Defense drops bid to exclude press from jury selection in Arbery trial

Ahmaud Arbery's mother says she is one step closer to justice following week of pretrial testimony
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Ahmaud Arbery's mother says she is one step closer to justice following week of pretrial testimony

Defense attorneys on Thursday withdrew a request to bar the news media from an important part of jury selection in the trial involving the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

Media companies, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, CNN, The Associated Press, and Channel 2 Action News, had opposed the motion to keep the press out of the courtroom during individual questioning of potential jurors for the Oct. 18 murder trial.

“We very much object to the closure,” Atlanta lawyer Tom Clyde, who represents the media outlets, told Judge Timothy Walmsley at the outset of a daylong hearing. “We think that’s in conflict with well-established constitutional law.”

Because there is enormous public interest in the case, “we believe openness in the jury selection process to the maximum degree possible is a very important step for the court to take,” Clyde said.

The motion was filed by lawyers representing Travis McMichael and his father, Greg McMichael. The McMichaels and Roddie Bryan are charged with murder and other offenses in the killing of the unarmed, 25-year-old Arbery.

Laura Hogue, one of Greg McMichael’s lawyers, told Walmsley the defense did not want to bar the news media from the entire jury selection process. The request would only have shielded coverage when each potential juror is questioned by lawyers outside the presence of the other jurors, she said.

“We are asking questions that are sensitive, that a potential juror may be afraid to reveal in open court,” Hogue said. “And more importantly issues that go to the heart of this case that require complete candor.”

But after conferring with Clyde during a break in the hearing, and after meeting in private with the judge and prosecution during another break, Hogue said the defense was withdrawing the request. She asked Walmsley to allow the parties to try to work out a good solution.

Closing the courtroom to the media is a “significant hurdle,” Walmsley said, adding, “It sounds like we’re on the right track.”

After the hearing adjourned, Clyde said he was happy to work with the defense on issues that might arise during individual questioning of jurors. “We’re pleased they withdrew the effort to close jury selection on a systematic basis,” he said.

Jury selection is expected to take about two weeks, with the rest of the trial taking another two weeks, court motions indicate.

On Feb. 23, 2020, Greg McMichael saw Arbery running down the street in the Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick. Security camera video from a house under construction and owned by Larry English showed Arbery enter and exit the home before he was seen running.

Foundation in Ahmaud Arbery's name launches on what would have been his 27th birthday
Caption
Foundation in Ahmaud Arbery's name launches on what would have been his 27th birthday

McMichael, in his front yard, called to his son and they got their guns, jumped into a truck and sped after Arbery. Bryan, a neighbor down the street, soon joined in the chase in his pickup.

When the men, who are white, had Arbery hemmed in, Arbery lunged at Travis McMichael, who had gotten out of his truck with his shotgun. McMichael killed Arbery, who was Black, with three blasts.

The McMichaels and Bryan contend they were making a citizen’s arrest on grounds they reasonably suspected Arbery was fleeing a scene where they believed he had committed a felony. They also argue Travis McMichael was acting in self-defense.

Prosecutors note Arbery had nothing on him when he was killed. And they contend the McMichaels and Bryan were the initial aggressors and had no grounds to try to detain Arbery.

On Thursday, Walmsley considered pretrial motions that had been filed by both the prosecution and the defense. Arguments grew heated when Walmsley addressed a motion by prosecutors to restrict the defense’s use of terms such as “burglary” and “carjacking.”

Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney, said when the McMichaels and Bryan were chasing Arbery in their trucks, Arbery tried to enter Bryan’s pickup.

This could have been attempted motor vehicle theft, carjacking or an assault, Gough said. “Mr. Arbery was intending to commit a felony.”

This gave Bryan and the McMichaels another reason to conduct a citizen’s arrest, independent of seeing Arbery run away from the English home, Gough said.

Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski strongly disagreed.

“The defendant Mr. Bryan hit Mr. Arbery with his truck,” she said. “He assaulted him with a 5,000-pound lethal weapon — a pickup truck.”

Dunikoski cited Bryan’s own statements in interviews with the GBI in which he said he ran Arbery off the road into a ditch.

“It’s offensive this has been turned into the victim was trying to commit a carjacking,” she said.

Then while motioning to Bryan, she added this about Arbery: “He was trying to save his life from that man who was trying to hit him with a truck.”

STORY SO FAR

Feb. 23, 2020: Ahmaud Arbery, 25, is fatally shot in the Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick.

May 7, 2020: The GBI launches a state investigation into the fatal shooting after cellphone video footage surfaces of the incident.

May 8, 2020: The GBI charges father and son Greg and Travis McMichael with murder in Arbery’s death. Roddie Bryan, who took the initial video, is charged a week later.

Nov. 13, 2020: Greg and Travis McMichael are denied bond not long after Bryan is denied bond.

April 28: A federal grand jury hands up a hate crimes indictment against the McMichaels and Bryan.

May 8: Oct. 18 trial date set.

May 11: The three men plead not guilty to federal hate crime charges in the slaying of Arbery.