BRUNSWICK, Ga, – As jury selection got slowly underway Monday in the trial of three men charged with fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery, potential jurors were asked questions, and many of those questions were about race.
The killing of Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, sparked a national outcry fueled by graphic video of the shooting leaked online more than two months after he was killed. Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan -- all of whom are white -- are charged with murder and other crimes in Arbery’s death on Feb. 23, 2020, just outside the port city of Brunswick.
Gene Nichols, a Jacksonville attorney who is not affiliated with the case, explained that lawyers have to address the race factor head-on.
“The lawyers on both sides want to know whether or not people are going to make decisions based upon race or based upon the evidence,” Nichols said. “There has to be a conversation about race because there’s too much of a chance, that it will influence a juror’s position.”
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Next to their attorneys, the three men on trial faced the potential jurors, one of whom even challenged the line of questioning.
“Please raise your hand if you agree with this statement: Police in this country do not treat Black and white people equally,” a lawyer asked.
“That’s a huge generalization,” a potential juror replied.
“It sure is,” the lawyer responded. “It’s meant to gather up anybody who feels they have some thoughts about that.”
Defense attorneys for Gregory and Travis McMichael expressed concerns to the judge, saying they’re worried this highly-publicized case has been characterized as a murder based on Arbery’s race.
Arbery’s family says that the 25-year-old’s race was a factor.
As noted in the questionnaire obtained by News4Jax, it asks potential jurors to list all of their social media accounts, including their email, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It also asks what is their source of information on social media.
Nichols said those too are likely questions to determine a potential juror’s beliefs on race.
“There will be people who will not be sleeping tonight because all they will be doing is be on the social media websites of each one of the individual jurors to see what potentially is out there either for or against them being on this jury,” Nichols said.
Nichols said the opposite is also true, and that not only will lawyers try to weed out people from the jury pool who they feel will make this case about race. He said the attorneys are also working to make sure the other side, doesn’t purposely choose jurors, based on their feelings about race.
Jury selection could last two weeks or more. Once a jury is seated, the trial itself could also take more than two weeks.