The graphic video of an unarmed Black man getting gunned down by a White man on a local neighborhood street so disturbed one woman that she had to turn away.
“I was sitting with my husband and he could not watch it — I could not watch it,” said the woman, a prospective juror in the trial of the three men accused of murder in the shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020.
The video of the final moments of Arbery’s life promises to play a prominent role in the trial’s outcome.
However, despite a gut feeling that “a crime was committed,” the woman expressed confidence in her ability to serve as an impartial juror in the murder trial of Travis McMichael, 35, Gregory McMichael, 65, and 52-year-old William “Roddie” Bryan.
“If I am chosen, I understand my responsibility will be to come in with no opinion and a presumption of innocence,” she told Jason Sheffield, a defense attorney for Travis McMichael.
As jury selection plodded on for a fourth day at the Glynn County Courthouse, the woman was among three prospective jurors who expressed an actual desire to serve in the nationally-spotlighted murder trial. It marked a decided increase in willingness to serve on the jury of the high-profile, racially charged trial.
In the first panel of 20 prospective jurors introduced Monday, only one hand rose to indicate a desire to serve on the jury — and his only reluctantly. Not one hand rose in answer to the same question to the panel of 20 who were questioned Wednesday.
The woman who said she would Thursday said she had talked the matter over with her husband and prayed with him about it.
“I feel firmly that I could do that, I could open my mind and my soul and my thought process,” she told prosecuting attorney Linda Dunikoski, the senior assistant prosecutor with the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office.
As in previous days, several in Thursday’s panel said they knew people who are directly or indirectly tied to the case. One woman said she has known Gregory McMichael for three decades, although she expressed little sympathy for the retired veteran investigator with the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office. The woman felt like she would not be a good fit for the jury.
“I don’t understand why they took it into their own hands,” she told assistant prosecuting attorney Paul Camarillo.
She was, however, returned to the panel.
Defense attorneys will argue that the three defendants were attempting a citizen’s arrest and that Travis McMichael acted in self defense when he shot Arbery three times at close range on a public street in the Satilla Shores neighborhood. The incident began moments earlier when the father-and-son McMichaels armed themselves, got in a pickup truck and chased Arbery after he ran past their home on Satilla Drive. Bryan joined the chase in his own pickup truck and recorded the chilling video that sparked national outrage when it leaked online in May 2020.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents arrested the three defendants shortly afterward. The McMichaels said they suspected Arbery of burglarizing a nearby home that was under construction.
Prosecutors argue that the three men chased down and killed a man who was jogging on a public street on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Another prospective juror said he knew Gregory McMichael and Bryan well. He said he could not convict the men, citing religious beliefs.
“In the bible it tells you do not judge any man or woman,” he said. “And I just don’t think I could be impartial.”
He was dismissed.
Thursday’s group marked only the fourth panel of 20 prospective jurors to be questioned since jury selection commenced Monday. They are among some 283 Glynn County residents who were seated Monday from nearly 600 who were ordered to report that morning to the Selden Park gymnasium, just down the road from the courthouse, Glynn County Clerk of Superior Court Ron Adams said.
Attorneys for the prosecution and the defense are trying to qualify at least 64 prospective jurors. As of Wednesday, 15 had been qualified. Eight more prospective jurors qualified from Thursday's panel, bringing the total to 23.
From the 64, defense attorneys and prosecution attorneys will use their allotted strikes to whittle the group down to a jury of 12, plus four alternates.
Another round of 400 prospective jurors will be ordered to report Monday (Oct. 25) to Selden Park if the process has not qualified enough people by the end of Friday, a highly likely possibility.
The court clerk mailed a total of 1,000 jury summonses to Glynn County residents just for this trial.
Of the first 600 who were to have reported this past Monday to Selden Park, the no-show rate was less than 20 percent, Adams said.
While some prospective jurors expressed safety concerns about serving on such a high-profile, racially-charged trial, defense attorneys raised concerns about potential influences on possible jurors inside and outside the courtroom.
Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, said he is concerned about signs carried by demonstrators on the grounds outside the courtroom, including a banner depicting the late civil rights leader John Lewis. Other defense lawyers also suggested to Judge Timothy Walmsley that “Justice for Ahmaud” signs outside the courthouse might pressure prospective jurors.
“We are concerned with any conscious or unconscious attempt to influence any jurors,” Robert Rubin, an attorney for Travis McMichael, told the judge.
Walmsley noted that the grounds are public and suggested attorneys draft a motion “walking me through the First Amendment rights you seek to infringe upon and how you intend to do this.”
At one point, Gough complained about relatives of Arbery wearing buttons inside the Jury Assembly Room, including one depicting the late Rep. Lewis that said, “Make Good Trouble.”
Walmsley asked folks inside to put away such buttons, saying “this is not the place to display it.”
The exchanges illustrated the difficulty of impaneling a jury for such a high-profile and extensively publicized case. Still, on Thursday, some expressed a willingness to serve.
Asked if she can overcome fears about possible backlash from serving on the jury, one woman indicated it is her duty if she is chosen.
“Do I think I can withstand that?” she said, repeating an attorney’s question. “Yes. And if called to serve, I will.”
Due to an obligation of one of the attorneys involved, Walmsley recessed proceedings until 8:30 a.m. Monday.