Jury seated in hate crimes trial in Ahmaud Arbery killing
Savannah, Ga. – A jury with three Black members was sworn in Monday for the federal hate crimes trial of the white men previously convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, whose killing prosecutors will argue was motivated by racism.
U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood and attorneys in the case discussed the racial makeup of the jury after its members were narrowed Monday morning from a pool of 36 to a main jury of 12, plus four alternates.
The trial was scheduled to begin Monday afternoon with prosecutors and attorneys for the three defendants giving their opening statements.
Eight whites, three Blacks and one Hispanic juror sit on the main panel, according to the breakdown given by the judge and attorneys in court. The alternate jurors consist of three whites and one Pacific Islander.
Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, told reporters outside the courthouse in the port city of Brunswick that he was “very pleased.”
“The diversity of having three Black jurors is encouraging and it’s significant,” said Barbara Arnwine, an attorney supporting Arbery’s family.
Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves and chased 25-year-old Arbery in a pickup truck 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.
No arrests were made in the case until the video leaked online two months later.
This is the second time Brunswick has hosted a trial in Arbery’s killing. A judge last month sentenced the McMichaels and Bryan to life in prison after they were convicted last fall of murder in Glynn County Superior Court.
The same three men were charged separately in federal court on hate crime charges, which allege that they violated Arbery’s civil rights and targeted him because he was Black. The McMichaels and Bryan have all pleaded not guilty in the federal case.
The judge said she expects the hate crimes trial to last between seven and 12 days.
The judge and attorneys spent last week questioning more than 160 potential jurors about the Black man’s killing and their views on racism in America. They were pulled from an area covering 43 counties in eastern and southern Georgia.
The judge ended up deeming 64 of them qualified to serve. Nearly two-thirds were dismissed for having strong opinions about the case after watching portions of the state murder trial or news reports about it.
A random drawing further narrowed that number to 36 potential jurors before the final jury was selected Monday.
The search for an impartial jury in federal court came just a week after attorneys announced the McMichaels planned to plead guilty in the federal case in a deal with prosecutors that quickly fell apart. The judge noted only one or two potential jurors said they were aware of that.
In the state murder case, the racial makeup of the disproportionately white jury drew objections from prosecutors and complaints from Arbery’s family. The state judge allowed the panel to be seated after defense lawyers stated nonracial reasons for striking most Black jurors from the pool.
During the 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.