Ahmaud Arbery case: 57 potential jurors qualified through 4 days

Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael and William "Roddie Bryan" were convicted of Ahmaud Arbery's murder at last year's state trial.

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Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael and William "Roddie Bryan" were convicted of Ahmaud Arbery's murder at last year's state trial.

Jury selection set to conclude Monday in hate crimes trial

BRUNSWICK — Seven more prospective jurors were qualified Thursday in the federal hate crimes trial over Ahmaud Arbery’s killing.

So far, 57 people have been deemed qualified to serve in the high-profile case. Prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to exercise their allotted strikes on Monday, whittling the pool down to 12 jurors and four alternates before opening statements.

The trial could begin in earnest Monday afternoon or Tuesday and is expected to last seven to 12 days, U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood said.

Those questioned Thursday were asked about their exposure to the case, their views on race and the opinions they have formed since the 25-year-old Arbery was chased by three white men and fatally shot two years ago in a neighborhood just outside Brunswick.

Given the publicity surrounding last year’s state trial, many of the prospective jurors are already familiar with the facts of the case — and some say they believe the defendants are guilty.

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“Everyone has heard at least something about the case,” Wood said Thursday morning as she questioned a dozen potential jurors brought into her courtroom.

Travis McMichael, who killed Arbery; his father Greg; and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan were convicted of murder in a state case last fall and sentenced in January to life in prison. The McMichaels were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole; Bryan, who recorded the cellphone footage of Arbery collapsing in the road, was given the possibility of parole.

Attorneys for both sides agreed to expand the pool of potential jurors ahead of the trial. Summonses were were sent to about 1,000 people across 43 counties comprising the Southern District of Georgia’s jurisdiction. Some have traveled to Glynn County from as far away as Augusta or beyond for jury duty.

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Two potential jurors qualified earlier this week were dismissed from the pool Thursday morning after asking the judge to excuse them. They included one man who said he had to drive 109 miles to the federal courthouse and couldn’t afford to miss any more work, and a registered nurse who explained her hospital is already short-staffed.

Attorneys for both sides read through the mailed questionnaires and agreed to strike certain people before jury selection began this week, streamlining the process. Those told to come to court have faced extensive questioning about their opinions of the case.

“I think we’ve seen that 90% of the jurors have some impression of the case based on what they’ve seen in the media,” said prosecutor Christopher Perras, who works for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.

Those who express strong opinions have been quickly excused, while attorneys tend to keep potential jurors who seem to know little about the case and say they can consider any evidence with an open mind.

Six of the 12 potential jurors from Thursday morning’s panel were dismissed after saying they believed the defendants are guilty. Four others questioned after lunch were also excused for expressing similar opinions.

“I looked at the video. It was hard to stomach,” said Juror No. 309, a Black woman. She wrote in her questionnaire that the three men chased down Arbery with a shotgun and killed him “even though he did nothing to them.”

“It was senseless and uncalled for,” she said. “You have to hate someone to do that.”

Another potential juror dismissed Thursday indicated he knew all about the case. The paralegal wrote in his questionnaire that Arbery, a Black man, “looked suspicious and was followed and killed.” He was pressed by Perras about what he meant by suspicious.

“He should not have been in those houses,” said Juror 299, who believed Arbery was “trespassing” in the defendants’ neighborhood ahead of the deadly chase. The man also answered in his questionnaire that “racism has never been a serious problem in America,” prosecutors noted.

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Arbery was seen on surveillance video entering a home under construction in the Satilla Shores neighborhood several times leading up to his death, but there’s no evidence he ever stole anything. The McMichaels later contended they were trying to detain him for police under Georgia’s old citizen’s arrest law.

Apparently jurors were asked their opinions of citizen’s arrest laws when they received their summonses in the mail.

“Is that real?” Juror 293 wrote in response to the question.

The man, who is Black, said he had only heard the term used in old television shows and Westerns. He then referenced the classic scene from the 1963 episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” in which Deputy Barney Fife tickets Gomer Pyle for making a U-turn, and then Pyle places Fife under citizen’s arrest for doing the same thing.

No. 293 was among those dismissed Thursday after saying he thought the defendants were guilty.

Jury selection continues at 9 a.m. Friday.