BRANSWEEK, Ga. – Race is emerging as a key issue in jury selection for the murder of three white men accused of killing 25-year-old black Jaggar Ahmed Arberry last year.
Attorneys are slowly working through a pool of 1,000 potential juries in an effort to find 16 people who said they could be neutral in high-profile cases. This is a slow and arduous process that is expected to take up to two weeks.
Although the defendants’ lawyers claim that the case is not about race, they continue to question the judges.
Questions include: Do you believe the Confederate flag is a racist symbol?Do you support the Black Lives Matter movement? Do you believe blacks are being treated unfairly in the criminal justice system? Did you take part in the ethnic justice demonstration?
“We don’t believe it’s a race-related case,” defense attorney Kevin Goff told the court Monday.
But multiple potential judges have indicated that they believe the race was a cause of Arberry’s murder. One told the court he believed the murder was a heinous crime.
“There is still racism in the world today,” a prominent judge, a teacher, said Monday.
Another potential judge told the court that if Arberry had been white, he probably “wouldn’t have”.
“I think if it was a white guy running through the neighborhood, I don’t think he could have been noticed as a suspect,” he said.
The jury election comes on February 23, 2020, about 20 months after Arberry was shot while jogging in the Satila Shores neighborhood of Brunswick. A video of the incident was released two months later, sparking national outrage and sparking nationwide protests against the killing of black Americans.
Father and son Gregory and Travis McMahon and their neighbor William “Roddy” Brian, who recorded the video, were charged with murder and other crimes.
A vanity plate featuring Georgia’s former state flag, which included a Confederate war symbol, was used by McMichales to chase Arberry in the front of the truck.
Asked by attorneys, at least four judges indicated they considered the Confederate flag to be a “racist symbol.”
A potential judge, who appeared to be black, told the court he had taken part in a demonstration of racial justice. He said the accused should be convicted in all matters and dismissed from the jury.
Brandon Busky of the American Civil Liberties Union had previously told USA Today that there were concerns that the defense would try to exclude potential judges based on race.
The court must ensure that the jury reflects the diversity of the county and includes black voices. Brunswick, which is predominantly black, is located in Glen County, which is extremely white. The court did not identify the race of any potential judge.
Lawyers also questioned whether they had seen the viral video and whether they had a gun in their home. Many said they had already formed strong opinions about the case or were familiar with some of the parties involved.
Brunswick is a small coastal town about 70 miles south of Savannah, with only 16,000 inhabitants, and Glen County has about 80,000 inhabitants. Court officials sent jury duty notices to 1,000 people – meaning 1 out of every 80 residents of Glen County received notices. A judge told the court yesterday that his brother had also received a summons.
The four judges indicated on Tuesday that they could not be impartial. At least five people have indicated they know some of the people involved in the case, including Gregory McMichael, Brian, Arberry’s father, the current Brunswick district attorney, and an attorney previously appointed to the case.
“I have heard everything that is known in the media,” a potential judge, a nurse, told the court on Tuesday. She said she had known her husband and an in-law accused for “many years”.
Ahmed Arberry:The jury election in Georgia is expected to be long in the wake of Arberry’s death
One judge said he had seen the video of the incident “several times”.
“Some videos are hard to delete, but as a scientist I can follow the facts,” he said.
Under pressure from the defense, the judge said he was not sure which way he was leaning.
When asked again, the juror said: “Someone has been killed. That’s all I know.”
No judge was sitting until Tuesday afternoon. Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley expressed frustration at the glacier speed and called on the parties to expedite the process.
“We don’t look great,” he said.