Ahmaud Arbery’s death trial is due to start on Friday
BRUNSWICK, Georgia (AP) – Three white men are to be tried on Friday for prosecuting and killing Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man whose death was largely ignored until a leaked cell phone video sparks outrage over the shooting and intensifies the national outcry against racial injustice.
Greg McMichael and his adult son, Travis McMichael, armed themselves and chased Arbery in a van after spotting him running around their neighborhood just outside the port city of Brunswick, Georgia on February 23, 2020. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the hunt and recorded graphic video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery three times with a shotgun.
The murder is now part of a larger calculation of racial injustice in the criminal justice system after a series of deadly encounters between police and blacks such as George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley planned to swear in the trial jury on Friday to hear opening statements from prosecutors and defense attorneys. The three defendants are tried together, charged with murder and other felony counts.
Arbery had been dead for more than two months before the McMichaels and Bryans were charged and jailed last year. Greg McMichael, a retired local district attorney’s investigator, told police the men were trying to arrest Arbery because they suspected he was a burglar. Security cameras had recorded him entering a nearby house under construction.
Greg McMichael said his son killed Arbery in self-defense after Arbery attacked with his fists and attempted to take Travis McMichael’s gun.
Prosecutors said Arbery was just jogging, was unarmed and had committed no crime in the neighborhood. When video of Bryan’s murder leaked online in May 2020, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took the matter back to local police. His agents arrested the McMichaels the next day and charged Bryan two weeks later.
Arbery’s murder dominated reporting and social media feeds in Brunswick and surrounding Glynn County, a coastal community of around 85,000 people.
It took the judge and lawyers two and a half weeks to select a jury. Nearly 200 people called to jury duty were questioned at length about what they knew about the case, how many times they had seen the video and whether they had a personal connection to Arbery or the defendants.
Controversy erupted on Wednesday, the final day of jury selection, when prosecutors opposed a final jury made up of 11 whites and a black juror. They argued that defense attorneys excluded eight potential jurors from the final panel because they were black, which the United States Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional.
The judge agreed that there appeared to be “Intentional discrimination” but said Georgian law limited his power to intervene because defense lawyers cited non-racial reasons for excluding black panelists from the jury.
A juror, a white woman, was fired on Thursday for medical reasons. Fifteen panelists in total will hear the trial – 12 jurors plus three deputies. The judge did not give the alternate jurors’ races, and they were not asked to declare their race in open court.
Court officials said the trial could last two weeks or more.
If the defendants are acquitted, their legal troubles will not be over. They were also charged with federal hate crimes. A United States District Court judge has scheduled this trial to begin on February 7.