk to people outside, giving them hugs and saying, “I love my people.”
One of the supporters emphasized the importance of showing up for the family despite this long jury selection process.
“It’s up to us to keep each other motivated, especially in solidarity with Ahmaud Arbery’s family. Last night you could feel the passion, anger, and stress of the family because they want to know why is it taking them so long for them to pick a jury? It’s already long enough even when the video came out,” civil rights activist Porchse Miller said, adding that the verdict seems clear. “If they have a heart and look at the logic of everything, they should know that the verdict should be guilty.”
At the rate of 20 jurors a day -- it could take at least another week to weed the 600 jurors down to a pool of 64 -- from which the 12 jurors and four alternates might be chosen. Another 400 people are on standby in case a jury can’t be found in the current pool.
“With the underlying issues, with the amount of witnesses, the amount of defendants, I think it’s just making it a little harder and making the process going a little longer than they originally intended,” said Latoya Willams Shelton, an attorney not affiliated with the case.
The slow going is not making Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley happy. He expressed frustration Tuesday at the glacial pace of the proceedings.
“I do not have the ability to just store people or keep them longer than planned,” the judge said, adding later: “At the rate we’re going, all these plans we have to move these panels through are not going to work.”
On Wednesday, Walmsley acknowledged to the jurors that the process is “taking a while.”
“I ask for your patience,” he said.
During questioning Wednesday, one potential juror was overwhelmed with emotion. A lot of the people outside the courthouse were anxious.
A rabbi from nearby Temple Beth Tefilloh said whatever is decided in that courtroom will shape this city forever.
“The killing of Ahmaud Arbery opened and made visible to everyone what the relationships are like here,” Rabbi Rachael Bregman said.
Bregman’s Temple Beth Tefilloh set up a tent outside the courthouse to show support for Arbery’s family.
Jury duty notices were mailed to 1,000 people in coastal Glynn County, with 600 ordered to report Monday and the remainder on deck for next week if needed.
The huge jury pool underscores how Arbery’s slaying has dominated the news, social media feeds and workplace chatter in the coastal community of roughly 85,000 residents.
The 15 people deemed qualified to serve Wednesday won’t necessarily be seated on the final jury. They just weren’t among those found to have hardened opinions on the case, or with hardships that made jury service an unfair burden. Prosecutors and the defense will take turns striking qualified pool members in order to arrive at the final jury.
Two of those qualified Tuesday said they know some of the defendants. One said his father is a longtime prosecutor who worked with Greg McMichael before the defendant retired as an investigator for the local district attorney shortly before Arbery was killed.
“He’s a friend of my father’s and he’s been over to our house multiple times,” the man said.
The other said her husband and father-in-law know Bryan.
A woman who said she knows Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery Sr., was dismissed.
The court has not identified the race of any of the prospective jurors.
Another issue raised by some media reports Tuesday was the release online of suppressed evidence and documents about Arbery’s mental health and past criminal history. Both were ruled inadmissible for the upcoming trial, so if a potential juror were to read the documents online through the court website, they might not be eligible to serve on the jury.
The documents also include evidence that hasn’t yet been ruled on by the court.
Prosecutors say Arbery was merely jogging on the street 2 miles from his home when the McMichaels grabbed 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 believed Arbery was a burglar after security cameras previously recorded him entering a nearby home under construction. He said Travis McMichael fired in self-defense after Arbery punched him and tried to grab his weapon.
Prosecutors say there is no evidence that Arbery, who was unarmed, committed any crime.
News4Jax has been asking people outside the courtside if they are in support of the McMichaels or Bryan.
“I’ve not heard from people who support the actions they chose to take on that day. I know lots of people who support them, support them as people, support them as a family. I support them as a family,” Bregman said. “I can only imagine the pain that that family is going through. And please don’t let that stand alone as the only thing that I can feel. My heart is also broken for the loss of Ahmaud Arbery’s life and what that does to a family.”
She said many of her neighbors and congregation were summoned for the jury selection -- some who said they recognize both sides of this trial.
But once a jury is selected and the trial begins, she feels the verdict will bring a shift to this community.
“Whatever that is,” Bregman said, “it will shape the identity of this place forever.”
Jury selection will pick back up on Thursday at 8:30 a.m.