Jury seated for Ahmaud Arbery murder trial; opening statements could begin Friday

Published: Nov. 3, 2021 at 4:07 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 3, 2021 at 5:08 PM CDT
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GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - UPDATE 6:07 p.m.: A jury has been seated for the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial.

Of the final 12 jurors, 11 are white while one is Black.

There are also four alternate jurors.

The state’s lead prosecutor challenged the defense team’s reasons for striking Black jurors off the final juror list.

“It’s disappointing. It has no relationship what so ever with the demographics of either Glynn County or Brunswick. How did we get to this result,” said Barbara Arwine with Transformative Justice Coalition.

“It was very disheartening. It was just - It was like unreal. I can’t put it into words,” said Wanda Cooper-Jones, Ahmaud Arbery’s mother.

Defense attorneys had to explain the individual, race neutral reasons, why those jurors were eliminated from serving.

Judge Timothy Walmsley eventually denied the motion that the jury was formed because of racial bias.

Opening arguments are expected to begin Friday morning.

The mother of Ahmaud Arbery says she’s confident that a fair jury will be seated in the case against the men accused of murdering her son.

“I do trust that we will pick the correct people to make the right choice. I’m very confident on that as well,” said Wanda Cooper-Jones, Ahmaud Arbery’s mother.

That trial is close to starting its next phase. After nearly three weeks of jury selection, the pool is narrowing down to the 12 that will decide the case.

We have new details from inside the courtroom as this long jury selection process approaches its finale.

Lawyers are working out who will decide the fate of the three defendants. There was a hold up that slowed things down Wednesday.

The defense and prosecution are actually arguing over whether some Black candidates were unfairly taken off the final jury list.

For several hours, both sides narrowed down a pool of 48 potential jurors to get to the final 12. After that process wrapped up, the prosecution raised concerns over the racial makeup of who is left on the candidate list, which is 11 white jurors and one African American.

2020 Census Data shows there are more than 13,600 white residents and over 15,500 Black residents living in the county.

The lead prosecutor challenged the defense team’s reasons for taking some Black candidates off the list. Outside the courthouse, supporters of the Arbery family also voiced concern over what the racial makeup of the final jury panel would be.

“We expect to have a racially diverse jury. And if we see a lot of racial strikes today, we’re going to really have issues with what’s going on,” said Barbara Arnwine, Transformative Justice Coalition.

The prosecution challenged eight of the 11 removals of potential jurors who are African American. The defense is making their argument for why they say race was not their deciding factor.

At the very beginning of the narrowing down process this morning, Arbery family advocates said they were hopeful they’d see a racially diverse jury.

But as it currently stands, the proposed final panel of 12 is anything but, with only one African American person avoiding removal by the defense. That final panel has since been challenged by the prosecution. Within the hour, Arbery family advocates reacted to the proposed makeup of the jury outside the courthouse.

“My goodness that was chilling. It was chilling! It was like they purposefully kept one so that they couldn’t be charged for, or criticized for getting rid of everybody,” said Arnwine.

Arnwine applauded the prosecution challenging the defense removing all but one black potential juror, and said she hopes the Court would do what she called the right thing.

Final phase of jury selection

Moments after attorneys determined they had 12 jurors - the prosecution challenged the racial makeup of the jury.

It said the defense used racial bias to eliminate several qualified black jurors. The defense team said racial bias was not a factor.

Here’s a look at the racial makeup:

  • Attorneys picked a jury from a panel of 48 qualified jurors.
  • Of the 48 - 12 were black and 36 were white.
  • The prosecution pointed out, that means one quarter of the qualified jurors were black.

Now here’s a look at the racial makeup of the 12 remaining jurors:

  • One is black.
  • Eleven are white.
  • That breaks down to less than 10 percent black.

The motion to challenge by the prosecution, then required the defense attorneys to explain the individual, race neutral reasons why they eliminated several black jurors from serving on the jury.

In the end, the judge denied the motion that the jury was formed because of racial bias. Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley explained that he thought the defense gave genuine reasons to eliminate those jurors.

This is not the first time the racial makeup of the jury panel has been discussed in court.

Tuesday and Wednesday, the defense attorney for William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. took issue with what he called quote “an under representation of bubbas.”

WTOC was in the courtroom Tuesday when defense attorney Kevin Gough used the term “bubba.” WTOC asked him to explain what he meant.

He said quote “there is an under representation of southern white men.” Something the prosecution said isn’t true.

The attorneys in this case have repeatedly talked about the mounting pressure for this to be a fair trial for both sides.

Here’s a quick look at how we got to this point of the case:

  • Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed back on February 23, 2020.
  • Cell phone video of the shooting was then leaked to the public May 5 of last year.
  • Two days after that, Gregory McMichael and his son Travis were arrested and charged.
  • Roddie Bryan, the man who recorded the shooting, was arrested two weeks later and faces the same charges.
  • Jury selection for the three suspects began October 18.
  • Opening statements could officially begin as soon as Thursday.

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