BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Jury selection inched along Thursday in the murder trial of three white men in the death of a 25-year-old Black man, Ahmaud Arbery.
The pace of jury selection in Brunswick, Georgia, on its eighth day Thursday, has been described as moving at a snail's pace. Attorneys for one of the defendants, Travis McMichael, were hopeful Wednesday that jury selection would wrap up Friday.
Five potential jurors qualified Thursday, adding up to 47 total. That means 17 of Friday's 20 potential jurors would have to qualify to reach the magic number of 64 to begin final jury selection. Based on the pace, that's highly unlikely.
Travis McMichael's attorneys, Bob Rubin and Jason Sheffield, said the slow process is necessary to allow for in-depth questioning of potential jurors.
"Media coverage so far has been such that it has injected a lot of detail, which has resulted in people having very strong opinions about things and when those people show up to court and have opinions that could favor the state or the prosecution, the more we have to dig down into that, so it does require that we kind of stand tall that we ask those questions that will arrive at those opinions and beliefs," Sheffield said.
Court started 45 minutes late Thursday for the second day in a row because potential jurors were late. Nineteen total showed up Thursday. Fourteen were struck for various reasons including fixed opinions and personal reasons.
Judge Timothy Walmsley told both sides Thursday questioning is taking a while and he wants them to move faster.
“We're taking a long time," he said. "The examinations, I think, could be shorter, but I think they are in fact, are starting to get to the core of what the court wanted to get to which is a panel of 64. It appears we are heading in that direction, in a positive direction. I would like to move a little more quickly," he said.
He also reminded the state and the defense that the potential jurors they're questioning are regular people coming in for jury duty, and that their tone has an effect on them.
"I watched a few examinations of these jurors and again, it is from my perspective sometimes uncomfortable and aggressive, and I understand we’re trying to get information, but I just point that out, and get back to the fact that you may not agree with the positions of others, but don’t ascribe the worst intentions on differences in opinion," he said.
"Now, whether that sinks in or not, it’s kind of like my teenage boys, I don’t know if it sank in or not. I know you heard me," Walmsley said.
Something else pushing back the process? Stopping jury selection intermittently for the judge to hear motions mainly filed by the defense.
Thursday, the defense asked the court if attorneys can ask potential jurors if anything has changed since they filled out the juror questionnaire. The judge granted the request.
The motion was filed after it became clear a potential juror changed her Facebook name after she was summoned making it harder for attorneys to dig into her social media footprint. That potential juror said she didn't recall posting "Happy Birthday Ahmaud" on Facebook when the defendants were arrested. She then said she shared the posts when the defense showed them to her. She said she has changed her name on Facebook a few times since getting her summons, but said it wasn't related to the summons.
That potential juror qualified Thursday. She also said she thinks the defendants "hunted him [Arbery] down and killed him like an animal," but said she'd consider the defense in her judgment.
A woman under 20 also qualified Thursday. She said she didn't want to serve on the jury because she thinks she's too young to judge someone's life. She said she was nervous and couldn't remember the last major decision she made in her life. She did say she could give both sides a fair trial.
The defense made a motion to dismiss the woman, saying they saw her shaking. "Your honor, this is a murder case where clients face serious penalties. I’m asking the court to find this is not a case for this young woman," Gregory McMichael's attorney, Laura Hogue, said. The judge denied the motion and she was qualified.
Another woman who qualified said she has not seen the video of the incident. She said she wants to sit on this jury and thinks it's her opportunity to do her civic duty. She said she has a negative opinion about Travis McMichael but doesn't think she couldn't be fair and impartial.
A man who said he's down the middle as far as a judgment on the case also qualified.
The fifth person who qualified played football with Arbery. He was on the JV high school team and Arbery was on varsity. He said he wasn't really the friendly type in high school, so he didn't talk to Arbery. When asked based on how he knew Arbery if he thinks he's the right juror for the case, he replied, "Idk. It depends on you guys."
That potential juror also worked with Arbery's sister when he was in high school for a few months, but hasn't talked to her since. He also said he has no opinion on the defendants' guilt or innocence.
Again Thursday, several potential jurors knew key players, including the defendants. Four knew Arbery. At least eight had negative opinions about the defendants.
Two wanted to serve on the jury. Both qualified.
Twelve out of 19 said they think people of color aren't treated fairly in the criminal justice system. Thirteen out of 19 said the police don't treat white and Black people equally.