Breaking News
More () »

Attorney says plea situation could impact jury selection in federal hate crimes case in Ahmaud Arbery's death

Attorney Esther Panitch, who's not associated with the case, said attorneys will have to be very specific when asking potential jurors what they know about the case.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Jury selection in the federal hate crimes trial in the death of Ahmaud Arbery will start Monday, with all three men convicted of murdering Arbery present.

It comes after Travis McMichael withdrew his guilty plea Friday, less than 24 hours after his father, Gregory McMichael, withdrew his. 

The pleas were part of an agreement prosecutors made with the McMichaels. The judge denied the terms of that deal Monday.

A plea deal was not offered to the third man convicted of murder, William Roddie Bryan.

The hearing Friday morning was just three minutes long. Only Travis McMichael was in court, and withdrew his guilty plea.

"I just have one word to say ... all we want is 100 percent justice for the Arbery family," Marcus Arbery Sr., Arbery's father, said after court Friday. "That's all we're looking for."

"It's still the same battle," Clifford Jones, part of the team of attorneys who represent the Arbery family, said. "We're just going further up the hill. So we still haven't gotten to the top yet. At the top is 100 percent justice for Ahmaud," he said. 

Attorney Esther Panitch, who's not affiliated with this case, said if she represented either McMichael in the federal case, she'd be worried about finding a fair and impartial jury.  

“I would be concerned, and I would bring it up, and I would ask the jurors," she said. 

The concern, she said, stems from the McMichaels' willingness to plead guilty to hate crime charges earlier this week.

“They're [attorneys] going to have to ask the jurors in voir dire, 'what do you know about this case? Have you already fixed an opinion on this case? Or can you listen to the evidence with an open mind and make a decision based only on what you hear in the courtroom," Panitch said.  

RELATED: Ahmaud Arbery's parents say DOJ 'betrays' their trust with plea deal in federal case for 2 men convicted of Arbery's murder

“It [jury selection] may take a little longer than it would have normally because you may have to start searching for people who haven't been paying attention this last week to what's been going on in this particular case," Panitch said.

U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood plans to call about 1,000 people for jury duty. It's the same number that was called for the state trial. In the federal trial, however, they'll pull people from all 43 counties in Georgia's Southern Federal Court district to try to get a fair and impartial jury of 12 jurors and four alternates. 

In the state trial, it took more than two weeks to find a jury. Potential jurors were summoned just from Glynn County.

“I would make sure that there's a fair jury panel, one who has not been influenced by whatever they have heard, somebody who can walk in and have an open mind," Panitch said.

“It's possible the lawyers can say there are a multitude of reasons somebody may have pled guilty already, even if they don't believe they really were," Panitch said. "Maybe they thought they were getting the benefit of a bargain that no longer exists. So, you know, there are reasons that lawyers could put out there if it becomes an overwhelming concern among the potential jury pool,” 

A group of 25 potential jurors will be brought in the morning to be questioned each day. Another group of 25 will be brought in the afternoon. 

The judge said jury selection will likely be a marathon, not a sprint. The trial is expected to last three to four weeks. 

Jury selection starts Monday at 9 a.m. 

Before You Leave, Check This Out