A jury was impaneled on Wednesday to decide the fate of three white Georgia men accused of chasing down and killing Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who prosecutors allege was just out for a Sunday jog in 2020 when he was attacked.
Opening statements in the murder trial will likely begin Friday in Brunswick, Georgia, the judge said.
The jury panel in the Glynn County Superior Court case was picked after an arduous selection process that lasted nearly three weeks and started with a pool of 1,000 potential jurors. The 12 selected include 11 white people and one Black person, which caused an objection based on racial bias. Each juror was revisited and the court felt that it did seem there was discrimination, but was limited as to what could be done.
“This is the most complicated jury selection that I have ever been part of and that includes death penalty cases,” Kevin Gough, the attorney for defendant William “Roddie” Bryan, said during a court hearing Thursday morning.
The 16 jurors, including four alternates, were selected from a smaller pool of 64 qualified would-be candidates. All 16 jurors will be sworn in to hear evidence in the case.
Before the final stage of jury selection commenced, one of the potential jurors in the qualified pool was dismissed for cause after Gough alerted the court to a series of TikTok videos brought to his attention overnight of the 44-year-old woman performing what he described as a “dance tribute” to Arbery. Gough noted that at least one of the videos posted by the prospective juror included a heart emoji and the hashtag RunWithMaud.
“Clearly this juror has an emotional connection to Mr. Arbery,” Gough said.
The pool of 48 from which they were drawn included 36 whites and 12 African Americans, a makeup that is more in line with the population of Glynn County, which is 30% Black.
The three defendants are Gregory McMichael, 65, a retired police officer, his son, Travis McMichael, 35, and their neighbor, Bryan, 52.
The men have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, aggravated assault and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
The McMichaels and Bryan were also indicted on federal hate crime charges in April and have all pleaded not guilty.
Arbery was out jogging on Feb. 23, 2020, through the Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick when he stopped and went into a house under construction, according to evidence presented at the preliminary hearing. A surveillance video showed Arbery, who lived in another neighborhood of Brunswick, inside the unsecured house looking around and leaving empty-handed.
Arbery continued running past the McMichaels’ home, where Gregory McMichael spotted him and believed he matched the description of a neighborhood burglary suspect, according to his lawyer.
Investigators allege that Gregory McMichael and his son armed themselves and chased after Arbery in a pickup truck bearing a vanity plate of a Confederate flag. Bryan allegedly joined the pursuit and, according to prosecutors, attempted to use his truck to block Arbery’s path.
Travis McMichael is also expected to claim self-defense, arguing the use of deadly force was justified when Arbery violently resisted a citizens’ arrest under a law that existed at the time. The pre-Civil War-era law that was repealed in May primarily due to the Arbery killing gave civilians the power to arrest someone they “reasonably suspected” of trying to escape from a felony.
Bryan recorded a cellphone video of the confrontation that partly caught Travis McMichael shooting Arbery during a struggle and is expected to be the key evidence prosecutors plan to present at trial.
Bryan’s lawyer claims he was just a witness to the incident, but prosecutors alleged he was an active participant. Prosecutors also allege that Bryan told investigators he overheard Travis McMichael yell a racial slur at Arbery as he lay dying in the street, an allegation the younger McMichael denies.
Since Arbery’s killing, the case has frequently been in the national spotlight as protesters took to the streets for weeks to demand the suspects be arrested and as two district attorneys recused themselves.
Former Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson, the first prosecutor to get the case and who once had a working relationship with Gregory McMichael, was indicted in September on a felony count of violating her oath of office by allegedly “showing favor and affection” to Gregory McMichael and a misdemeanor count of hindering a law enforcement officer. Johnson, who lost a reelection bid in November 2020, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.