Jury selection begins in the Georgia trial over the death of Ahmaud Arbery

Hundreds of people were ordered to report to the jury on Monday in Georgia for what could be a long and arduous effort to find jurors to hear the trial of three white men charged with having shot Ahmaud Arbery deadly as he ran in their neighborhood.

The killing of the 25-year-old black man sparked a national outcry driven by a graphic video of the shooting. Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan are charged with murder and other crimes in Arbery’s death February 23, 2020 just outside the port city of Brunswick.

Jury selection can last two weeks or more. Arbery’s father said he was asking for an impartial panel and a fair trial, saying victims of crime have too often been denied justice.

“This is 2021, and it’s time for a change,” said Marcus Arbery Sr. in an interview. “We must be treated equally and get fair justice as human beings because we have been treated wrongly for so long.”

Before the selection process begins, Supreme Court Justice Timothy Walmsley first planned to hold a morning hearing to address legal issues that need to be resolved before the trial begins.

Glynn County court officials sent jury notices to 1,000 people and expected a potentially slow process to find jurors in a community where the killing dominated news coverage and flooded feeds on social media.

The case will also be followed closely outside Georgia. Arbery’s killings provoked outrage in the summer of 2020 during a period of national protests over racial injustice. It took more than two months before McMichaels and Bryan were charged and jailed, only after the video of the shooting leaked online and state investigators took over the case from local police.

Prosecutors say Arbery was only running when McMichaels armed himself with guns and chased him in a pickup. Bryan joined the pursuit in his own truck and took the now infamous cell phone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery three times at close range with a shotgun.

Defense attorneys insist the three men did not commit crimes. Greg McMichael told police they were pursuing Arbery and suspected he was a burglar after surveillance cameras had previously filmed him entering a nearby home under construction. He said Travis McMichael fired his gun in self-defense after Arbery attacked him, stopped and tried to grab the weapon.

Investigators have testified that they found no evidence of crimes committed by Arbery in the Satilla Shores subdivision. He was unarmed.

As a precaution against coronavirus, 600 jury pool members were ordered to report Monday to a gym to make room for social distance. They will be summoned to court in groups of 20, Glynn County Superior Court Clerk Ronald Adams said.

Along with their jury summons, pool members were sent a three-page questionnaire sent with questions about what they already know about the case and which newscasts or social media platforms were their main sources of information.

The form also asks whether potential jurors have submitted online comments about Arbery’s killings, and whether they visited the site of the shooting or conducted other research into the case on their own.

Lawyers on both sides will spend the next few days questioning the jury pool, in groups and individually, to determine if they have formed opinions on the case that make them incapable of preaching.

Ultimately, the judge must sit on a jury of 12 plus four deputies who will be on standby to fill out any juries that become ill or are fired before the trial ends.

Once a jury sits, the trial itself can take more than two weeks, Adams said.

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