BRANSWIK, GA (AP) – A jury of three black members was sworn in on Monday at federal hate crimes the trial of white people previously convicted of killing Ahmaud Arberi, whose murder prosecutors say was motivated by racism.
U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godby Wood and attorneys in the case discussed the racial composition of the jury after Monday morning its members were reduced from 36 to a grand jury of 12 as well as four deputies.
The trial was due to begin on Monday afternoon, when prosecutors and lawyers for the three defendants will deliver their opening statements.
Eight whites, three blacks and one Hispanic juror sit on the main panel, according to a breakdown given by the judge and lawyers in court. Spare jury members consist of three white and one Pacific Islanders.
Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbury, told reporters near the courthouse in the port city of Brunswick that he was “very happy.”
“The variety of the three black jurors is encouraging, and it’s significant,” said Barbara Arnwine, a lawyer who supports the Arberry family.
Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves and chased 25-year-old Arbery in a pickup truck after they noticed on February 23, 2020, he was running around their neighborhood. Neighbor William “Roddy” Brian joined the chase in his truck and recorded on his cell phone a video in which Travis McMichael blew up Arbury with a shotgun.
There were no arrests in the case until the video appeared online two months later.
This is the second time Brunswick has tried Arbera’s murder. Judge last month sentenced McMichael and Brian to life in prison after they were convicted last fall for murder in the Glyn County High Court.
The same three men were charged in federal court separately on charges of hate crimes alleging that they violated Arbery’s civil rights and attacked him because he is black. McMichaels and Brian pleaded not guilty to the federal case.
The judge said he expects the hate crime trial to last seven to 12 days.
Last week, a judge and attorneys questioned more than 160 potential jurors about the murder of a black man and their views on racism in America. They were pulled out of the territory, which covers 43 districts in eastern and southern Georgia.
The judge eventually found 64 of them qualified for the service. Nearly two-thirds were fired for having strong opinions about the case after reviewing parts of the murder trial in the state or news reports about it.
The random draw further narrowed that number to 36 potential jurors before the final jury was selected on Monday.
The search for an impartial jury in federal court came just a week after lawyers announced that McMikles plans to plead guilty in a federal case to a deal with a prosecutor that quickly fell apart. The judge noted that only one or two potential jurors said they knew about it.
In the case of state murder racial composition a disproportionately white jury sparked objections from prosecutors and complaints from the Arberi family. A state judge allowed the panel to sit after attorneys said non-racial reasons for removing most black jurors from the pool.
During the murder trial, defense attorneys argued that the defendants were acquitted in the pursuit of Arbery because they suspected he had committed crimes in their area. Travis McMichael testified that he opened fire in self-defense after Arbury attacked him with his fists and grabbed a gun.