BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Race is emerging as a major theme of jury selection in the murder trial of the three white men charged in the death of 25-year-old Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery last year.
Attorneys are slowly working through a pool of 1,000 prospective jurors in an attempt to find 16 people who say they can be impartial in the high-profile case. It’s a slow and painstaking process expected to take up to two weeks.
Though attorneys for the defendants have asserted the case is not about race, they continue to question would-be jurors on the subject.
Questions included: Do you believe the Confederate flag is a racist symbol?Do you support the Black Lives Matter movement? Do you believe Black people are unfairly treated in the criminal justice system? Have you participated in racial justice demonstrations?
“We don’t believe this is a case about race,” defense attorney Kevin Gough told the court Monday.
But multiple prospective jurors have indicated they believe race was a factor in Arbery’s killing. One told the court she believes the killing was a hate crime.
“There is still racism in the world today,” a would-be juror, a teacher, said Monday.
Another prospective juror told the court Arbery’s killing “probably wouldn’t have happened” if Arbery were white.
“I think if it was a white guy running through the neighborhood, I don’t think he would have been targeted as a suspect,” she said.
Jury selection comes almost 20 months after Arbery was shot while jogging Feb. 23, 2020, in Brunswick’s Satilla Shores neighborhood. Video of the incident was released two months later, sparking national outcry and propelling nationwide protests against the killing of Black Americans.
Father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, who recorded the video, were charged with murder and other crimes.
A vanity plate showing Georgia’s former state flag, which included the Confederate battle emblem, was on the front of the truck the McMichaels used to chase down Arbery.
Asked by attorneys, at least four jurors have indicated they consider the Confederate flag to be a “racist symbol.”
One prospective juror, who appeared to be Black, told the court he participated in racial justice demonstrations. He said the defendants should be convicted on all counts and was dismissed from the jury.
Brandon Buskey of the American Civil Liberties Union previously told USA TODAY that there is concern the defense will try to exclude potential jurors based on race.
The court must ensure the jury reflects the county’s diversity and includes Black voices, Buskey added. Brunswick, which is predominantly Black, is located in Glynn County, which is overwhelmingly white. The court has not identified the race of any of the prospective jurors.
Attorneys have also questioned would-be jurors on whether they’ve seen the viral video and whether they have guns in their home. Many people said they had already formed strong opinions about the case or were familiar with some of the parties involved.
Brunswick, a small coastal town about 70 miles south of Savannah, has just over 16,000 residents, and Glynn County has nearly 80,000. Court officials mailed jury duty notices to 1,000 people – meaning 1 in every 80 Glynn County residents received a notice. One juror yesterday told the court his brother had also received a summons.
Four of the jurors Tuesday indicated that they could not be impartial. At least five indicated they knew some of the people involved in the case, including Gregory McMichael, Bryan, Arbery’s father, the current Brunswick district attorney and an attorney formerly assigned to the case.
“Everything that’s in the media to know, I’ve heard,” one prospective juror, a nurse, told the court Tuesday. She said her husband and father-in-law have known one of the defendants “for years.”
Ahmaud Arbery:Jury selection expected to be lengthy in Georgia trial over Arbery’s death
One juror said he watched the video of the incident “a couple times.”
“It’s hard to erase some of the video, but as a scientist, I can follow the facts,” he told the court.
Pressed by the defense, the juror said he was unsure which way he was “leaning.”
Asked again, the juror said: “Someone was murdered. That’s all I know.”
By Tuesday afternoon, no jurors had been seated. Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley expressed frustration at the glacial pace and urged the parties to speed up the process.
“We’re not looking great,” he said.