05 November 2021

Black jogger murder trial begins in Georgia with three white defendants and an almost all-white jury

05 November 2021

Three white men are to stand trial for killing Ahmaud Arbery a 25-year-old black man whose death was largely ignored until a leaked mobile phone video stirred outrage over the shooting.

Greg McMichael and his adult son, Travis McMichael, armed themselves and pursued Mr Arbery in a pick-up truck after they spotted him running in their neighbourhood just outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick on February 23 2020.

A neighbour, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase and recorded graphic video of Travis McMichael shooting Mr Arbery three times with a shotgun.

Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and William ‘Roddie’ Bryan Jr (Glynn County Detention Centre/AP)

The killing has became part of a broader reckoning on racial injustice in the US criminal legal system after a string of fatal encounters between police and black people such as George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

Superior court judge Timothy Walmsley planned to have the trial jury sworn in on Friday to hear opening statements from prosecutors and defence lawyers.

All three defendants are standing trial together, charged with murder and other offences.

Mr Arbery had been dead for more than two months before the McMichaels and Bryan were charged last year.

A memorial walk and candlelight vigil for Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick (AP)

Greg McMichael, a retired investigator for the local district attorney, told police the men were trying to stop Mr Arbery because they suspected he was a burglar.

Security cameras had recorded him entering a nearby house under construction.

Greg McMichael said his son had killed Mr Arbery in self-defence after Mr Arbery attacked with his fists and tried to take Travis McMichael’s gun.

Prosecutors say Mr Arbery was merely out jogging, was unarmed and had committed no crimes in the area.

When Bryan’s video of the killing leaked online in May 2020, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police. Its agents arrested the McMichaels the next day, and charged Bryan two weeks later.

Greg McMichael (AP) (AP)

The killing of Mr Arbery has dominated news stories and social media feeds in Brunswick and surrounding Glynn County, a coastal community of about 85,000 people.

It took the judge and lawyers two and a half weeks to select a jury. Nearly 200 people summoned to jury duty were questioned extensively about what they knew about the case, how many times they had seen the video and if they had any personal connection to Mr Arbery or the defendants.

Controversy erupted on Wednesday, the final day of jury selection, when prosecutors objected to a final jury consisting of 11 white people and one black person.

They argued that the defence had cut eight potential jurors from the final panel because they are black, which the US supreme court has declared unconstitutional.

Travis McMichael (AP) (AP)

The judge agreed there appeared to be “intentional discrimination”, but said Georgia law limited his authority to intervene because the defence stated non-racial reasons for excluding black panellists from the jury.

One juror, a white woman, was dismissed on Thursday for medical reasons. Fifteen total panellists will hear the trial – 12 jurors plus three alternates. The judge has not given the races of the alternate jurors, and they were not asked to state their race in open court.

Court officials have said the trial could last two weeks or more.

If the defendants are acquitted, their legal troubles will not be over. They have also been indicted on federal hate crime charges. A US district court judge has scheduled that trial to begin February 7.

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