JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Half of the 40 prospective jurors interviewed in the first two days of the trial of three men accused of murder in the death of Ahmaud Arbery were dismissed after answering dozens of questions from lawyers. Some of the inquiries were about the Glynn County residents’ Southern heritage, if the old Georgia flag including an image of the Confederate battle flag is a racist symbol and whether people of color are treated fairly by the criminal justice system.
Defense lawyers have argued that the prosecution is trying to make Arbery’s killing about the 25-year-old’s ethnicity, but those are the facts of the case according to police.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Arbery was chased by Travis McMichael and his father, Greg McMichael, for more than four minutes while jogging before he was shot while trying to run around their pickup truck stopped in the street. The McMichaels said told officers called to the fatal shooting of Arbery that they had “a gut feeling” the man had burglarized a home in their Satilla Shores neighborhood and they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest.
Defense attorneys will also argue that Arbery attacked Travis McMichael during the chase and that the fatal shooting was in self-defense. Video shot by Bryan seems to show that Arbery only approached McMichael after the first shot was fired.
Police said Arbery was unarmed when he was killed.
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)
As uncomfortable and controversial as the conversation about race may be for some, the issue will be an integral part of the prosecution’s presentation to the jury in trial. Not only have the father and son, along with William “Roddie” Bryan, who recorded the case and shooting with his cellphone, been charged with murder, they were also indicted by the U.S. Justice Department on federal hate crime charges.
The prosecution is prepared to use the defendants’ words against them in the trial. Court filings from the special prosecutor handling the case notified the court that they intend to bring to trial, evidence of racial slurs, posted on social media and sent in text messages by all three men.
Prosecutors also intend to use William Roddie Bryant’s sworn statement that he witnessed Travis Mcmichael call Arbery the N-word after shooting him -- as the victim bled out on the street.
In the April 2021 indictment on hate crime charges, the Justice Department alleges “that all three defendants used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race,” adding that, “All three men unlawfully seized and confined Arbery by chasing after him in their trucks in an attempt to restrain, corral and detain him against his will.”
Tuesday in court
For the second day in row, only one panel of 20 prospective jurors was interviewed as the session with the morning group lasted until 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“Do you agree that people of color are not treated fairly in the criminal justice system?” is one of the questions jurors are asked.
Juror #72, in Tuesday afternoon’s jury pool, responded that, based on what she knows about the case, if Arbery had been white “it probably wouldn’t have happened.”
Juror #73 told lawyers: “No one should have to fear going out because of their color. I believe that Black people don’t get treated the same as white people.”
Despite having viewed the video or their exposure to information in the case, most jurors interviewed said they felt they could be impartial if they were chosen to hear the case.
One juror told lawyers that her negative feelings about defendants come from what she saw in the media and she can “absolutely” give them a fair trial.
At the end of Tuesday, notes from the pool reporter indicated that 12 of the day’s panel of 20 were stuck and seven advanced into the final group from which the final jury would be chosen. Eight from Monday’s panel of 20 had also been dismissed.
Starting Wednesday, the judge is shifting to only scheduling one panel each day.