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Ahmaud Arbery murder trial begins


As the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial gets underway, the prosecution of those accused of taking his life begins where his death left off on that tragic day, dealing with the issues of race.

Allegations of racist vigilantism were lodged last year against Gregory and Travis McMichael and neighborhood friend William Bryan after Ahmaud Arbery was killed and the three white men – later charged in his death – remained free for more than two months.

Accusations of racial discrimination boiled over again Wednesday after Defense Attorneys representing the three men were successful in striking from the jury pool 11 of the 12 eligible Black jurors in the case. The composition of the jury is now a controversial issue for those inside and outside the court.  Many in this Georgia coastal county of 85,000 were outraged after learning the racial composition of the 12 trial jurors as they pointed to racism and a coverup already underway before the trial started. 

Although Black residents comprise more than a quarter of Glynn County’s population and more than half of Brunswick’s, many were shocked to learn that only one Black man was seated on the jury while all the others, including the three alternates are white. 

Attorney Daryl Jones, co-leader of the Washington D.C.-based Transformative Justice Coalition said, “It’s extremely discouraging. Just looking at the history of it all, you can go back to the all-white jury of Emmett Till. We’re one juror better than that.”

Jones’ organization has led demonstrations outside the courthouse over the past three weeks. He believes the defense intentionally removed the majority of Black jurors from the pool of qualified candidates. Said Jones, “There’s no question what they were doing. It was purposeful. If in this case a Batson challenge cannot be successful, then when can it be successful?” 

The Batson challenge stems from a 1986 ruling by the Supreme Court making it unconstitutional to strike people from a jury solely because of their race, ethnicity, or gender. Attorneys can, however, argue race-neutral reasons for eliminating prospective jurors.  

Linda Dunikoksi, the lead prosecutor, challenged eight of the defense’s 11 strikes of Black jurors. She argued there were many white jurors who had expressed similar opinions about the case and the guilt of the defendants, noting the defense attorneys did not question them nearly as extensively during the selection process. “I ask the court to look at how much time was spent with each and every one of the African American jurors,” she told Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley. “Once again, this isn’t one page of notes, it’s four pages of notes.” 

Jason Sheffield, Travis McMichael’s attorney, claimed that Juror 199, a Black woman, said, “They hunted him down and killed him like an animal,” and “The whole case was about racism.” Attorney Laura Hogue, who represents Greg McMichael, cited answers given by Juror 253, another Black woman. “No one needs to have their life taken,” the juror said. “I believe it was wrong. There should be another solution instead of, ‘Bam!” 

Judge Walmsley acknowledged there appeared to be intentional discrimination in the selection process based on the fact the defense struck 11 of the 12 Black jurors. But he ultimately sided with the defense after it listed its reasons for dismissing the jurors. 

Thea Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery’s aunt, said she is disappointed with the racial makeup of the final jury, but not shocked. She had hoped to see at least one Black woman on the jury —someone who “looks like me,” she said. She remains optimistic that those selected for this trial will consider the evidence and return guilty verdicts.

Both sides avoided race as they presented powerful opening statements. Lead prosecutor Dunikoski described Arbery as an avid runner who suddenly found himself chased down and under attack before being gunned down on a Sunday afternoon in a neighborhood almost 2 miles from his home. Dunikoski asserted that Travis, his father, Greg McMichael, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan had no evidence that Arbery had committed any crime when they chased him down in their pickup trucks for the last five minutes of his life. They assumed the worst of Arbery’s intentions. “They made decisions in their driveway, based on assumptions, that took a young man’s life,” Dunikoski argued. 

Defense attorneys for the father and son standing trial argued the men were simply protecting the neighborhood — and themselves — following a string of break-ins that rattled their middle-class neighborhood. Defense Attorney Bob Rubin told the jury that McMichael fired his shotgun in self-defense while protecting himself against an advancing Arbery, who had been spotted on at least four occasions entering a nearby home that was under construction. 

 The trial continues this week.


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