Opening arguments in the trial of the three white men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery are set for Friday, as members of Arbery’s family described the decision to impanel an almost entirely white jury as “devastating”.
Gregory McMichael, 67, his 35-year-old son Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, have pled not guilty to murder and other offenses in a case laced with allegations of racism.
On Wednesday, Judge Timothy Walmsley empanelled a jury of 11 white members and one Black member despite acknowledging the appearance of “intentional discrimination” on behalf of defense lawyers, who struck 11 potential Black jurors from the final jury pool of 48. Jury selection had taken 11 days.
Speaking on Wednesday outside the Glynn county courthouse in Georgia, Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones said she found the final jury’s racial makeup “devastating” but was confident the jury would “make the right decision”.
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.
Prosecutors had urged Walmsley, who is overseeing the trial in south Georgia, to reverse the striking of the eight Black potential jurors, whom they said had been intentionally targeted over race. A landmark 1986 US supreme court decision in Batson v 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 are expected to argue the shooting occurred in self-defense and will cite provisions under Georgia’s now defunct citizen’s arrest law to justify their actions.
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.