02:05 - Source: CNN
Father of Ahmaud Arbery calls death of his son a 'lynching'
CNN  — 

Attorneys supporting Ahmaud Arbery’s family on Thursday denounced the jury selection process in the trial of the men accused of the Black man’s killing after only one Black juror was seated along with 11 White jurors.

Barbara Arnwine, president of the Transformative Justice Coalition, criticized defense attorneys for questions she said they asked to strike potential Black jurors, like if they supported Black Lives Matter or believed the criminal justice system treated Black people differently than White people.

Those questions targeted Black jurors for exclusion and it was disingenuous for the defense to “pretend this was about anything but getting rid of Black jurors,” she said, calling it “one of the most racially discriminatory and unfair processes I’ve seen in my life.”

“There is so much wrong with what has happened in this trial. It has been racialized from the beginning,” said Arnwine, who has accompanied Arbery’s father to court each day. “That was done purposefully by the defense.”

On Friday the court will hear opening statements in the trial, which focuses on the killing of Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was jogging near Brunswick, Georgia, when he was fatally shot on February 23, 2020. Arbery’s death – along with the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in Minneapolis and Louisville, Kentucky, respectively – catalyzed national protests over racial injustice over the summer of 2020.

Three men – father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. – face charges of malice and felony murder. The defendants, who have pleaded not guilty, also face charges of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony.

Jury selection took two and a half weeks, ending in prosecutors Wednesday accusing defense attorneys of disproportionately striking qualified Black jurors and basing some of their strikes on race. Judge Timothy Walmsley said Wednesday he would allow the case to move forward, but he said the court “has found that there appears to be intentional discrimination” in the jury selection.

Just before court adjourned Thursday, Walmsley announced one of the participating jurors was being struck from the panel for medical reasons. According to CNN’s analysis of available juror information, the struck juror was a White woman. She will be replaced by an alternate, who is also a White woman, leaving the racial composition of the jury unchanged.

More than 26% of the 85,000 residents of Glynn County, where the trial is taking place, are Black, according to 2019 data from the US Census Bureau. About 69% are White.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents Marcus Arbery Sr., also took issue with the jury selection, saying in a statement Friday that Arbery had been “denied justice,” saying in part, “His killers’ fate will be decided by a nearly all-white jury.”

“A jury should reflect the community,” Crump said.

Arbery’s father and a group of their supporters marched through Brunswick on Thursday afternoon to call for accountability, with demonstrators carrying signs and chanting “No justice, no peace,” and “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now.”

They eventually reached a mural of Arbery, where they gathered together, took a knee and prayed for “Justice for Ahmaud.”

Prosecutors, defense argue over ‘use of force’ expert witness

Arnwine’s comments came as prosecutors and the defense argued over several pre-trial motions in court, including what evidence and testimony may or may not be permitted during the trial.

Thursday’s hearing began with the state arguing for the court to exclude an expert witness the defense wanted to testify on the “use of force” training Travis McMichael previously received during his time in the US Coast Guard.

But McMichael’s law enforcement training – as well as that of Gregory McMichael, a former police officer and investigator for the local district attorney’s office – is “irrelevant,” prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said, because no one involved in Arbery’s death was a law enforcement officer or acting in that capacity.

“No law enforcement officers were actually involved in any of the events that led up to this indictment or the death of Mr. Arbery,” Dunikoski said. “And therefore, having someone come in and testify to law enforcement’s use off force is basically a bolstering situation and misleading and confusing to the jury.”

“Basically, it’s going to be confusing and highly prejudicial, because it’s irrelevant. It’s going to incorrectly let the jurors think that this was a legitimate citizen’s arrest,” she said, adding the use of force by a police officer would be reviewed on a completely different standard.

The defense disagreed, saying Travis McMichael had received repeated years of training on use of force that is not easily forgotten.

“You don’t just throw away your 10 years of training when you become a private citizen,” defense attorney Bob Rubin said, “especially when the training is drilled into Coast Guardsmen or other agents repeatedly so that it becomes muscle memory.”

A use of force expert, the defense argued, could educate the jury on that training and how it might have been implemented the day of the shooting, even if McMichael was not acting as a law enforcement officer.

Judge Walmsley ultimately granted the state’s motion, meaning the court would not allow the expert testimony.

Vanity plate showing Confederate flag

The two sides also argued over whether to exclude images of a vanity plate on Travis McMichael’s truck that depicted the Confederate flag. Potential jurors had been asked about the flag during jury selection, according to Jason Sheffield, Travis McMichael’s attorney, and a lot of people saw it as a “symbol of racism.”

Sheffield described the plate in question as one that showed the old Georgia state flag, which included the Confederate flag. He asked the court limit photographs or videos of the plate from evidence by blurring or blacking it out, calling inclusion of the plate an “improper comment” on the younger McMichael’s character.

The plate, he said, is “inflammatory and injects into this case something that we’ve all been trying to avoid.”

02:20 - Source: CNN
Ahmaud Arbery was out jogging when he was shot and killed

The state felt differently, with Dunikoski arguing racial animus was evidence of McMichael’s motive, not his character. The state did not intend to introduce “motive evidence” of racial animus, she said, but “if Travis McMichael opens the motive door, the state’s going to walk through it.”

“This is something Travis McMichael put on the front of his truck. He wanted the world to know this. He put it out there for people to see him driving around with this particular plate on the front of his truck,” she said. “Little disingenuous at this point to ask that it be blurred out as if somehow it’s not relevant to this case.”

The plate is relevant, she said, because video of the pursuit leading to Arbery’s death showed Arbery turning and running away after he appeared to see McMichael’s truck, which bore the vanity plate, coming toward him.

Defense attorneys refuted that, saying the state could not prove Arbery saw the truck, and Dunikoski acknowledged that while she “can’t prove (Arbery) saw that flag,” the vanity plate’s placement on the truck was intrinsic evidence.

Walmsley said he would take the issue under advisement and issue an order with his ruling before opening statements Friday.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the description of charges against the defendants.

CNN’s Angela Barajas, Alta Spells and Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.