GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. - The trial for the men charged in the death of Ahmaud Arbery is one step closer to getting underway. The jury selection process began in earnest on Monday, the largest jury pool Glynn County has ever seen.
The judge overseeing the trial called for 1,000 people with 600 showing up Monday and 400 showing up next Monday if needed.
The court needs to find 12 jurors and four alternates. Prosecutors will be able to strike 12 jurors and each defendant will get eight strikes for a total of 24.
The jurors arrived Monday morning at an off-site location and were being brought over to the courthouse in groups of 20.
The first panel of 20 jurors was sworn in and questioned Monday afternoon.
When Judge Timothy Walmsley asked the group if their minds were neutral regarding both sides of the case, only one raised a hand. Asked if they were already leaning toward either side, about half raised their hands to indicate yes.
"Please raise your card if you would like to serve on this jury," prosecutor Linda Dunikoski instructed as she wrapped up her questions for the group.
At first, nobody did. Finally, one young man raised his hand.
Jason Sheffield, one of Travis McMichael’s attorneys, asked the group whether they had any negative feelings about the three defendants. More than half raised their hands.
After being questioned as a group, the potential jurors were questioned individually. Their answers reflected the intense attention the case has attracted, their existing ideas about the case and their apprehensions about being involved in such a high-profile case.
An Air Force veteran and gun owner who was the first to be questioned said he had a negative impression of Greg McMichael but not the other defendants.
"I got the impression he was stalking," the man said, saying he based that on news coverage and from seeing the video of the shooting "fewer than five times."
"From what I observed, he appeared to be the lead dog," the panel member said of Greg McMichael, a retired investigator for the local district attorney’s office. Still, he said he had not made up his mind about innocence or guilt.
Another panelist said he had seen so much about the slaying in the news and on social media that "I’m sick of it."
He said he shared the video of Arbery’s shooting on social media and discussed the case with his brothers — one of whom was also among the 1,000 people mailed a jury summons in the case.
A retired accountant said she had negative feelings about the defendants but tried to avoid an opinion on guilt or innocence. She also expressed misgivings about sitting on the jury.
"How would I feel if I was asked to render a verdict that was unpopular?" she said. "Any verdict, guilty or innocent, is going to be unpopular with some people."
"Maybe I’d even feel unsafe," she added.
The court hasn’t identified the race of any of the prospective jurors.
"It’s all about this trial coming together and doing the right thing. It’s just about them getting justice for what they did," one woman said.
As she was questioned by defense attorneys, one potential juror — a young woman who’s a teacher — had harsh words for Bryan.
"His videotaping the scene was disgusting and vicious," she said. "However, at the same time I’m thankful that he did, because we are able to see what happened."
The judge dismissed eight total potential jurors before adjourning Monday evening. Four others were individually interviewed but no final decision was made on their status. Jury selection was to resume Tuesday morning.
Ahmaud Arbery (Family photo)
The weekend leading up to the start of jury selection members of the community rallied outside the Glynn County Courthouse demanding justice.
"There should have been more people here for the support but I did want to be here to the family," Another Woman said.
It’s been more than a year and a half since 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while he was running through a Brunswick neighborhood.
Greg McMichael and his son Travis were recorded chasing Arbery down in a pickup truck and fatally shooting him with a shotgun.
A third man, William Roddy Bryan, is charged with joining that pursuit and taking the video.
"We need some of this. We need something to bring justice and understand to this part of the state. The deep south is pretty rough," one community member said.
Demonstrators line the outside of the Glynn County Courthouse the weekend before jury selection in trial over Ahmaud Arbery’s death begins. (FOX)
With hundreds called, jury selection could last two weeks or more. Arbery’s father said he was praying for an impartial panel and a fair trial, saying Black crime victims too often have been denied justice.
"This is 2021, and it’s time for a change," Marcus Arbery Sr. told The Associated Press. "We need to be treated equally and get fair justice as human beings, because we’ve been treated wrong so long."
The case sparked national outrage after the video of the shooting was leaked online. The judge overseeing the trial called for a large jury pool because of the publicity surrounding the case.
The Georgia Attorney General gave the case to Cobb County after two southeast Georgia prosecutors recused themselves from the case.
Senior ADA Linda Dunikoski stepped into the role of the lead prosecutor in April after the Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney for Cobb resigned.
Those who live in the area hope this case brings about change in their community.
"This is my home and I love my town but there are a lot of changes that need to come about here," one woman said.
The judge ultimately needs to seat a final jury of 12 people plus four alternates.
How much the jury pool members already know about the case and whether they have already formed opinions will largely determine who gets dismissed and who ends up in the final jury.
Officials said this process could take up to two weeks or longer.
What's known about Ahmaud Arbery's death
A police report from the Glynn County Police Department says a man and his son, frustrated by a string of burglaries and break-ins in their neighborhood, decided to take matters in their own hands.
The men saw Arbery running through the Satilla Shores subdivision and considered him suspicious, a report says. They armed themselves and pursued him. Gregory McMichael, who it was later discovered has ties to the Glynn County District Attorney's Office, told police that Arbery and Travis fought over his son’s shotgun and his son fired two shots, killing Arbery.
Information that unfolded after the incident revealed Arbery was unarmed.
It was later discovered a man named William "Roddie" Bryan allegedly joined the chase and eventually cut off Arbery's route before he was shot and killed.
No one was arrested or charged for months after the shooting occurred.
Suspects: Gregory and Travis McMichael, William "Roddie" Bryan
Greg McMichael is a retired investigator for former Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson. He retired in 2019. Phone records introduced in court show he called Johnson and left her a voicemail after the shooting. Johnson said she recused her office from the case immediately because of its relationship with Greg McMichael.
The McMichaels’ attorneys' offered the explanation that their clients pursued Arbery because they suspected he was a burglar.
Security cameras had previously recorded Arbery entering a home under construction.
Attorneys for Travis McMichael shot Arbery while fearing for his life as they grappled over a shotgun.
Greg and Travis McMichael were arrested in May 2020, several months after the shooting took place after a GBI investigation concluded there was evidence for charges against them.
William "Roddie" Bryan followed the chase and recorded a video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery. Bryan was arrested weeks after the McMichaels.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.