BRUNSWICK, Ga. — The second week of jury selection in the murder trial for the three white men charged in death of a 25-year-old Black man in Brunswick wrapped up Friday without a jury.
At this rate, jury selection is likely to last until Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.
Friday, another eight potential jurors qualified, adding up to 55 qualified total. That means nine more are still needed to get to that magic number of 64 so final jury selection can start.
Travis McMichael's defense attorney, Jason Sheffield, said with an average of just five or six qualified jurors per day, he thinks it's going to take another two to three days to finish up.
"We're moving slowly but surely," he said. "We're very pleased with the answers and honesty and the way that the jurors are sharing their personal stories with us and opinions with us which is so crucial," he said.
Sheffield said in-depth questioning is necessary, especially since the case has been so publicized. Earlier this week, he and his legal partner, Bob Rubin, were hopeful jury selection would wrap up Friday.
“The fact that it’s taking a little longer than we thought or hoped, that’s ok, that’s ok. We will proceed with today, and then I’m sure we’ll be back Monday and Tuesday," Sheffield said.
The court went into Friday with 47 potential jurors qualified. That meant 17 had to be qualified Friday to wrap up. Eighteen of the 20 potential jurors showed up Friday. That became impossible before lunchtime, as the first six were struck.
Marcus Arbery Sr., Ahmaud Arbery's father, said his family is sticking together as the process inches along.
“We’re dealing with it," he said. "It’s rough, but we’re been raised to be strong, so the main thing is we’re just sticking together because we know it was wrong what they did and we know it was a racial killing, so we know we’re going to get us a conviction, and so that’s what my family and I will be concentrating on," he said.
Barbara R. Arnwine, an attorney with the Transformative Justice Coalition, said Friday the defense is dragging the process along by asking irrelevant questions like if the potential jurors belong to a church.
"There's a lot of irrelevancy going on and if they would stay on the relevant questions and focus on the ones that make sense on both sides, then I think we could get to a jury," Arnwine said.
Sheffield said questions like that one are necessary to better understand the potential juror and his or her opinions. He said there's a lot of views about the case that could come from local churches, leaders and groups, and they need to know what influences the potential jurors may be under.
"‘We begin to find that there are certain questions that jurors understand better than others that get them to share their experiences, their thoughts and opinions, so the questions that we’re asking, although they do feel like they’re a little personal and they are prying a little bit, the reason that we ask those questions is to simply get them to open up and give their thoughts opinions and share their biases and prejudices with us," Sheffield said.
Over the past two weeks, potential jurors who are struck are usually dismissed for hardships, meaning personal reasons, or because they say they have a fixed opinion. Friday, one was struck because the man knew Arbery on a personal level. He said he would hug him whenever he saw him. The judge said this was a "significant concern of his."
Several potential jurors each day, some who've qualified, know key players in the case. Arbery Sr. and Arnwine said they were frustrated that this potential juror was struck and not others.
"Why did they allow the person who, I believe she knew one of the McMichaels, on the jury? I mean, something is wrong here. There needs to be one rule: if they know them, strike them or if they know them, let them on. I really find this really disturbing what I just watched," she said.
The eight who qualified Friday came from Panel seven, which was questioned Friday, and Panel one, which they revisited from the first day of jury selection, Oct. 18. One man who qualified said he has a negative impression about Gregory McMichael, but said he hasn't made up his mind about his innocence or guilt.
Another person who qualified said she has negative opinions about all three defendants.
"A man died, and so, yeah, I have a pretty negative feeling about that," she told the court.
She also said she doesn't understand the citizen's arrest law, the defense the defendants are claiming.
"I think Mr. Arbery was probably in terror. I'm trying to be honest here," she told the court.
Gregory McMichael's defense attorney, Laura Hogue, made a motion to strike the defendant based on her negative feelings about the defendants, and that she doesn't understand the citizen's arrest law.
The state argued that the potential juror said she'd set her opinions aside. The judge denied the motion, saying the potential juror seemed open and would look at things critically.
Another person who qualified said that William Roddie Bryan "videotaping the scene was disgusting and vicious, however, at the same time, I'm thankful that he did because we are able to see what happened. Laura Hogue motioned to strike this potential juror because she is the sole caretaker of her three-year-old daughter and has to pick her up at daycare at 5:30. She also said the potential juror's opinions are fixed regarding Bryan specifically.
The state argued she could be fair and impartial. The judge denied the motion, saying the potential juror said she had no opinion on guilt or innocence of the defendants. He also said court would get out at 5 p.m., so she'd have time to pick up her daughter. He did have some reservations, though about daycare issues. The defense indicated it may submit further legal arguments on the childcare issue to have her dismissed.
At the end of the day, Bryan's attorney, Kevin Gough announced a motion. He argued that Bryan was not facing a jury of his peers.
“It would appear that white males born in the south over 40-years-old without a college degree seem to be significantly underrepresented."
Gough said this group may also be known as “Bubba or Joe Sixpack."
The judge looked puzzled, with two fingers on his furrowed forehead.
“I know the judge hates being put in the position of being surprised at the last moment,” Gough said, promising to put the motion in writing.
Court resumes Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. with the next group of 20 potential jurors looking for nine more to qualify.