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60 percent of those who received jury summons showing up, defense says in death of Ahmaud Arbery trial

Defense attorneys said they’re concerned the potential pool may not reflect the accused because not everyone summoned for jury duty is showing up.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Monday marked the start of week three, and day 10 of jury selection in the murder trial of three white men charged in the death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man.

Arbery's family and supporters were outside the courthouse again Monday. Arbery's aunt said the family is leaning on each other and supporters as jury selection inches along.

"We're putting God first," Diane Jackson, Arbery's aunt, said. "We already know He got us and He won't let nothing turn us around and nothing stop us because my Daddy always taught us if you feel like something is wrong, you fight for it and this is wrong what they did to Ahmaud. And we're going to fight until the end."

After the tenth day, no jury has been selected yet. Six more potential jurors qualified Monday. Four more are needed to reach 64 so final jury selection can begin.

Among those who qualified Monday, one man said he and his wife wanted to know more about the incident when it started getting attention after the cellphone video was released.

“My wife and I were curious, so we went and looked for the video. It was pretty inconclusive," he told the court. 

That potential juror also said he thinks the rallies and protests held in Arbery's memory have been overblown. He said he could be fair and impartial if chosen.

Another potential juror who qualified said she supports Black Lives Matter. She said people of color aren't treated fairly in the criminal justice system.

That potential juror also told the court, "While from what I know about the case, I agree on citizen's arrest, however, I do not believe in the end result of what happened." 

She said she has negative opinions about all of the defendants. She said she could look at all of the facts of the case, however.

The judge and attorneys said Monday night they expect jury selection to wrap up Wednesday. They said they expect opening statements to start Thursday or Friday.

"We're thinking we’re at a pretty definitive number at this point, but we also need to consider that there may be some things that come up between what we’ve already done in court and what we’ll be doing in the next few days that could continue to remove some of those jurors that we’ve been dealing with," Jason Sheffield, Travis McMichael's defense attorney, said.

According to Sheffield, just 60 percent of those who received a jury summons are actually showing up for jury duty. 

"It could be that they decided just not to show up," Sheffield added. "Whether they're deciding just not to show up, the court is enforcing that and going out to find those people to bring them to the courthouse as long as it's not COVID-related. For today, we have 17 [out of the 20 expected]. I'm not sure as I sit here what happened to the other three, but we're going to work through that."

Sheffield said the turnout is causing some concerns among himself and the other defense attorneys. 

Friday, William Roddie Bryan's attorney, Kevin Gough, said he plans to file a motion stating Bryan isn't facing a jury of his peers. Specifically, Gough said white males over 40, born in the South who don't have college degrees, a group he called "Bubba" or "Joe Sixpack," are "significantly underrepresented" in the jury pool. 

Sheffield said Gough's word choice was interesting but said he has a point.

"That is not right [people not showing up] to the extent that population then doesn’t fairly reflect the accused in this case. Where the accused can’t look across the courtroom and see persons that are similarly situated to themselves then it may be that they feel, and we as their lawyers feel, that we really don’t have a fair cross-section of the population, and that would be grounds to file some type of motion to have the court perhaps enforce some type of higher level of attendance then we have seen thus far," Sheffield said.

Sheffield said they'll evaluate which potential jurors are remaining and their opinions that they've expressed before deciding whether or not to file a motion.

According to Sheffield, just 360 of the 600 people initially summoned have reported for jury duty. First Coast News reached out to the clerk of the superior court in Glynn County to ask about the juror response rate and whether there are any plans to punish those who do not show. FCN is waiting to hear back.

Even so, Sheffield said he thinks they'll find a fair and impartial jury in Glynn County.

"The way that we are looking at that is if we were to change locations, if we were to move, remove ourselves to another county, would they have heard about this case? Most likely, yes. Would they have opinions about this case? Most likely, yes," Sheffield said.

"Would they know the parties involved? Probably not. So, then the question becomes, 'if we go to a new location, what limitations will exist in that location? What benefits exist in that location and at this point, we feel like the jurors who have been qualified are jurors who can give us a fair shot," he added.

Court resumes at 8:30 Tuesday morning.