BRUNSWICK, Ms. (AP) – People questioned during jury selection on murder Ahmaud Arbery he was said to have been “racially profiled” by white people who persecuted and shot him, exposed him “because of his color,” and targeted as “a black man suspected of stealing things.”
The statements were in response to open questions about the race of prosecutors and advocates trying to occupy an impartial jury for trial for Arbery’s death in the town of Brunswick off the coast of Georgia. Inquiries yielded some sharp responses.
“The whole case concerns racism,” one woman, identified only as potential juror no. 199. She said he was “caught and killed like an animal” by three men accused of murder.
Second Future Juror, no. 72, told lawyers, “If I were a white man running around the neighborhood, I don’t think I would be the target of a suspect.”
The comments could pose problems for advocates, who have often advocated for the dismissal of potential jurors who see Arbery as a victim of racial prejudice. Several of them, including no. 199 and no. 72, High Court Judge Timothy Walmsley assessed that they were qualified to remain in the group from which final jury will be selected.
“This could be devastating for the defense,” said Michael Schiavone, a criminal lawyer from Savannah who is not involved in the case. “I would be very skeptical that we could be honest after they told me their opinion.”
Under Georgian law, potential jurors are not automatically disqualified because they appear with preconceived opinions on the case if they undertake to reject those opinions and remain fair and impartial while listening to the evidence at trial. Walmsley has cited this standard several times.
Greg McMichael and his adult son Travis McMichael armed themselves and chased Arbery in a truck after spotting a 25-year-old man running in their neighborhood on February 23, 2020. Neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan joined the chase and filmed a video for a cell phone in which Travis McMichael shot Arbery three times with a rifle.
Lawyers say McMichael and Bryan had reason to suspect Arbery committed crimes in the neighborhood after being filmed by security cameras at a house under construction. Travis McMichael is said to have fired a shotgun in self-defense when Arbery attacked him with his fists.
For more than two months, no one was arrested or charged with murder until the video leaked online and the Georgie Investigation Office took over the case from local police.
“To be honest, if it was completely reversed and if three men were black and the victim was white, they would be arrested immediately,” another potential juror, number 571, told lawyers during a hearing Wednesday. The judge also found she was capable to remain in the jury group.
If counsel decides that a jury group is formed to be biased toward them, the judge could be asked to stop the jury selection and adjourn the trial. Otherwise, lawyers on both sides will have a limited number of strikes before the final jury meeting, which will allow them to reduce potential jurors they deem unfavorable.
If any of the defendants are convicted, it is possible that the judge’s opposition to the dismissal of jurors who expressed strong opinions could be used as a basis for an appeal, said Jeffrey Abramson, a law professor at the University of Texas and author of the 1994 book “We, jury. “
“I could come back to bite you,” Abramson said, though he added that the judge “is doing the best job he can so far, in an extremely difficult and sensitive situation.”
The Federal Court of Appeals last year overturned the death sentence of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a bomb attack on a Boston marathon after finding that a judicial judge had not properly screened jurors for possible bias. That decision is now before the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not yet ruled.
The men, who are on trial for Arbery’s death in Glynn County High Court, are charged with murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and attempted false imprisonment – crimes for which there is no need to prove racist motivation. In a separate case scheduled for trial next year, they face a federal hate crime charges in the U.S. District Court.
Nevertheless, many see a case of state murder as part of it national settlement about how the criminal justice system treats black victims, much like the April conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.
One potential juror, no. 475, he told lawyers he “seemed to be raining for the last year,” citing national outrage over racial injustice. He said he feels the deaths of blacks like Arbery and Floyd are “all combined”.
“I think because of that, our city definitely looked negative,” said the man, who accused the defendants of exposing “a black guy in a white neighborhood.”
The court did not ensure the race of individual members of the jury and they were not asked in open court about their background. A few potential jurors mentioned their race during the hearing.
Those who were found by a judge to be qualified to serve on a jury all said they could stay open if there were between 12 jurors and four deputies sitting on the panel. Others were fired after the judge ruled they had certain opinions on the case.
One woman who was excluded from the jury, number 164, told lawyers that the way Arbery was hunted and shot was “almost like a lynching.”
The second to be dismissed, no. 485, said, “The only thing they were convinced of was that he was Black and that he was running.”