BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Friday marked the ninth day of jury selection in the trial of the three men accused of chasing and killing Ahmaud Arbery, and the process will enter the third week on Monday.
So far, 55 potential jurors have been qualified to advance since jury selection began on Oct. 18. A total of 64 are needed in a jury pool from which the final jury will be chosen.
Attorneys had hoped to end the first phase of jury selection by the end of Friday, but only eight of the 18 potential jurors at the Glynn County Courthouse on Friday qualified to advance.
Barbra Arnwine Esq., president of the Transformative Justice Coalition, said she feels some of the questions about churches and protesters are slowing down the process.
“Their attention is not on getting to the trying of this case. Their attention is on irrelevancies, distractions, blame anybody you can but your own client,” Arnwine said.
Defense attorneys said they’re OK with jury selection taking a bit longer than they hoped. Jason Sheffield, Travis McMichael’s attorney, said the questions they’re asking are to get jurors to express their beliefs.
“Those opinions, oftentimes, have been coming from local churches or local leaders or local groups and organizations, so it’s really important to understand what influences the jurors may have been under,” Sheffield said.
The judge said Thursday that some questions have come off aggressive and uncomfortable. On Friday, the state mentioned how stressed some potential jurors are.
“In fact, I think a couple of jurors this morning said my heart’s about to beat out of my chest,” said prosecutor Linda Dunokoski.
The state argued why one juror should remain in the pool, saying their health concerns aren’t as serious, while the defense said their health is at risk.
“If 20,000 protestors show up on the first day of trial, I don’t care how you get him to the courthouse, he’s going to freak out, and matter of fact, it might just kill him. I think it’s incredibly reckless, I’ll take that back, I think it’s unwise to ask this juror to potentially put their life in jeopardy,” said Kevin Gough, William “Roddie” Bryan’s attorney.
The judge struck this juror because of health issues and his relationship with the Arbery family that may pull him in the direction of a guilty verdict.
On Thursday, the court qualified five more potential jurors. One of those jurors is 18-years-old. Another told the court she hasn’t seen the video of Arbery’s death and said she can give the defendants a fair trial. One juror said “the whole case is about racism” and would consider citizen’s arrest but doesn’t currently see any evidence. The next juror qualified said Arbery shouldn’t have been shot, but after seeing a special on “20/20,” he’s down the middle. The last juror to qualify said he went to high school with Arbery and believes everybody deserves a fair trial.
Earlier this week, defense attorneys brought up the appeals process and getting conversations on the record if they lose this case. Here’s what Sheffield said Friday about this comment: “I never have ever indicated that I think we will lose this case. I feel that our story here is one that is very clear. It’s a story of about the McMichaels trying to keep Mr. Arbery from coming closer to them while they are simply trying to watch and make observations.”
The defense attorneys say criminal defense lawyers are mindful that they could lose a case, but this one, they do not feel they will lose.
Once the court reaches 64 potential jurors, they’ll be questioned even further to get to the final 12 jurors and four alternates. That could happen sometime next week.
Jury selection will pick back up Monday morning.
Arbery was fatally shot after a white father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael, spotted the 25-year-old Black man running through their neighborhood outside the port city of Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020. They armed themselves and pursued him in a pickup truck, and then a white neighbor, Bryan, joined the chase in another truck. No one was charged until two months later, after Bryan’s cellphone video of the chase and shooting leaked online and stirred a national outcry.
Now the McMichaels and Bryan face life in prison if convicted of murder. Their lawyers have opted to try to find an impartial jury in coastal Glynn County, a community of 85,000 where the slaying dominated news headlines, social media feeds and workplace chatter.
Defense attorneys said the men facing trial committed no crimes. They say the McMichaels had reason to suspect Arbery had committed crimes in the neighborhood because he had been seen previously entering a house under construction. They say Travis McMichael shot him in self-defense after Arbery attacked with his fists.
Prosecutors say Arbery was merely out jogging when he was slain. Investigators have said he was unarmed and there’s no evidence he committed crimes in the area.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.