In Jury Selection for the Trial Over Ahmaud Arbery’s Killing, Only 1 Black Juror Is Chosen
After a grueling selection process, opening statements in the case against three white men accused of chasing down and killing Mr. Arbery are expected to begin on Friday.,
BRUNSWICK, Ga. — After a grueling process that lasted two and a half weeks, a jury was selected on Wednesday in the trial of the three white men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old Black man who was chased through a suburban Georgia neighborhood before being fatally shot by one of his pursuers in February 2020.
The jury, which is made up of residents from Glynn County, where more than a quarter of the population is Black, includes 11 white people and one Black person. Anxiety over what the jury’s racial makeup would be had been palpable among observers and participants in recent days.
Linda Dunikoski, a special prosecutor from the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office, tried on Wednesday to challenge the defense attorneys’ removal of eight Black potential jurors, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that makes it unconstitutional to strike people from a jury solely because of their race.
After reviewing the eliminations one by one, Judge Timothy R. Walmsley of Glynn County Superior Court acknowledged that “quite a few African American jurors were excused through peremptory strikes executed by the defense.”
“But that doesn’t mean,” he continued, “that the court has the authority to reseat, simply, again, because there’s this prima facie case.”
The judge ruled that for each of the eight stricken jurors, the defense had provided a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory, clear, reasonably specific and related reason” as to why the potential juror should not be seated.
Judge Walmsley said the court would consider a number of motions on Thursday, with the trial expected to begin on Friday morning. Opening statements by the two sides will offer the clearest look in months at how the murder case against the three defendants — Gregory McMichael, 65; his son Travis McMichael, 35; and their neighbor William Bryan, 52 — will unfold. Each faces up to life in prison for his role in Mr. Arbery’s slaying.
The men’s lawyers are expected to argue that their clients, who told the authorities that they suspected Mr. Arbery of a series of break-ins in their neighborhood, were carrying out a legal citizen’s arrest under a state statute that has since been largely repealed.
But prosecutors are likely to assert that the men had no right to make an arrest, and that they should be held responsible for the killing, which some observers have likened to a modern-day lynching.
Lawyers have said the trial could last a month. The extraordinarily long jury selection process, which includes the seating of four alternate jurors, has already underscored the explosive nature of this case, particularly in coastal Glynn County, where many of its 85,000 residents are connected by bonds of family, school or work, and where racial tension and harmony are deeply laced.
Inside the Glynn County Courthouse — a red brick building with imposing ionic columns fronting a park full of moss-covered oaks — lawyers spent days subjecting scores of potential jurors to intense rounds of questions about how much they knew about the case, whether they had formed opinions about the defendants’ guilt and their preferred news sources and social media networks.
Ms. Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor, said in court that she was hoping for jurors who were a “blank slate.” But the killing was one of the most notorious in South Georgia in decades, and many prospective jurors — the court system sent out 1,000 jury notices — said they had already formed opinions about it.
“This has been the strangest jury selection process I have ever seen,” said Lee Merritt, a lawyer for the Arbery family. “We understand there are some unique circumstances. There’s very few people who wouldn’t have heard about this case. Most have developed an opinion about the case. So I understand that the attorneys in general will have some questions that we’re not used to.”
Understand the Killing of Ahmaud Arbery
The shooting. On Feb. 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot and killed after being chased by three white men while jogging near his home on the outskirts of Brunswick, Ga. The slaying of Mr. Arbery was captured in a graphic video that was widely viewed by the public.
But Mr. Merritt also described some of the defense lawyers’ questioning of potential jurors as “badgering.”
The lengthy process stood in stark contrast to the case of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 18-year-old who is now on trial in Wisconsin for the deaths of two men and the wounding of another in the aftermath of protests in August 2020 over a police shooting. It took one day to seat a jury for that trial.
Annie Deets, a public defender and adjunct law professor at Emory University and Georgia State University, was not surprised that it had been difficult to find impartial jurors in the Georgia case. She noted that many of the potential jurors said they had watched the graphic video of Mr. Arbery’s fatal encounter, which was taken by Mr. Bryan. The video, which was leaked and released to the public a few months later, led to widespread attention and outrage and came just weeks before George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer, prompting nationwide protests.
“When you have a case that’s high profile and been in the media so much, people make ideas based off snippets and pieces of information,” Ms. Deets said. “But there’s a wealth of information known to the prosecution that the public doesn’t know about.”
In a relatively small community, she added, “That really close-knit web of relationships complicates the process even further.”