Jury selection could wrap up soon in Arbery death federal trial

57 potential jurors qualified so far

With 57 potential jurors qualified so far, jury selection in the federal hate crimes trial of the three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery could wrap up soon.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – With 57 potential jurors qualified so far, jury selection in the federal hate crimes trial of the three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery could wrap up soon.

The court qualified five of those potential jurors on Thursday.

Judge Lisa Godbey Wood wants 55 to 60 qualified candidates before narrowing the field to the final panel of 12 jurors and four alternates. She originally wanted 36 qualified candidates.

The plan for Friday is to question 30 more potential jurors. Depending on the number qualified from those 30, more jurors could be brought in on Monday.

When the potential jurors were asked Thursday morning if they believed the defendants were guilty, six hands shot up right away. It did not take long for those potential jurors to be struck for cause during individual questioning. Others were struck due to questions regarding what they’d already seen or known about the case.

On Thursday, Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, was joined by Barbara Arnwine, president of the Transformative Justice Coalition, the advocacy group working with the family. They said they’re now thinking about marking two years since Arbery was killed.

Later, as family members were leaving court, they said they are keeping their faith in God.

Jury selection continues at 9 a.m. Friday.

Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves and chased Arbery in a pickup truck on Feb. 23, 2020, after spotting him running in their Georgia neighborhood. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the pursuit and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael blasting Arbery with a shotgun.

Allegations that the killing was motivated by racism are at the heart of the federal case in U.S. District Court, where the McMichaels and Bryan are charged with violating 25-year-old Arbery’s civil rights and targeting him because he was Black.

All three were convicted of murder in November in a Georgia state court, where they were later sentenced to life in prison. They were charged separately in a federal indictment and must stand trial a second time on hate crime charges. The McMichaels and Bryan have pleaded not guilty in the federal case.

Jury selection began Monday, with those summoned questioned in court about what they already know about the case, their feelings on issues involving race and other matters that could prevent them from serving as impartial jurors. Potential jurors were identified in court only by numbers, not by name. They weren’t asked their race and often did not mention it when answering questions.

Several potential jurors said in court Tuesday that they believe problems with racism in America are exaggerated and questioned whether there should be special charges or punishments for crimes motivated by race.

In all, 24 potential jurors were questioned Wednesday, and five of them qualified for the pool. They were a mix of people who knew a little about the case and felt they could remain unbiased.

The judge also offered a modification as to how long she expects the trial to last. Earlier this week, she said seven to 12 days. But on Wednesday, she said seven to 10.

The potential jurors who have advanced will get a call over the weekend to report back sometime next week. From there, attorneys will strike out the jurors they don’t want and choose a final jury from there. The defense will have 10 strikes, the federal government will have six. Each side will then have two strikes for the alternates.

Depending on what happens Friday, opening statements could start Monday afternoon or Tuesday.

The judge made it clear no witnesses will be called on Monday. One of the defense attorneys said this a fluid process, so they are ready to give opening statements when the time comes.

Jury selection took more than two weeks in the state’s murder case. The search for an impartial jury in federal court comes after the McMichaels and Bryan were convicted and sentenced in the widely publicized first trial, and just a week after attorneys announced the McMichaels planned to plead guilty in the federal case in a deal with prosecutors that quickly fell apart.

In the state murder trial, defense attorneys argued the defendants were justified in chasing Arbery because they suspected he had committed crimes in their neighborhood. Travis McMichael testified that he opened fire in self-defense after Arbery attacked him with fists and grabbed for his shotgun.

About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013. She reports for and anchors The Morning Show.

A Florida girl and North Carolina A&T SU grad who thrives in breaking news.