BRUNSWICK, Ga. – The questioning of potential jurors in the federal hate crimes trial of the three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery is moving quickly.
So far, 52 potential jurors qualified. Five of those qualified Wednesday. They were a mix of people who knew a little about the case and felt they could remain unbiased.
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.
In all, 24 potential jurors were questioned Wednesday.
The panel from Wednesday morning consisted of 12 potential jurors. Three of them alone were struck for cause because they either said they already believed the defendants were guilty or did not believe they could look past the defendants’ prior convictions in the state trial last year.
Another potential juror who was struck is a retired department of corrections officer who was assaulted by an inmate while working in the prison system. He also indicated in his questionnaire that “hates crimes are overblown” and “racism was a problem in America, but not anymore.”
Another man who was also struck for cause told the court he knew a lot about the case and had publicly commented online about it. In fact, he said he had posted, “Travis McMichael was 100% LEGALLY responsible.” Still, he said, he could separate his beliefs during the state case from this case, but the man was excused.
For the second day in a row, Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, made his way to the federal courthouse in Brunswick on Wednesday morning. He was later joined by other family members. He said they are keeping the faith.
“We’re going for 100% justice again,” he said. “We beat round one. We will beat them in round two.”
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.
Transformative Justice Coalition president and CEO Barbra Arnwine said, ultimately, the family wants to see a representative jury and feels the judge is on top of this case.
“One thing’s very clear about this judge: She believes in fairness. I think she’s been extremely even-handed throughout this process,” Arnwine said. ‘She’s really done a good job of encouraging the opposing parties to work together to speed up this process.”
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.
Court will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
The potential jurors who have qualified so far will get a call this weekend and they’ll be told when to come back for another round of questioning next week. From there, attorneys will strike out the jurors they don’t want and choose a final jury from there.
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.