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.
The notoriety of Arbery’s killing on a residential street as he ran from white men in pickup trucks was apparent as the first panel of 25 potential jurors was questioned as a group Monday morning by US District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood.
“Has anyone never heard anything about this case?” Wood asked the jury pool members, who all sat silently for several seconds with their hands at their sides.
“I’ll let the record reflect that no hands were raised,” the judge said.
It’s unclear what potential jurors said they already know about the case. That’s because the judge and attorneys questioned them individually outside of the courtroom where reporters and the public couldn’t hear their answers.
When the judge returned to the courtroom, she dismissed nine of the panelists, leaving 16 remaining in the jury pool. She said they would need to return to court next week and face more questions before a final jury gets chosen.
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 charged them separately them with hate crimes, alleging that the white men targeted Arbery and violated his civil rights because he was Black.
Jury selection took more than two weeks in the state’s murder case. The search for an impartial jury in federal court comes after the McMichaels and Bryan were convicted and sentenced in the widely publicized first trial, and 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.
One potential juror was dismissed Monday after raising her hand when the judge asked if anyone already believes any of the three defendants are guilty.
Another jury pool member was excused after telling the judge she has known 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.”
The judge told potential jurors that, once a jury gets selected, she expects the hate crimes trial to last between seven and 12 days.
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.