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Jury selection begins in Georgia trial of men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery

Monday morning marked the start of a long process to choose 12 jurors from the 1,000 called up for jury duty to determine the guilt of three white men charged with fatally shooting a Black jogger in south Georgia last February.

ATLANTA (CN) — Jury selection in the trial of three white men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black jogger, began Monday.

About 600 people were ordered to report for jury duty Monday morning at the Glynn County Courthouse in the port city of Brunswick, Georgia, as defense attorneys and prosecutors prepare to question up to 1,000 people in the coming days to find 12 impartial jurors and four alternate jurors to hear the high-profile case.

The panel of jurors will ultimately be tasked with deciding whether Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan are guilty of felony and malice murder for chasing Arbery down in a pick-up truck on Feb. 23, 2020, and shooting him to death with a shotgun.

Travis McMichael has claimed that he fatally shot Arbery, who was unarmed, in self-defense.

Attorneys for the McMichaels have argued that they chased Arbery because they believed he had committed a burglary. They allegedly planned to carry out a citizen’s arrest on Arbery under a since-repealed Georgia law.

Investigators have said there is no evidence that Arbery engaged in any wrongdoing that day.

Despite the existence of a video of the shooting, which Bryan filmed on his cell phone, local police did not immediately bring charges against the men. It was only after the video leaked two months later and sparked a nationwide outcry that state investigators took the case over and charged Bryan and the McMichaels for the shooting.

The three men also face charges for aggravated assault, false imprisonment and other crimes. All three have pleaded not guilty.

The process of choosing a jury in the case is expected to take at least two weeks. Court officials and attorneys on both sides appear to have anticipated a difficult road ahead as they sift through the community of just 86,000 to find jurors who can remain impartial despite the national attention the case has received.

The jury pool will wait in a recreation center near the courthouse to ensure that social distancing rules are followed. Jurors will be called in groups of 20 for questioning by the attorneys.

Members of the jury pool received a three-page questionnaire with their jury summons, asking what they know about the case, what news outlets have been their main sources of information and whether they have posted any online comments about Arbery’s killing.

Attorneys on both sides will spend the next two weeks questioning the jury pool to find out whether they have formed biases and opinions on the case that would render them unable to serve on the final panel.

Potential jurors will be questioned on whether they own guns, what their views on racism and Black Lives Matter are and whether they have accessed public records related to Arbery’s previous brushes with the law.

Before jury selection began Monday, Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley held a brief hearing to allow attorneys to air disagreements over some of the proposed jury questions.

Prosecutors specifically objected to one question proposed by defense attorneys which would ask potential jurors whether white people who use “the N-word” are racist.

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said she believed the question was “inappropriate” for voir dire questioning.

During a preliminary hearing in the case last June, Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent Richard Dial testified that Bryan said he overheard Travis McMichael refer to Arbery as a “fucking nigger” as he stood over Arbery’s body.

During a November hearing in the case, exhibits entered by the prosecution showed that Travis McMichael used racial slurs in a text message to a friend.

The McMichaels and Bryan have also been indicted on federal hate crime and attempted kidnapping charges. They have pleaded not guilty.

Once the jury is seated, the trial could take two weeks or more.

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