Jury selection in the murder trial of three white men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery is being questioned, with the prosecution arguing that the picks could be racially biased, the Associated Press reported.
The trial’s jury was narrowed to 12 participants on November 3. However, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski noticed that the final panel only had one Black juror. Eight other potential Black jurors were previously interviewed, with Dunikoski arguing that the defense had them cut to create a biased panel. It is illegal for a jury pool to be selected or denied explicitly based on race or ethnicity.
“We have a very clear selection process within the defense team, and the issue of race is not one of the factors,” replied attorney Laura Hogue when questioned about the selection.
Hogue represents Greg McMichael, who is accused, along with his son Travis and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, of chasing and killing Arbery while he was jogging in their Georgia neighborhood.
The judge said the jury pool reflects the racial makeup of Glynn County, where the trial is being held. Black residents account for 27 percent of the 85,000 population.
The jury will be formally selected after a final round of questioning and evaluations. The judge hopes that the trial against the McMichaels and Bryan will begin this week.
To read more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
Race is a central issue in the trial over the 25-year-old Black man’s death. The McMichaels armed themselves and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck after they spotted him running in their neighborhood, prosecutors said. Bryan allegedly joined the chase in his own truck and took cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery three times with a shotgun.
She noted one such juror, identified in court as No. 218, had written on her juror questionnaire that Arbery was shot “due to his color” and told attorneys during questioning that she felt the defendants were guilty.
Dunikoski noted that many prospective jurors questioned in open court expressed strong opinions about the case, but all who remained in the pool from which the 12 jurors emerged said they could be impartial and base a verdict solely on the trial evidence.
“The defense has not made a case as to why this juror and her opinions are any different than anyone else, Black or white,” Dunikoski said of No. 218. “She said the same thing almost every other juror said. So many had opinions. And they said they could put them aside.”
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley was hearing arguments on the race-based challenges Wednesday afternoon and had not ruled on any of them.
Arbery’s death became part of the broader reckoning on racial injustice in the criminal legal system after a string of fatal encounters between Black people and police— George Floyd , Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, among others.
No one was charged in Arbery’s death until more than two months later, when the video of the shooting leaked online. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police and soon arrested all three men on charges of murder and other crimes.
Defense attorneys say the McMichaels and Bryan committed no crimes. They say Arbery had been recorded by security cameras inside a nearby house and they suspected him of stealing. Greg McMichael told police his son opened fire in self-defense after Arbery attacked with his fists and grappled for Travis McMichael’s shotgun.
Investigators have said Arbery was unarmed and there’s no evidence he had stolen anything.
The slaying dominated news coverage and social media feeds in Glynn County, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Savannah. That caused court officials to take extraordinary steps in hopes of seating an impartial jury.
They mailed 1,000 jury duty notices, and nearly 200 people were questioned by the judge and attorneys at the courthouse during jury selection.
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