A jury was selected Wednesday night in the murder trial of the three men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia last year – more than two weeks after attorneys began working through an initial pool of hundreds of would-be jurors, many of whom had a personal connection to the case.
Jurors will be sworn in 9 a.m. Friday, followed by opening arguments. Thursday will be spent on motion hearings and getting “acquainted with the court,” Judge Timothy Walmsley said. The final panel of 12 jurors and four alternates includes just one person of color, a Black man.
Prosecutors had asked Walmsley to reinstate eight Black potential jurors, arguing that defense lawyers struck them from the final jury because of their race. The U.S. Supreme Court has held it’s unconstitutional for attorneys during jury selection to strike potential jurors solely based on race or ethnicity.
A ‘lynching’ or self-defense: 3 Georgia men go on trial in the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery
While Walmsley agreed that there “appears to be intentional discrimination,” the judge declined to change the racial makeup, saying he was limited in his ability to take action because defense attorneys were able to give nonracial reasons for their decisions to strike the potential Black jurors from the panel.
“One of the challenges that I think counsel recognize in this case is the racial overtones in the case, and … we have not been able to escape those discussions,” Walmsley said.
The painstakingly slow selection process – further complicated by the high-profile nature of Arbery’s death and prospective jurors’ concerns about their privacy, among other factors – began with jury duty notices sent to 1,000 people, an exceptionally large number that hinted at the expected challenge of finding an impartial panel in a case that sparked national outrage.
Walmsley, who had shown signs of impatience throughout jury selection, told the defense and prosecutors Wednesday morning: “We are going to try to pick a jury this morning.”
A total of 600 people were called for jury duty on Oct. 18. That group was winnowed to 65 eligible jurors this week before 16 were selected to hear the case – 12 women and four men.
“This is the most complicated jury selection that I’ve ever been a part of,” said Kevin Gough, who represents William “Roddie” Bryan, the man who filmed Arbery’s killing on Feb. 23, 2020. Video of the shooting was leaked two months later, casting the 25-year-old Black man’s death into the national spotlight.
Attorneys are expected to deliver opening statements Friday, almost two years after Arbery was chased and fatally shot while jogging in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick. The three men charged in his murder – Greg McMichael, 65, his son Travis, 35, and their neighbor Bryan, 52 – are white.
Brunswick, a small coastal town about 70 miles south of Savannah, is predominantly Black and sits in overwhelmingly white Glynn County.
Throughout the jury selection process, multiple prospective jurors indicated they believed race was a factor in Arbery’s killing. Others said they knew the facts of the case, have read documents posted online by the court and seen video of the incident.
Dozens of would-be jurors said they have “negative feelings” toward the three defendants, and many said they’re already decided the men are guilty.
The trial is expected to stretch into the week of Nov. 19.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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