BRUNSWICK — Only one Black juror will hear the Ahmaud Arbery case.
On the final day of a 12-day jury selection process in the trial of three white men accused of killing a Black jogger in Brunswick, racism took centerstage.
Even the judge said Wednesday there appeared to be intentional discrimination in the jury selection process.
Ahmaud Marquez Arbery, an unarmed 25-year-old Black man, was pursued by three white and eventually shot in the street while jogging in a neighborhood near Brunswick, in Glynn County.
More than 1,000 juror notices were mailed to Glynn County residents and more than 200 had been interviewed as of Wednesday. By Wednesday morning prospective jurors had be narrowed down to 48 and late Wednesday afternoon — when the final 12 jurors and four alternates were selected — only one of them was Black.
The final composition of the jury came into question by state prosecutor Linda Dunikoski, who accused the defense of being racially biased in striking 11 Black prospective jurors.
“In this case we had 12 African American jurors, and 36 white jurors,” Dunikoski said. “The Black jurors made up 25% of the jury panel. But the actual jury that was selected has only one African American male on it [and] 11 white people on it.”
The initial jury pool appeared representative of Glynn County where Blacks make up only 24.5% of the county's population, according to the 2020 census.
Typically, the defense would be entitled to 10 peremptory strikes and the state would be entitled to six; However, due to the high-profile nature of the case and large jury pool selection, the defense was allowed to strike 24 jurors and the state was allowed 12 strikes.
Race has been a large factor in the case as Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, are accused of murdering Arbery Feb. 23, 2020, while he was jogging in the Satilla Shores subdivision in Brunswick. The McMichaels maintain that they were attempting to perform a citizens arrest on Arbery, who they believe burglarized a home in the neighborhood.
The McMichaels' neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan Jr., later followed behind them in his truck, as seen on a video he recorded, which ultimately shows Travis McMichael shooting Arbery after a brief tussle.
State indictment charges on the three men include felony murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment. A federal indictment also charges the men with race-related hate crimes.
Greg McMichael’s attorney Laura Hogue went through the defense’ reasoning for striking the majority of the Black prospects, stating many of them already had opinions about the defendants or the case, one them — juror 218— opining that the defendants are guilty.
“…I will say most of the jury selection in this case and the decisions we had to make is the epitome of the lesser of two evils,” Hogue said. “We are stuck between a rock in a hard place given that the majority of the African American jurors that came in here were struck...immediately because of their firm opinions.”
“Later on we had some African American jurors who had some opinions that were very strong but indicated they could put them in a box and set them aside…” Hogue continued. “Is that the kind of juror given those impressions and feelings weeks ago when they filled out the questionnaire and still fixed on those opinions today, would you want that juror judging you in this case?”
Chatham County Judge Timothy Walmsley, who was appointed to oversee the case, agreed “quite a few” African American jurors were excused by peremptory strikes by the defense.
“There appears to be intentional discrimination in the panel,” he said, but added that the defense was able to provide a “clear and related” reason separate from race as to why the Black juror candidates were struck.
Walmsley said the case is different from many others due to the heavy racial overtones, larger than normal number of peremptory strikes and the extensive and lengthy questioning of jury panelists.
Walmsley planned to called jurors back to court 9 a.m. Friday after which the trial is expected to begin.