It’s been nearly two weeks since jury selection began in the trial of the three men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery, and of the thousand people summoned for jury duty, less than half have turned up.
Of the first batch of 600 people summoned when jury selection began on October 18, only 283 actually came, according to Ron Adams, the Clerk of Superior Court for Glynn County. Another 400 were summoned on Monday, but only about half that number appeared in person. No official reason has been given for the low turnout.
The attorneys and the judge are trying to narrow down the number of potential jurors to a group of 64 before selecting the final 12 jurors and four alternates. But so far, only 47 prospective jurors have been deemed qualified to serve.
Many who have been questioned about serving said they have already formed strong opinions about the case, know the defendants or are scared to sit.
The three White men on trial – Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. – are accused of chasing down and killing Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was out for a jog on February 23, 2020, in Satilla Shores, outside the city of Brunswick in Georgia’s low country.
But it wasn’t until a video of the shooting surfaced in May, 2020, that the McMichaels were arrested.
The three men are charged with malice and felony murder and have pleaded not guilty. They also face charges of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Prospective jurors are nervous
The prospective jurors are all worried about different issues surrounding the case – especially how polarizing it has been in the community.
A defense attorney also raised concerns Thursday that some candidates were potentially being less than honest in their answers or were sympathetic toward Arbery. But, the judge overruled those objections and the potential jurors were allowed to remain for consideration.
Earlier, one woman said she didn’t know much about the case itself, except seeing Facebook headlines and “I run with Ahmaud” bumper stickers across town.
Another potential juror, a man, said in his opinion Arbery was murdered. “But, I mean, based on the video, Ahmaud was unarmed and the other two were not. It’s kind of hard to show it’s self-defense there,” he told prosecutors.
The intense publicity surrounding the case is making it hard for the court to find fair and impartial jurors. And many prospective jurors are also nervous.
“I think it would be naive to think there couldn’t be real-world repercussions,” the female juror said about the trial.
Patience wearing thin
The defense attorney for one of the three accused said that patience was wearing thin among potential jurors still waiting to be processed because of the slow pace.
“Jurors have no TV and nothing to do for 12 hours. We are going to have a revolt by the jury pool,” attorney Kevin Gough said.
But although Judge Timothy Walmsley sympathized with the concerns, he said he had no plans of changing the process. “I apologize to folks who believe that we are taking up too much of their time, but I hope folks can see the bigger picture here,” Walmsley said.
Gough also said it was the “Constitutional right” for a defendant to look at a juror when it came to making the final selection from the pool of 64.
But, Walmsley pushed back. He said he was unaware of any such law. And added that it would be “a significant ask for the court” to have all 64 jurors present in one place at the same time due to health and security concerns.
The state offered the possibility of bringing in qualified jurors in groups of 20. And Walmsley said the matter “will be clear by the time we get there.”
Thinking about an appeal
Meanwhile, attorneys for Travis McMichael are already thinking about an appeal should their client be found guilty.
“How do we ensure in our opinion that what we say and understand in court gets placed into record so that if we lose, we can argue in appeal that we were not unaffected and that the court may or may not have exercised discretion?” attorney Jason Sheffield said.
It appeared he wanted the judge to make stated responses to his opinion, for the record, and not just give a verbal “sustained.”
But, Walmsley pushed back, saying the court record is clear. “I understand that there are pressures on counsel, and I respect that. But I’m not going to engage,” he said.
Jury selection will resume Friday although Walmsley said court would likely end early due to his own family commitments, suggesting jury selection will likely stretch into a third week.
Dakin Andone and Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.