The jury selection has begun for the trial of three men in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. Ahmaud was a black jogger that died last year in an incident on February 23, 2020. The footage from the incident leaked online, sparking a nationwide outcry. Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, and their neighbor William Bryan are accused of confronting and murdering Ahmaud Arbery, who was 25 years old.
Jury selection could last up to two weeks, with hundreds of prospective Glynn County jurors who are expected to report on Monday. Jury summons were sent to 1,000 residents ahead of one of the highest-profile trials in Georgia history, and hundreds of demonstrators have already converged on the community of about 86,000.
As estimated, 600 residents are set to report to Selden Park in batches through 3:30 p.m., though it’s unclear how many will actually show up. The county designated the recreation center as a courthouse annex to ensure social distancing ahead of the trial, and another 400 prospective jurors will report next Monday if needed.
Twelve people were chosen from the enormous pool, which will be tasked with deciding whether the three men are guilty of malice murder, false imprisonment, and other charges in the February 2020 shooting that thrust Glynn County into the national spotlight. Four alternate jurors will be chosen in case any of the original twelve people are later dismissed.
The three defendants have been charged with nine counts, including malice murder and aggravated assault. The men have pleaded not guilty. At the time, they said, there was reason to believe Ahmaud Arbery had been burgling a home under construction in their Satilla Shores neighborhood. Their attorneys will argue they were acting within the bounds of Georgia’s “citizen’s arrest” law, which allows private citizens to apprehend suspected criminals.
In the wake of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder, Georgia lawmakers repealed the Civil War-era legislation. Prosecutors say no stolen items were found in Mr. Arbery’s possession when he was killed. They will point out that there is no firm evidence that Mr. Arbery was a burglar.
The issue of race looms over the case. Prosecutors are expected to accuse the McMichaels and Mr. Bryan of racial vigilantism. Meanwhile, the prosecutors have brought forward evidence that Travis McMichael uttered a racist slur as Ahmaud Arbery lay bleeding on the street, as well as in unrelated phone conversations.
Earlier this year, a federal grand jury indicted the three suspects on hate crime charges. A separate trial, in that case, begins in February. In most US jurisdictions, jury selection begins with potential jurors being told about the case and asked whether there is any reason they cannot serve. The judge and attorneys typically ask potential jurors if they have prior information about the case or any past experiences that would lead them to be biased.
If attorneys believe that a candidate has prejudices related to the case, they can request that the juror be dismissed. On Monday, the judge ruled that jurors cannot be asked general questions about their opinion of shooting unarmed people, how well the case has been covered by the media, or whether they have concerns about how the case might affect their livelihood.
With tensions rising high for the upcoming trial and with all eyes on the case, leaders are hopeful that any demonstrations will remain peaceful, but teams are standing by should things devolve, especially after a verdict is reached.