Jury selection begins in Arbery death hate crimes trial
Brunswick, Ga. – Jury selection started Monday in the federal hate crimes trial of three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man whose death became part of a larger national reckoning over racial injustice.
Given extensive pretrial publicity, U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood ordered roughly 1,000 jury duty notices to be mailed to residents across 43 Georgia counties – some roughly a four-hour drive from the courthouse in coastal Brunswick.
The first 50 jury pool members reported for questioning to determine if they’re able to serve as fair and impartial jurors. The judge plans to seat a jury of 12 plus four alternate jurors.
Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves and used a pickup truck to chase the 25-year-old Arbery after spotting him running in their neighborhood on Feb. 23, 2020. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the pursuit in his own truck and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael blasting Arbery with a shotgun.
All three were convicted of murder in a Georgia state court the day before Thanksgiving and sentenced to life in prison a month ago. Federal prosecutors separately them with hate crimes, alleging that the white men targeted Arbery and violated his civil rights because he was Black.
Jury selection began with U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood questioning the first panel of 25 potential jurors being as a group, and the high profile of Arbery’s killing was quickly apparent.
Wood asked the group: “Has anyone never heard anything about this case?”
A few moments passed as jury pool members sat silently with hands at their sides.
“I’ll let the record reflect that no hands were raised,” the judge said.
One potential juror raised her hand when the judge asked if anyone already believes any of the three defendants are guilty.
A different jury pool member told the judge she has known defendant Roddie Bryan for several years.
“He’s worked on mowers and farm equipment for me for about the last six years,” said the woman, identified only as juror No. 3.
She added: “I feel sorry for him.”
Asked by the judge if she could abide by her oath if chosen for the jury and still reach an impartial verdict, No. 3 replied: “I’d try.”
After questioning the jury pool members as a group for about an hour, Wood and attorneys on both sides conducted follow up questions with some potential jurors individually outside the courtroom.
In the state murder trial, defense attorneys argued the defendants were justified in chasing Arbery because they suspected he had committed crimes in their neighborhood. Travis McMichael testified that he opened fire in self-defense after Arbery attacked him with fists and grabbed for his shotgun.
The McMichaels and Bryan have all filed motions for a new trial in Glynn County Superior Court, where they were convicted of murder and other charges. It can take months for that process to play out. If the motions for a new trial are denied, they will have 30 days to file a notice of appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court.