BRUNSWICK, Ga. - A judge found eight potential jurors qualified to advance following intense questioning aimed at finding an impartial jury for the trial of three white men charged with chasing and killing Ahmaud Arbery, whose slaying last year sparked a national outcry.
Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, are charged with murder and other crimes in the 25-year-old Black man’s death after a cellphone video of the Feb. 23, 2020, killing was leaked online two months later.
"We can’t do this without you," Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley told the eight pool members, the first to advance after being questioned individually by attorneys on what they know about Arbery’s death, how many times they watched the video and whether they think the shooting was motivated by racism.
Dozens more in the jury pool will need to be cleared before a final panel of 12 jurors and four alternates can be seated. Wednesday will be the third day of jury selection, which court officials say could take more than two weeks before the actual trial can begin.
Attorneys and prosecutors went through the tedious process of narrowing the jury pool. One of the hundreds of potential jurors was acquainted with Greg McMichael, his father having worked alongside him with the district attorney's office in Brunswick.
"He’s a friend of my father’s and he’s been over to our house multiple times," the juror said.
After questioning him, attorneys sent him back into the assembly room.
Another potential juror, a woman in her 20s or 30s, said her father was retired law enforcement and believes what happened to Arbery should be considered a hate crime. She said it "wasn't justified" what happened to him. She, however, "absolutely" believes she can put aside all she's heard and decide the case based on the facts.
"I think I've always been a pretty objective person," she said.
Walmsley urged both the prosecution and defense to speed up the pace of jury selection. He sent home a panel of jurors that were supposed to be questioned by 1 p.m. The backlog of panels projects jury selection to exceed the original two-week projection.
"I do not have the ability to just store people or keep them longer than planned," Walmsley said prior to a break for lunch. "I am not comfortable with this… At the rate we’re going, all these plans we have to move these panels through are not going to work."
Prosecutors and defense attorneys spent hours Monday questioning the first panel of 20 potential jurors brought to the courthouse. That’s out of 600 summoned to jury duty Monday, with 400 more on deck to show up next week if needed.
The plodding pace and huge number of potential jurors underscore how Arbery’s slaying dominated the news, social media feeds and workplace chatter in coastal Glynn County. One jury panelist told attorneys he was sick of hearing about the case. Another wondered if she should fear for her safety should she be part of the final jury and the verdict angers some people.
Twelve potential jurors were dismissed when the court adjourned Monday evening. Tuesday morning, four sworn-in potential jurors told the court that their minds were not perfectly impartial between the state and the three suspects.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley urged the lawyers to "streamline" their approach. More than once he stopped defense attorneys as they asked jury panelists bluntly whether they already believed the defendants were guilty —- or pressed those who expressed negative impressions of the men on trial how they would remain impartial.
"You do not ask a potential juror what their opinion on guilt or innocence is," Walmsley warned one attorney, calling the question "inappropriate."
Jason Sheffield, an attorney for Travis McMichael, insisted lawyers need to ask such questions to weed out jury pool members who have already made up their minds.
"Life is on the line and we feel like these are reasonable questions," Sheffield said.
Court officials have said jury selection could take more than two weeks. And prosecutor Linda Dunikoski told jury panelists the trial itself could push into the week before Thanksgiving.
The court has not identified the race of any of the prospective jurors.
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.