Jury selection drags on in Arbery murder trial

BRUNSWICK — Jury selection slogged on for a third day in the trial of three men charged with murder in Ahmaud Arbery’s shooting, with attorneys adding another seven people to the pool of qualified candidates.

As expected, the court is having a tough time finding prospective jurors who feel they can be impartial in reaching a verdict. After viewing constant news coverage and the widely shared cellphone video of Arbery’s death, one after another said their minds are already made up.

Travis McMichael, who fired the fatal shotgun blasts; his father Greg McMichael; and a neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, who filmed Arbery’s killing, are charged with murder, false imprisonment and other crimes in the February 2020 killing. They are strongly contesting the charges.

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One man was quickly dismissed Wednesday morning after telling the court he believes all three defendants are guilty.

Juror No. 138 said Arbery was “minding his own business” while out for a jog when he got “interrupted” by the McMichaels and Bryan, who pursued Arbery through their Satilla Shores subdivision in pickup trucks.

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The defendants contend they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest because they suspected Arbery had been involved in a string of neighborhood break-ins.

The juror said he’d seen video of the shooting six times on the news and believed Bryan’s cellphone footage told the entire story of what happened.

On his questionnaire, he apparently wrote, “guilty, they killed him,” according to Frank Hogue, one of two attorneys representing Greg McMichael. The juror also told the court he wouldn’t consider a self-defense argument if one were presented at trial.

He was then pressed by Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, on whether he believed Bryan was also responsible for Arbery’s death.

“They did it as a team,” the man replied. The prospective juror was struck with cause after defense attorneys said he gave a thumbs-up to Arbery’s father, who was seated in the courtroom during individual questioning.

After lunch, another man told the court it bothered him that the McMichaels and Bryan weren’t charged immediately.

“It was a horrible event. I’ve seen the video, I’m very familiar with it,” juror No. 150 told prosecutors. “I can’t be an impartial juror, no way.”

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When Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley asked Wednesday’s panel of 19 prospective jurors if they had already formed or expressed opinions about the guilt or innocence of the men on trial, nearly a dozen raised their hands.

Arbery’s killing sparked mass protests against the backdrop of last year’s social justice movement, and many summoned for jury duty said they fear there could be repercussions after a verdict is reached.

One potential juror said he is afraid only one verdict would be acceptable in today’s climate.

“The jury is in a tough spot once they’re convened,” said juror No. 152, who didn’t believe he could be impartial and said he harbored negative opinions of the defendants.

“I think what they did was unwarranted and they’re guilty,” he said. “It would be difficult to change my mind.”

Some of the potential jurors had access to court records posted to the Glynn County Superior Court website along with instructions telling them where and when to report. Those filings included information that Walmsley has ruled inadmissible, including records showing Arbery’s previous brushes with the law and his mental health diagnosis.

Attorneys brought up the issue Tuesday afternoon and the links have since been removed from that section of the website. So far, three prospective jurors said they’d clicked on the links and read the court filings.

Throughout the day, one person after another said their minds were already made up.

One woman, who said she attended high school with Arbery’s father, discussed the widely shared cellphone video during questioning.

“I thought they railroaded him,” said juror No. 164. “It was almost like a lynching to me. They just wanted to hang him.”

Just one person, juror No. 175, said she believes Travis McMichael acted in self-defense when he fired the shotgun three times. Unfortunately for the defense, the woman said her lease is up and she plans to move out of state this weekend.

When court adjourned Wednesday, a total of 15 prospective jurors had been qualified to sit in the final pool following three days of questioning. Attorneys say they need 64 prospective jurors before the prosecution and defense exercise their strikes to arrive at 12 jurors and four alternates.

Jury selection resumes Thursday at 8:30 a.m.