‘Breakdown’ Ep.15: 11 white jurors, one Black juror

A jury is seated in the Arbery trial but questions linger over its racial makeup.

Credit: Octavio Jones

Credit: Octavio Jones

Jury selection in the trial of three men accused with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery concluded amid controversy inside and outside the courtroom.

Following that, the state and lawyers for Travis McMichael and his father Greg McMichael gave powerful opening statements.

These developments are among those featured in the fifteenth episode of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s ‘Breakdown’ podcast. The AJC’s podcast, which drops every Monday, will follow the trial to its conclusion.

When the state and defense finished exercising their strikes, 11 white people and one Black person were on the jury. The state’s lead prosecutor challenged that outcome and commentators and those who are closely following the trial condemned such a racially lopsided jury.

Three white men - Travis McMichael, who fired the fatal shotgun blasts; his father Greg McMichael; and William “Roddie” Bryan, who took the infamous cellphone video of the shooting - are charged with murder, false kidnapping, aggravated assault and other charges. Arbery, a 25-year-old, unarmed Black man, was killed Feb. 23, 2020, in a neighborhood just outside of Brunswick.

It took more than two arduous weeks of intense questioning of roughly 200 prospective jurors to get a qualified pool. Once the 12 trial jurors and four alternates were seated, lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski revealed the defense had struck 11 of the 12 Blacks in the qualified pool.

She asked trial judge Timothy Walmsley to reseat eight of the 11 Blacks struck by the defense, contending those eight jurors were dismissed because of their race. And Walmsley found that, on its face, the defense had engaged in discriminatory tactics. This forced defense lawyers to defend each of their eight strikes by giving race-neutral reasons.

Once the dust had settled, the jury heard opening statements from the state and the defense.

Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said the McMichaels and Bryan committed four felonies against Arbery.

“They committed these four felonies in violation of his personal liberty before he finally tried to run around their truck as you saw in the evidence and get away from these strangers — complete strangers — who had already told him that they would kill him,” Dunikoski said. “And then they killed him.”

Bob Rubin, one of Travis McMichael’s lawyers, said the case is “about duty and responsibility.”

Rubin also said his client never set out to kill Arbery. But when Arbery charged at Travis McMichael, “it’s his life or Ahmaud Arbery’s life,” Rubin said. “It’s tragic. It’s tragic Ahmad Arbery lost his life. At that point, Travis McMichael is acting in self-defense.”