Jury selection begins for trial of 3 men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery
BRUNSWICK, Ga. (WTOC) - Jury selection begins Monday morning in the trial for three men charged for the death of Ahmaud Arbery.
Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan all face nine charges, which include malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Arbery was killed on Feb. 23, 2020. Three months after Arbery’s death, an attorney leaked the graphic video of Arbery’s killing. The video went viral and drew national attention.
All three suspects have pleaded not guilty in the case and have said that they pursued Arbery because they thought he was a burglar.
The voir dire process didn’t begin until after one Monday afternoon.
That’s when the first group of 20 potential jurors were brought into the courtroom and the questions to gauge their ability to be a fair and impartial juror began. That process is expected to last a while.
Outside the courthouse Monday morning, a group of Glynn County church leaders came together in song and prayer, and to let folks know they are here for support as the trial gets underway. One of the clergy coalition told us after the death of Ahmaud Arbery, church leaders knew there was a need for the community to come together.
“We realized that we needed it in the aftermath of this terrible event, and that to get through it together as a community we would need it. So a group has been gathering in different configurations, intentionally building relationships. We wanted to make sure that the tone for this trial was one of unity and peace,” said Rev. Tom Purdy, Christ Church Frederica, St. Simons Island.
The lead prosecutor began asking questions of the group of 20 potential jurors, things like if they personally knew the defendants or victim, worked in or were close to someone in law enforcement, and if they believe white and black people are generally treated equally by police. Just before the state began with the questions, presiding Judge Timothy Walmsley had several of his own procedural questions, including this one.
“Have you for any reason formed and expressed any opinion in regards to the guilt or innocence of the accused,” Judge Walmsley asked.
The answer to that question was ‘yes’ for at least three of the 20 potential jurors in the room. What that means for the potential of those individuals being part of the 12-member jury, or one of the four alternates, that’s up to the state and defense.
The prosecution and defense asked several questions like if they personally knew the defendants or Ahmaud Arbery and their family members, whether they worked in law enforcement or know someone who has, and more.
And remember, 1,000 Glynn County residents were summoned for jury duty in this case, with the first 600 being called in this week. A jury of 12 and four alternates ultimately has to be empaneled.
Just prior to the jury selection beginning, Ahmaud Arbery’s father and his attorney, Ben Crump, stopped to talk about what this part in the trial process beginning means to them.
“It’s very important, it’s the first step in the journey to justice. It’s been a long journey. You have to think how many obstacles we had to overcome to get to this moment,” said Arbery family attorney Ben Crump.
Crump says the family is focused on justice for Ahmaud every step of the way, adding they want to see Bryan and the McMichaels’ prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
“And then we’ve got kids, grandchildren, all that out in the world, are the future. And I’m scared they can’t be going for run fearing for their life, ducking bullets. It’s got to stop,” said Ahmaud Arbery’s father Marcus Arbery.
As the trial begins, Arbery was also asked what the community support means to him and his family.
“Very thankful. All the support that people showed my family. And they know this stuff was wrong and you got to stop,” said Marcus Arbery.
“I’m very confident my legal team which is the state, Cobb County will come in today and select the right jurors to do the job,” said Ahmaud Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones.
All three suspects have also been indicted on federal hate crime charges.
According to the Department of Justice, Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan were indicted in April by a federal grand jury. Counts One and Two of the indictment allege “that the defendants used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race.”
Separately from the hate crime charges, all three were indicted on attempted kidnapping charges. The McMichaels were also indicted on separate counts of using firearms during a crime.
The federal trial is scheduled to begin in February 2022.
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