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Jury Selection Begins In Trial Of 3 Georgia Men Accused Of Killing Ahmaud Arbery
Jury selection has begun to determine the fate of father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, for allegedly killing Black man Ahmaud Arbery.
In what may be a long, laborious effort, jury selection began this week in Georgia in the trial of the three white men charged with fatally shooting 25-year-old Black man Ahmaud Arbery as he was going for a jog around their neighborhood last year.
The slaying of Arbery sparked outcry across the nation, which began when a graphic video of the shooting leaked online more than two months after his killing. Greg and Travis McMichael, who are father and son, and their neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, are charged with murder and other crimes in Arbery's Feb. 23, 2020 death, which occurred just outside the port city of Brunswick.
Arbery's father said he's praying for an impartial panel and a fair trial, saying Black crime victims too often have been denied justice.
"This is 2021, and it's time for a change," Marcus Arbery, Sr. said in an interview. "We need to be treated equally and get fair justice as human beings because we've been treated wrong so long."
Jury selection could last two weeks or more. The first panel of 20 jurors was sworn in and questioned Monday afternoon; Judge Timothy Walmsley instructed potential jurors to wear masks, and they were seated six feet apart in pews of a courthouse jury room. When the judge asked panelists if their minds were perfectly neutral regarding both sides of the case, only one raised a hand. Asked if they were already leaning toward either side, about half raised their hands to indicate yes.
Only a single panel member acknowledged knowing members of Arbery's family or the three defendants and their families. A woman said she knew Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones.
"I know her from being around," she said, "but not personally."
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski questioned the jurors after the judge. Her final request to the first panel was, "Please raise your card if you would like to serve on this jury." At first, nobody did, but soon one solitary young man raised his hand.
Jason Sheffield, one of Travis McMichaels' attorneys, asked the first group of 20 individuals whether they had any negative feelings about the three defendants. At least 12 raised their hands. The court has not identified the race of any of the prospective jurors.
Court officials in Glynn County mailed jury-duty notices to 1,000 residents and were expecting a slow process in finding jurors in a community where the 2020 slaying dominated news coverage and swamped social media feeds.
The case will be followed closely outside Georgia, as well, as Arbery's killing stoked outrage last summer during a period of nationwide protests over racial injustice. McMichaels and Bryan were charged and jailed only after the video of the shooting leaked online and state investigators took over the case from local authorities.
Prosecutors say Arbery was merely jogging when the McMichaels armed themselves with guns and chased him in a pickup truck. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck and recorded the now-infamous cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery three times at close range with a shotgun.
Defense attorneys insist the three men committed no crimes in the incident. Greg McMichael told police they pursued Arbery suspecting he was a burglar after security cameras previously recorded him entering a nearby home under construction. He said Travis McMichael fired his gun in self-defense after Arbery attacked him, claiming he punched him and tried to grab the weapon.
Investigators have testified that they found no evidence of crimes by Arbery, who was unarmed, in the Satilla Shores subdivision.
As a precaution against the coronavirus, 600 jury pool members were ordered to report Monday to a gymnasium to provide room for social distancing. They will be summoned to the courthouse in groups of 20, according to Glynn County Superior Court Clerk Ronald Adams. Along with a jury summons, pool members were mailed a three-page questionnaire asking what they already knew about the case and what news outlets or social media platforms were their main sources of information.
The form also asks whether prospective jurors posted any online comments about Arbery's killing and if they visited the scene of the shooting; it also asked if they did research into the case on their own.
Attorneys on both sides will spend the coming days questioning members of the jury pool, in groups and individually, to determine whether they have formed opinions about the case that render them incapable of serving as jurors.
Ultimately, a jury of 12 must be seated, with four alternates who will be on standby to fill in for any jurors who get sick or are dismissed before the trial ends.
Once a jury is seated, the trial itself could take more than two weeks, Adams said.