After more than two weeks of proceedings, a jury was seated on Wednesday in the trial of three white men accused of hunting down and murdering Ahmaud Arbery after they saw him jogging on property under construction in South Georgia. Only one juror out of 12 is Black, The New York Times reported of the case centering former Georgia cop and prosecutorial investigator Gregory McMichael, his son Travis, and local resident William “Roddie” Bryan.
“This court has found that there appears to be intentional discrimination on the panel,” Glynn County Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said, “but that doesn’t mean the court has the authority to reseat simply because we have this prima facie case.” And even though Walmsley admitted that “quite a few African American jurors were excused through peremptory strikes executed by the defense,” he ultimately decided to allow the imbalance, parting ways with a special prosecutor who challenged the removal of eight Black people from the potential jury pool.
JURY SET – Chatham County Superior Court Judge Timothy Warsley is overseeing the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial. 11 jurors are white, and one is black. Judge Warmsley had this to say about the defense’s removal of black jurors, calling it “intentional discrimination.” #AhmaudArbery pic.twitter.com/dzC7aPqs5w
— Cyreia Sandlin (@CyreiaSandlin) November 4, 2021
Linda Dunikoski, of the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office, cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that makes it illegal to remove potential jurors exclusively based on race, the Times reported. “African American jurors made up one-quarter of the jury panel, but the actual jury that was selected has only one African American male on it,” Dunikoski said during court.
Wrap up of final day of jury selection in the trial in the death of #AhmaudArbery: -Panel of 11 white jurors, 1 Black juror chosen -Judge says “there appears to be intentional discrimination” in juror strikes (cont) pic.twitter.com/98ePXsWlSU
— Kailey Tracy (@KaileyTracy) November 4, 2021
In a case already mired in injustice, Walmsley said the defense had applied a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory, clear, reasonably specific, and related reason” to strike each Black juror. The judge said the court doesn’t have the authority to “reseat, simply, again, because there’s this prima facie case.”
Defense attorneys have said that they struck 13 white potential jurors from the case for the same reasons they other potential Black jurors: a strong bias about the case. “We are stuck between a rock and a hard place, given the fact that the majority of the African American jurors that came in here were struck for cause immediately because of their strong opinions,” Laura Hogue, Gregory McMichael’s attorney, said.
Jason Sheffield, Travis McMichael’s attorney, added: “Never before have we had a case where so many people have entered into the courtroom for jury selection already having an opinion about the guilt of the men charged.”
Not without reason.
It took a full 74 days after Arbery’s death on Feb. 23, 2020, for an arrest to be made. Former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson has been charged with obstruction and violating her oath of office in her handling of Arbery’s case following his death. The McMichaels weren’t arrested until May 7, 2020, and Bryan, who recorded the moments leading up to Arbery’s death, was arrested on May 21, 2020.
Gregory and Travis McMichael accused Arbery of trying to burglarize a house—where he stopped and peeked through the window—during a jog in coastal Georgia’s Satilla Shores community. On a 911 call, Travis can be heard describing Arbery as “a Black male, red shirt, white shorts.” Travis told a dispatcher he was sitting across the street in his red Ford F-150 “watching the house” and he didn’t know if Arbery was armed “but he was acting like he was.” The home, owned by Larry English, was under construction and occasionally attracted curious pedestrians, according to surveillance video released to the media. Only Arbery was shot and killed for doing so, and he was unarmed at the time of his death, Arbery’s family attorney Lee Merritt has maintained.
Merritt told The New York Times jury selection in the case has been “the strangest jury selection process” he’s ever seen. “We understand there are some unique circumstances,” the attorney said. “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.” Merritt, however, added that some of the defense’s questioning was “badgering.”
CK Hoffler, chief executive officer of the Atlanta-based CK Hoffler Firm, told journalist Mehdi Hasan those observing the trial have commented about biased questioning during jury selection. Their observations reported that Black potential jurors were asked “more probing” questions than other prospective jurors, and that some may have been stricken for cause in error. “So those could be appealable issues, but the bottom line is there’s one African American on the jury,” Hoffler, who isn’t involved in the case, said. “And out of the thousand people that were initially called to potentially serve for this jury, (…) it is quite a travesty, I think, that only one African American was selected, given the demographics of that community.”
Only one juror selected for the Ahmaud Arbery trial is Black. “It is quite a travesty I think… given the demographics of that community,” says @CkHoffler who describes the process that eliminated people of color. pic.twitter.com/5wLG3IxQDI
— The Mehdi Hasan Show (@MehdiHasanShow) November 4, 2021
Brunswick, the city in which Satilla Shores is located, has a population that is about 55% Black and 40% white.
Scott Hechinger, a Brooklyn public defender, tweeted that Black jurors in the case could be released if they answered truthfully that they believed the Confederate flag was a racist symbol. “Unbelievable the question was even allowed to be asked,” the attorney, who isn’t involved in the case, said in the tweet. “Unbelievable that this was considered a ‘race-neutral’ reason to strike.”
Through their attorneys, the McMichaels have sought to ban from the trial a photo of a vanity plate with a Confederate emblem that was on Travis McMichael’s truck when Arbery was killed. The McMichaels claimed in their motion filed Sept. 30 that the state’s goal is to “draw the conclusion the Mr. Arbery saw the vanity plate, that he interpreted its meaning, and that he feared the occupants in the truck because of this vanity plate, which is why he ran away from the truck.” The McMichaels also claimed through their attorneys that the state intends to “create the inference that Travis McMichael placed the vanity plate on his truck in order to telegraph some reprehensible motive, bias, or prejudice, which is not true.”
Prosecutors responded in a motion that “the State will present the facts of this case, and one of those facts is that Travis McMichael purchased a new truck sometime after January 1, 2020, and put this vanity plate on it.”
They additionally wrote:
“The vanity plate was on the truck at the time of the homicide. The jury may interpret that evidence in any way they deem appropriate and the State may make reasonable inferences, in closing argument, drawn from the evidence.”
Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones said in an interview with ABC News the jury’s makeup is “very, very discouraging. (…) I have my concerns about getting a guilty verdict,” she said.
Opening statements in the case are set to begin Friday.
This content was originally published here.