A firearms instructor and former certified law enforcement officer told attorneys he had taken part in a community event that supported Amhaud Arbery, the 25-year-old Black man who was shot dead by a White man on a public street in the Satilla Shores community in February 2020.
“I took pride in my community and how they acted,” the man said Monday as jury selection resumed at the Glynn County Courthouse in the trial of three White men accused of murder in Arbery’s killing.
The man said he believes defendants Travis McMichael, 35, Gregory McMichael, 65, and 52-year-old William “Roddie” Bryan handled the incident “poorly.” He said his opinion is shared by friends who remain active in law enforcement.
The man was more to the point when defense attorney Jason Sheffield asked assessment of the confrontation.
“Murder?” he said, phrasing the answer as a question.
The line of questioning typified the level of knowledge and opinions regarding the high-profile case among this large crosscut of residents from the community of 85,000. After spending another entire day and into the night Monday, defense attorneys and prosecuting attorneys had not finished individual questioning prospective jurors from a panel of 19 by press time.
The clerk of Glynn County Superior Court mailed jury summonses to 1,000 county residents. Of nearly 600 who reported as directed on the first day jury selection on Oct. 18, more than 280 were seated for the selection process.
But after four days of jury selection proceedings last week, attorneys had questioned a little more than 70 prospective jurors and qualified only 23.
At least 64 qualified prospective jurors are needed, from which the defense and prosecution will use its allotted strikes to narrow it down to 12 jurors and four alternates.
Travis McMichael shot the unarmed Arbery three times at close range with a 12-gauge shotgun on Feb. 23, 2020, as the two men struggled for possession of McMicheal’s gun at Satilla Drive and Holmes Road. Moments earlier, Travis McMichael and father Gregory McMichael armed themselves, got into a pickup truck and pursued Arbery after he ran past their home. Bryan saw Arbery run past his home on Burford Road with the Michaels in pursuit and joined the chase in his pickup truck, recording the deadly conclusion in a video that sparked national outrage when it went viral online in May 2020.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested the McMichaels and Bryan on felony murder, aggravated assault and attempted false imprisonment charges later that month.
The McMichaels said they suspected Arbery of burglarizing a nearby home that was under construction.
Defense attorneys argue that the shooting was self defense in the course of a citizen’s arrest.
Prosecutors with the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office say the three are guilty of murdering a man who was out for a jog on a public street.
While the case has elicited a national outpouring of emotions and opinions, the issues are no less visceral on the community level. Thus the slow-going process of finding enough impartial individuals locally to fill a jury box.
In addition to strong opinions on the case, many in this close-knit coastal community know the defendants or know Arbery family members. One young man said he had been a close friend of Arbery. Another prospective juror said she was a relative.
Another prospective juror said she knows defendant Bryan and his fiancee.
Eastern Judicial Circuit Judge Timothy Walmsley of Savannah said the process might easily run into next week before a jury is empaneled.
At one point Monday, defense attorneys expressed frustration with shows of support for Arbery outside the courthouse, saying signs and banners could influence prospective jurors as they enter the building.
Linda Hogue, an attorney for Gregory McMichael, presented additional questions they hoped to ask prospective jurors. The questions included thoughts about the delayed arrest of the defendants and how they would feel if they were one of them.
When a defense attorney later asked a prospective juror that shoe-on-the-other-foot question, prosecuting attorney Linda Dunikoski objected. Walmsley sustained and the prospective juror was walked out of the courtroom.
The judge told defense attorneys he had not had time to address the questions. He noted later that an attorney posed the same question to a Black prospective juror but not to a White prospective juror.
Sheffield said he posed the question to the Black man because he had indicated support on Facebook for a page supporting Ahmaud Arbery.
“I have concerns about that question,” Walmsley said. “That, by the court, can be interpreted as a racially-charged question.”
Regardless of the observations he offered on the case, the firearms instructor told attorneys he could view the facts presented in the case objectively as a jury member. He said his participation in the event supporting Arbery’s family was intended as a show of community unity.
“The one thing we can count on here in Glynn County is that we can stand as a community unified,” he said. “We have seen a tragic loss of life. And any time that occurs, the family deserves closure.”