An overwhelmingly White jury will deliberate on murder charges in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, after the defense excluded 11 of the 12 Black people from the final jury pool in a closely watched case in which race plays a significant role.
Prosecutors accused the defense of racial discrimination in jury selection on Wednesday, formally challenging eight of the defense picks. However, the judge rejected the prosecutors’ argument, stating that the defense provided sufficient reasons for their choices other than race.
One-quarter of the finalist jurors were black; the jury ultimately consisted of one black man and 11 white people. The altercation occurred in the final hours of the jury-selection process in the trial of three White men accused of racially profiling a Black jogger in February 2020. Arbery was pursued by the men in the trucks and killed in the coastal community of Satilla Shores near Brunswick. The case, which dragged on for months before a leaked video sparked national outrage, fueled historic racial justice protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan have all pleaded not guilty to murder, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment. They are also facing federal hate crime charges, for which a new trial is scheduled for next year.
The defendants claim they had reasonable grounds to conduct a “citizen’s arrest” after suspecting Arbery of neighborhood break-ins. Travis McMichael claimed that he shot Arbery in self-defense.
Defense attorneys stated on Wednesday that the Black potential jurors were rejected for reasons other than their race. One knew Arbery and expressed a desire to “keep his name alive,” according to them. Another person appeared in court, believing Arbery had been “hunted” and “killed like an animal.” Another appeared promising at first, but was about to marry a woman who had expressed support for Arbery on her Facebook page, using the rallying cry “I Run with Maud.”
The prosecution countered that many jurors arrived at the Brunswick courthouse with feelings about the case, which has received international media attention and touches on issues that may be deeply personal for those called in.
They were kept in the running, however, because they stated that they could still consider the case fairly.
Last month, a thousand people were summoned for potential service, indicating how difficult it may be to select a jury from the small community where both Arbery and the defendants lived. The questioning of potential jurors lasted more than two weeks, as person after person was dismissed, many of whom stated that they did not believe they could be impartial. Some were concerned about the potential for backlash if they reached a decision.
The defense has argued that Arbery’s race has no bearing on the case, and attorneys attempted to persuade the judge on Wednesday that the race of the stricken jurors was also incidental.
Because of the strikes, the jury deliberating on Arbery’s death will be significantly less diverse than the one that convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin earlier this year in the murder of Floyd, who was Black. Chauvin, who is White, knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, which was also caught on video.
More than 300 potential jurors were whittled down to a final group of 12 for the Chauvin case, which included one Black woman, two multiracial women, and three Black men. Minneapolis has a black population of about 19% and a white population of 64%.
According to census data, Glynn County, where the jury in Arbery’s murder was drawn, is about 27 percent Black and nearly 70 percent White.
Last month, the jury selection process began, with prosecutors and defense attorneys arguing over which questions should be used to screen each panel of prospective jurors. They were particularly divided on questions probing people’s attitudes toward race.
Candidates were eventually questioned about their participation in “social justice demonstrations,” their support for Black Lives Matter, their personal experiences with racial discrimination, and whether they considered an old Georgia flag with the Confederate battle emblem to be a “racist” symbol.
While lawyers revealed the racial makeup of the 12-person jury, it was unclear Wednesday who was chosen as a jury member and who was chosen as one of four alternates out of 16 people told to return to court.