BRUNSWICK, Ga. – A Georgia judge has qualified 23 Glynn County residents interviewed over four days to serve on a jury that will decide the fate of three Glynn County men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery.
Dozens more will be needed before a final jury of 12 jurors and four alternates can be picked to hear the case. Hundreds of more potential jurors are still to be questioned and only 20 are being screened each day. Court officials expect the process could take six or seven more days to select a pool of 64 before the second round of jury selection can begin.
Judge Walmsley gathered the qualified jurors in the courtroom. He told them he doesn’t know how long jury selection will take.
“It could get into next week. Possibly into the week after,” the judge said.
Graphic video of Arbery’s slaying in February 2020 sparked a national outcry. Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, are charged with murder. Defense attorneys insist they committed no crimes.
On Thursday, a law enforcement officer and a woman over 70 years old were just two of the people excused from the jury pool by state prosecutors and defense lawyers. Residents 70 and older can be excused automatically, along with full-time caregivers of young children and or full-time students. The judge can also dismiss jurors for hardships or disabilities or to run a business with a shortage of workers.
Potential jurors can still be qualified to hear the case even if they say they already know the facts surrounding Arbery’s death. Attorney Gene Nichols, who has no association with the case, said that not knowing anything about the case would raise even more red flags.
″If you can imagine in such a small community someone who knows nothing about this,” Nichols said. “This will probably strike more fear in all of the lawyers and the judge than any other potential juror, because (that person) either lives under a very large rock or they’re lying to get on this jury.”
Once lawyers have picked their final pool of 64 potential jurors, they’ll have to follow specific guidelines set forth by the judge in the next elimination process and each side can use a limited number of peremptory strikes to eliminate people from service.
“That will allow a lawyer for the prosecution or defense to strike a jury for any reason that they want, as long as they know that reason is not a protected class such as race,” Nichols said.
The judge has granted 12 peremptory strikes for the prosecution and 24 for the defense, which the three defendants and their lawyers must share.
If defense attorneys don’t like the makeup of the jury for any reason, they could enter a motion to move the trial to another city. But based on statements made by defense attorneys so far in this case, Nichols believes they’ll want this case tried locally.
“In this case, the defense attorneys have not been pushing that issue. They seem to want to try the case locally. They feel like they will have a better pool here locally than what they would have in Savannah and Atlanta,” Nichols said. “It would be an up road battle to move this trial somewhere else.”
Judge Walmsley adjourned until 8:30 a.m. on Monday. There will be no jury selection on Friday after the judge cited a personal obligation by one of the lawyers.
Also Thursday in court
Before the fourth day of jury selection began, Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley heard a motion from media outlets asking for the partial gag order on the attorneys in the case to be lifted.
The order prohibits attorneys from discussing evidence the judge already decided can’t be brought up in the trial like Ahmaud Arbery’s mental health records. The attorney for multiple TV stations says their concern is the gag order isn’t clear on what is prohibited and that it’s unconstitutional and only to be used as a last resort.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski told the judge that attorneys for the three defendants have done interviews with the media since the order was imposed and did so without violating it.
The judge didn’t make a ruling on this but said he’ll issue a written order later.