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Judge casts wide net for jury selection in federal hate crimes case for men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery

Although the men have been convicted by the state for murder, a federal hate crimes trial is set February.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — The three men who were convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery appeared in a federal court in Brunswick for a pretrial hearing for their federal hate crimes case. 

Arbery, who is Black, was shot and killed in the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick, Ga. in February 2020 by three white men.

Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, were convicted in November of murder, and face a minimum of life in prison, though whether they receive the possibility of parole will be up to the judge. The sentencing hearing for the state case is set for January. 

In April, a federal grand jury charged the McMichaels and Bryan with hate crimes and attempted kidnapping charges. The two McMichaels were also charged with separate counts of using firearms during a crime of violence.

All three men have pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood granted the joint motion filed by the defense and the prosecution asking that the judge draw from all 43 counties in the Southern District for jury selection, rather than just Glynn County. 

Wood said 1,000 jury duty notices will be sent out to the 43 counties because the case has received so much publicity. Some people may have to drive a few hours for jury duty.

Wood told the court Monday jury duty is "destined to be a difficult task." One-thousand people were summoned for jury duty in Glynn County for the state trial. Jury selection for that case took two and a half weeks. 

Arbery's father, Marcus Arbery Sr., said he's fine with potential jurors not living in Glynn County.

"It doesn’t matter because the evidence is overwhelming," Arbery Sr. said. "If any juror sees the evidence, that’s when it’s going to be another guilty verdict," he said.

The judge also granted a joint motion asking that the 14-page juror questionnaire be sent to the people summoned. A COVID questionnaire will also be sent to the potential jurors. Twelve jurors and four alternates will ultimately be chosen. 

The judge denied a motion filed by Travis McMichael's attorney, Amy Copeland, asking the judge to move the trial out of Glynn County. Copeland said she was concerned about the pretrial publicity. 

Wood said "trying it in Brunswick is the proper place" because it's the most convenient venue for everyone involved. Arbery Sr. nodded in agreement. 

Arbery Sr. said he and his family are prepared for the emotional toll this next trial will take on them, and for more evidence that wasn't included in the state trial. 

"You look for your children to bury you. Not for you to bury your 25-year-old baby, so it’s hard every day. I struggle every day with it but guess what? God is good," Arbery Sr. said.

"Those three whatever you want to call them behind those bars, if they don’t hurt nobody else, there’s some pain that’s going to ease off of us and the world needs to see this kind of stuff has to stop," he said.

Barbara Arnwine, the founder of the Transformative Justice Coalition, said she hopes the defendants will end the trial before it even starts.

"They ought to plead guilty and not put this whole county, this whole district and everybody through this pain," she said. "They know what this evidence is against them and they know how ugly it is and if they were being fair to this county if they were being fair to this district they would plead guilty," Arnwine said.

The judge also went over COVID logistics. She said no one is sure what turn COVID is going to take, so they're going to be prepared. In the past during the pandemic, she said, they've used the gallery as a jury box, but Wood said she wants to have the gallery available to family, press and other people.

Instead, Wood said they're going to try to construct an auxiliary box for the jurors to the right of the judge. They'll then move the podium and counsel's tables back to put a witness box in the middle of the room so the jurors can see the witness from their constructed box. 

The judge also warned counsel Monday to be prepared each day, and said there's "simply no excuse for not thinking of issues ahead of time." She told the attorneys jurors make a "sacrifice" to be here and she doesn't want anyone wasting their time. Wood said the attorneys have been good so far about this.

Wood continued, saying if either side doesn't have their next witness ready to go when she calls them. If they don't, Wood said, they've "unintentionally rested" their case. 

The final pretrial conference is Jan. 31 at 10 a.m.

The federal trial will begin Feb. 7 at 9 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Brunswick. The judge said they'll wrap up each day around 5 or 5:30 p.m. 

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