Ahmaud Arbery: judge seats nearly all-white jury in Georgia murder trial

A Georgia judge has acknowledged there appeared to be “intentional discrimination” after a nearly all-white jury was selected for the trial of three white men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, but has seated the jury nonetheless.

A jury comprising 11 white members and one Black member was seated on Wednesday after defense attorneys struck almost all Black jurors from the pool. Opening arguments in the high-profile case are set to begin on Friday.

Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was killed while out jogging in the coastal town of Satilla Shores, Georgia. None of the men involved were charged until eyewitness footage was made public months later, shortly before the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, prompting widespread protests.

Jury selection for the case has lasted for 11 days, and lawyers were initially given a pool of 48 potential jurors, 12 of whom were Black. But defense lawyers for the accused murderers, Gregory McMichael, 67, his 35-year-old son Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, struck all but one of them from the final jury.

Prosecutors had urged Judge Timothy Walmsley, who is overseeing the trial in south Georgia, to reverse the strikes of eight Black potential jurors, whom they said had been intentionally targeted over race. A landmark 1986 US supreme court decision in Batson vs Kentucky ruled it unconstitutional for potential jurors to be struck solely based on race or ethnicity.

But Walmsley, while acknowledging the apparent “intentional discrimination”, cited limitations spelled out in the supreme court precedent and pointed to defense lawyers’ justifications, which did not mention race or ethnicity.

Glynn county, Georgia, where the trial is taking place and where Arbery was killed, is 26% Black and 69% white.

Arbery was shot dead in February 2020 when the three men pursued him while he was out on a run, claiming they suspected his involvement in a series of burglaries in the neighborhood. Arbery had been recorded on surveillance footage entering and leaving a semi-constructed house in the town that day, but no evidence has linked him to any offense.

The McMichaels, both carrying firearms, attempted to corner Arbery in a roadway using their pickup truck. Travis McMichael then fired three times with a shotgun.

All three men have pleaded not guilty to murder and will argue they were acting in self-defense and were legally justified in pursuing Arbery due to a now defunct citizen’s arrest law.

On Wednesday, representatives for the Arbery family expressed outrage at the racial makeup of the jury.

“How did we get to this result?” said Barbara Arnwine, a spokeswoman for the Arbery family who was speaking outside the courthouse flanked by Marcus Arbery, Ahmaud’s father. “The one thing we know is that the Black jurors who showed up for service came hoping to serve if selected. They had the same concerns as the white jurors.”

She continued: “It’s disappointing to hear the bases that were articulated by the defendants for striking the Black jurors because my mind kept going from white juror to white juror who met the precise parameters that they were describing for omitting Black jurors.”

As well as the state criminal charges, the three accused men face federal hate crimes and attempted kidnap charges in a separate case brought by the US justice department. Their federal trial is due to start in February 2022.

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