The trial of three white men accused of prosecuting and murdering Ahmaud Arbery in one of Georgia’s most notorious racial murders is set to begin Monday with jury selection, a process which the judge says could take at least two weeks .
Jury notices were sent to 1,000 people in Glynn County, roughly one in 85 adult residents, in an attempt to secure an impartial panel of 12 plus four alternates for the trial of Travis McMichael, his father. Greg and their friend William “Roddie” Bryan.
The McMichaels are accused of chasing Arbery, who was black, in a van as he left for a run in February 2020. Bryan allegedly joined the chase and took cell phone footage of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery, 25, with a shotgun at close range. All three deny the murder.
That so many jury notices have been sent out, 600 of which are due in Glynn County Superior Court on Monday, and the rest on hold for a week, indicates the sensitivity of the case. The indictment last month of his original attorney, Jackie Johnson, who is accused of protecting the men, one of whom, Greg McMichael, was a former employee, has added to the controversy.
The suspects remained free for more than two months until the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from the District Attorney’s Office. The men were arrested in May 2020 and a grand jury returned the murder charges the following month.
Court officials intend to complete the trial in Glynn County, but recognize the challenge of forming an impartial jury in a case in which the suspects and the victim lived within two miles of each other, and which garnered international attention and a federal hate crime investigation.
“So many people know or know the accused or the victim,” Ronald Adams, clerk of the Glynn County Superior Court, told The Associated Press.
“You really don’t want to miss the number of qualified jurors that you have. “
Prosecutors will eventually tell the jury that Arbery, who was unarmed, was spotted and targeted by the group while running near his home in Brunswick. The McMichaels, they say, believed Arbery was responsible for the theft at a construction site and wanted revenge, although there is no evidence he was involved in any criminal activity.
Bryan, prosecutors say, joined the prosecution, although he later presented himself as an innocent witness to the murder.
Lawyers for the men, meanwhile, insist they acted in self-defense after Arbery attacked the McMichaels with his fists. The incident received little publicity until video of Bryan’s confrontation leaked online and went viral in May 2020, outraging civil rights groups who were furious that the men had not been arrested or charged.
In addition to the charges of malicious murder and criminal murder, the three are each charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count of forcible confinement and criminal attempt to commit forcible confinement.
Arbery’s death was one of several murders of blacks that sparked racial protests across the United States last summer, including the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the death of Breonna Taylor at the hands of law enforcement officers during a raid on her home in Lousiville, Kentucky.
Lee Merritt, an attorney for Arbery’s family, said last year that the weeks delay in detaining those accused of murder highlighted the racial disparity in the justice system.
“All citizens have the right to the same protection under the law,” he said. “This case makes it clear that not all black citizens of southern Georgia enjoy the same protection, because if you shoot someone in the street in broad daylight, you usually expect at least an arrest. No arrests were made. “