Jury being sequestered in Arbery federal hate crimes trial: court order

Neighbors, investigators testify about day 25-year-old Black man was shot, killed in Satilla Shores

According to a court order signed Monday by Judge Lisa Godbey Wood, the jury in the Ahmaud Arbery federal hate crimes trial is being sequestered “throughout the course of the trial.”

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – According to a court order signed Monday by Judge Lisa Godbey Wood, the jury in the Ahmaud Arbery federal hate crimes trial is being sequestered “throughout the course of the trial.”

A jury of eight white members, three Black people and one Hispanic person was sworn in Monday to hear the case.

The order, which News4JAX obtained from the federal court docket, says the decision to sequester was made “to protect the jury from trial publicity, extraneous influences and harassment” and “to ensure Defendants a fair trial.”

DOCUMENT: Court order for jury to be sequestered

That federal trial for the three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery continued Tuesday with prosecutors calling their first witnesses.

On the trial’s first day in the port city of Brunswick on Monday, prosecutors told the jury they have evidence that each of the defendants had a history of making racist comments. To win convictions on the hate crime charges, they must prove to the jury that Arbery was chased and fatally shot because he was Black.

In their opening statements, defense attorneys called their clients’ use of racist slurs offensive and indefensible. But they insisted that their deadly pursuit of Arbery was motivated by an earnest, though erroneous, suspicion that the 25-year-old Black man had committed crimes -- not by racial hostility.

Arbery was killed on Feb. 23, 2020, when Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves and used a pickup truck to chase Arbery after spotting him running in their coastal Georgia neighborhood. Bryan, their neighbor, joined the chase in his own truck and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael blasting Arbery with a shotgun.

No arrests were made until the video leaked online two months later.

Both McMichaels and Bryan were convicted of murder last fall in a Georgia state court and sentenced to life in prison.

This photo combo shows, from left, Travis McMichael, William "Roddie" Bryan, and Gregory McMichael during their trial at at the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga. (Pool, file)

All three are now standing trial in a separate case in U.S. District Court, where they are charged with violating Arbery’s civil rights and with targeting him because he was Black. They have pleaded not guilty.

1st witnesses testify

The prosecution’s witness list is long and includes several neighbors, as well as current and former members of the Glynn County police department, the sheriff’s office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

By noon, two neighbors had taken the stand to testify about what they saw the day Arbery was shot and killed. One of those neighbors, Daniel Allcott, said the shooting took place in front of his home.

Daniel Allcott testifies in federal hate crimes trial. (Sketch by Steve Bridges)

He talked about how he and his family were inside when they heard the three shots being fired and then later saw Arbery’s body in the street. He said he later gave Arbery’s family permission to put a memorial on his property. During cross-examination, Travis McMichael’s attorney asked Allcott if he saw Travis McMichael display happiness or joy after the shooting.

Allcott said, “No.”

She then asked, “Did Travis McMichael ever approach you about removing the memorial?”

Allcott replied, “No.”

Then during redirect, the prosecutor asked Allcott: “Did you see Travis McMichael render aid to the man dead in the street?”

Allcott said, “No.”

She continued: “Did Greg McMichael express concern for the man dead in the street?”

Again, the answer was “No.”

Allcott, who is white, also testified that he was an avid runner in the Satilla Shores neighborhood and had never been accosted, stopped, or chased while going for a run.

Matt Albenze testifies in federal hate crimes trial. (Sketch by Steve Bridges)

The jurors also heard from Matt Albenze, the neighbor who first spotted Arbery inside a home under construction in the neighborhood. Albenze testified that he had seen that homeowner’s surveillance video showing a Black person inside the home and after seeing Arbery on the property that day, he felt the need to call the police department’s non-emergency line.

Albenze told the court “it seemed suspicious” and it was a “see something, say something” type of situation.

The defense attorney for Greg McMichael also said Albenze was seen on surveillance making a motion with his arms seconds after Arbery ran past him as he was on the phone with police. The McMichaels’ truck was then seen driving off in the same direction as Arbery.

Albenze testified he was not motioning to anyone in particular.

Glynn County Police Department Sgt. Sheila Ramos, who gathered evidence, and GBI investigator Richard Dial, who found probable cause in the state case, also testified Tuesday.

Arbery’s family leaves courtroom

Arbery’s family was seen going inside the federal courthouse Tuesday morning, including his father and several aunts. Arbery’s family said before Tuesday’s session began that they were ready to hear the testimony.

“There’s a lot of evidence the state had that they didn’t put out, like the racial part,” Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery Sr., said. “So, the feds are going to bring all that. That’s what we want the world to see.”

But there were moments when the Arbery family left the courtroom Tuesday when the cellphone video of Ahmaud Arbery being chased and murdered was played for the jury and the 25-year-old’s body was shown lying on the ground.

Ramos said she took approximately 200 photos of the day of the shooting. Those included Arbery’s bloodied body, gunshot wounds, the neighborhood where he died and pellets from a shotgun stuck in a neighborhood’s wall.

On the stand, Dial testified that “both Travis and Greg McMichael said they did point their guns at Arbery” and that Arbery had “no weapon, merchandise, backpack, cellphone or wallet.” Dial said he only had on clothes and shoes.

During recess, Greg McMichael’s wife and Arbery’s family were seen in the courthouse.

Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said Monday that nothing about this trial will be any easier because the family has been through it before.

“It’s going to be hard. Ahmaud was killed. Ahmaud was killed almost two years ago, and knowing that Ahmaud was killed because he was Black, it’s going to be harder,” Cooper-Jones said. “I think that we’ll get another victory out of this. I think it’s going to be a long, long hard trial.”

Barbara Arnwine, who has been supportive of the Arbery family, said she doesn’t understand why the three defendants won’t enter a guilty plea.

“You sometimes just wonder why don’t they just plead guilty. The evidence is so overwhelming. Why don’t they just plead?” said Arnwine, president of the Transformative Justice Coalition. “I mean they did the crime. They already got life sentences. The evidence is just so overwhelming.”

Arbery’s father said the actions of the McMichaels and Bryan bring shame to the community.

“I’m really disappointed in my town. I’m really disappointed that my children were born and raised here, and this kind of stuff went on,” Marcus Arbery said.

So far no one from the McMichaels or Bryan family has spoken.


About the Authors:

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

16-year veteran journalist and Emmy Award winning anchor