Gregory McMichael, his son Travis, and their neighbour William Bryan, have been charged with murder and other offences after chasing 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery and shooting him during a confrontation in February 2020.

Thea Brooks stands in front of a mural of her slain nephew, Ahmaud Arbery, in Brunswick GA, on October 5, 2021.
Thea Brooks stands in front of a mural of her slain nephew, Ahmaud Arbery, in Brunswick GA, on October 5, 2021. (Russ Bynum / AP)

Jury selection has begun in the trial of three white men charged over the shooting death of a Black jogger in the southern US state of Georgia, a high-profile case that added fuel to last year's protests against racial injustice.

Gregory McMichael, 65, his son Travis, 35, and their neighbour William Bryan, 52, have been charged with murder and other offences after chasing 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery and shooting him during a confrontation in February 2020.

Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said on Monday the jury would consist of 12 jurors and four alternates. Hundreds of potential jurors have received summons to appear and the selection process could take weeks.

"This is a case that has garnered significant attention in this community as well as around the country," Walmsley said. "This is not an easy thing for anybody."

Potential jurors were asked to fill out a questionnaire asking what they know about the case and what they believe "the facts" to be.

They were also asked if they had watched the graphic video of the shooting of the unarmed Arbery that went viral on social media.

READ MORE: What makes Ahmaud Arbery’s murder trial so crucial in the US?

BLM protests

Gregory and Travis McMichael followed Arbery in a pickup truck, while Bryan trailed them in his own vehicle and filmed the scene on his cellphone.

After an altercation, Travis McMichael opened fire and killed Arbery with a 12 gauge shotgun.

The three men contend that they mistook the jogger for a burglar active in their coastal neighbourhood of Satilla Shores and invoked a Georgia law allowing ordinary citizens to make arrests.

Local prosecutors, for whom Gregory McMichael, a retired police officer, had worked for a long time, did not make any arrests in the case for nearly three months.

It was only after the video of the shooting was leaked online and shared widely on social media that the case was transferred to state police and the three suspects were arrested and charged.

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The death of George Floyd two weeks later under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis reignited a national debate on racial justice and police violence against Black Americans, and Arbery became one of the symbols of countrywide "Black Lives Matter" protests.

"A Black man should be able to jog without fearing for his life," President Joe Biden tweeted on the anniversary of Arbery 's death.

Charges against defendants

Prosecutors will insist that Arbery was unarmed and had no connection to the series of burglaries that took place in the neighborhood where he was jogging.

The defendants are expected to plead self-defence, arguing that Arbery was resisting lawful arrest.

Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney who has represented a number of African American families in high-profile police violence cases, said he hopes the court "will see through this tactic and deliver Ahmaud and his family justice."

"If these killers get off without consequence, that sends the message that lynching Black men in 2021 carries no penalty," Crump said.

Since Arbery's death, Georgia has passed a law that imposes additional penalties for crimes motivated by hatred toward a victim's race, gender, sexual orientation, and other characteristics.

Arbery's mother has filed a separate civil lawsuit demanding $1 million in compensation from the McMichaels and Bryan, but also from local authorities accused of trying to cover up the case.

A local prosecutor, Jackie Johnson, was indicted last month for violating her oath of office and allegedly hindering the investigation into Arbery's death.

The three defendants also face separate federal hate crime charges and a trial is set for February.

Source: AFP