Slow jury selection in trial over Ahmaud Arbery's killing

  • 19 Oct 2021

Notices were mailed to 1,000 potential jurors and the selection could take more than two weeks in the trial of three white men charged with chasing and killing Black man Ahmaud Arbery.

Ahmaud Arbery's father Marcus Arbery, centre, heads into the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, GA with his attorney Benjamin Crump on October 18, 2021. ( Lewis M. Levine / AP )

Attorneys have resumed questioning potential jurors in the trial of three white men charged with chasing and killing Black man Ahmaud Arbery, with several jury pool members saying they know the defendants or others close to a case that has sparked a national outcry.

Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and a neighbour, William "Roddie" Bryan, are charged with murder and other crimes in the 25-year-old Black man's death after a cellphone video of February 23, 2020, killing leaked online two months later.

By afternoon, Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley had not declared anyone qualified to remain in the final group from which the jury will be chosen. 

At least 14 pool members have been dismissed since jury selection began Monday afternoon.

Jury duty notices were mailed to 1,000 people in coastal Glynn County, with 600 ordered to report on Monday and the remainder on deck for next week if needed. The huge jury pool underscores how Arbery's slaying dominated the news, social media feeds and workplace chatter locally.

What potential jurors know about the case

At least five potential jurors told the judge and attorneys on Tuesday they know people involved in the case. 

One man said his father is a longtime prosecutor who had worked with Greg McMichael before the defendant retired as an investigator for the local district attorney before Arbery was killed.

"He's a friend of my father's and he's been over to our house multiple times," the jury pool member said.

One woman said her husband and father-in-law know Bryan. Another said she knows Arbery's father, Marcus Arbery Sr.

Two men said they know a prosecutor initially assigned to the case, Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill, including one who said they are members of the same Rotary Club.

Barnhill is no longer involved in the case: He recused himself, but first wrote a memo to police arguing the shooting was justified.

One of the panel members who knows Barnhill said just about everyone in Glynn County has some degree of familiarity with Arbery's death. 

He acknowledged reading court documents filed in the case on the court’s website before reporting to jury duty, but said he could set aside that information.

"I just don't know what kind of evidence is going to be presented," said the man, an executive for a local seafood company. 

"I just don’t know what’s going to happen."

The judge made no immediate decisions on whether to excuse those panelists from the jury pool.

Court officials have said jury selection could take more than two weeks, and the judge expressed frustration on Tuesday over the slow pace. 

His initial schedule had called for attorneys to question two groups of potential jurors, with 20 people apiece, each day. 

But he sent the second group home on Tuesday afternoon, with more than half of the morning panel still waiting to be questioned.

"I do not have the ability to just store people or keep them longer than planned," the judge said, adding later: "At the rate we’re going, all these plans we have to move these panels through are not going to work."

The court has not identified the race of any of the prospective jurors.

How Arbery was killed

Prosecutors say Arbery was merely jogging on the street 3.2 kilometres from his home when the McMichaels grabbed guns and chased him in a pickup truck. 

Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck and recorded the now-infamous cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery three times at close range with a shotgun.

Defence attorneys insist the three men committed no crimes.

Greg McMichael told police they believed Arbery was a burglar after security cameras previously recorded him entering a nearby home under construction. 

He said Travis McMichael fired in self-defence after Arbery punched him and tried to grab his weapon.

Prosecutors say there is no evidence that Arbery, who was unarmed, committed any crime.