BRUNSWICK, GA (AP) – A judge at the trial of the three white men who stalked and killed Ahmaud Arbury refused to overturn a jury decision on Wednesday, which left only one black juror in the last 12-jury panel, although he agreed with the accusation that “There seems to be deliberate discrimination.”
Prosecutors have asked Supreme Court Justice Timothy Walmsley to reinstate eight would-be Blacks, arguing that lawyers removed them from the final jury because of their race. The US Supreme Court ruled that, during jury selection, it is unconstitutional for lawyers to strike potential jurors solely on the basis of race or ethnicity.
Walmsley said he was limited in his ability to change the racial composition of the jury because defense attorneys could provide non-racial reasons for their decisions to exclude potential black jurors from the jury.
Race is a central issue in the 25-year-old black death lawsuit. Greg McMichael and his adult son Travis McMichael armed themselves and chased Arbury in a pickup truck after spotting him running in the neighborhood. A neighbor, William “Roddy” Brian, joined the chase in his truck and filmed a mobile video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbury three times with a shotgun.
After more than two weeks of jury selection, attorneys on both sides of Wednesday narrowed the list of 48 potential jurors to a final jury of 12.
Minutes later, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski challenged the lawyers’ decision to target eight specific black jurors, arguing that they were expelled from the panel due to their race.
Laura Hough, Greg McMichael’s attorney, denied that the race of black participants in the debate was taken into account when deciding whether to remove them from the jury.
“We have a very clear selection process on the defense team, and race is not a factor,” said Hogue. “I can give you a neutral racial reason for any of them.”
She noted that one such juror, named in court as No. 218, wrote on her jury questionnaire that Arbury had been shot “because of his skin color,” and told lawyers during interrogation that he considered the defendants guilty.
WATCH: How the assassination of Ahmaud Arbury spurred the national race
Dunikoski noted that many would-be jurors questioned in open court expressed strong opinions about the case, but everyone who remained in the pool, from which 12 jurors emerged, said they could be impartial and base their verdict solely on court evidence.
“The defense has not argued why this juror and her opinions differ from others, black or white,” Dunikoski said of No. 218. “She said the same thing that almost every other jury said. Many had their own opinion. And they said they could put them aside. “
In deciding not to change the jury, Walmsley said defense lawyers “were able to explain to the court why, in addition to race, these people were excluded from the panel.”
But, he said, “this court found that there was deliberate discrimination on the jury.”
The judge said the jury, along with four substitutes, will sit and be sworn in on Friday when opening remarks are expected in court.
According to the US Census Bureau, in Glynn County, where Arbury was killed and is being tried, blacks make up nearly 27% of the 85,000 population. The judge said that 25% of the pool from which the final jury was selected were black.
Arbury’s death became part of a wider recognition of racial injustice in the criminal justice system after a series of fatal clashes between blacks and the police – George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ryshard Brooks, among others.
No one was blamed for Arbury’s death until more than two months later, when video of the shooting was leaked online. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over from the local police and soon arrested all three men on charges of murder and other crimes.
Before the final jury is seated, criminal defense lawyers take turns excluding a significant number of potential jurors from the final set for almost any reason. The final elimination process consisted of a bailiff transferring a list of potential jurors between prosecutors and three defense teams. Lawyers used the list to discreetly select people to be expelled from the jury.
Defense attorneys argue that McMickels and Brian did not commit crimes. They say that Arbury was captured by CCTV cameras in a nearby house, and they suspected him of theft. Greg McMichael told police that his son opened fire in self-defense after Arbury pounded and grabbed Travis McMichael’s shotgun.
Investigators said Arbury was unarmed and there is no evidence that he stole anything.
The murder dominated news and social media in Glynn County, about 70 miles (110 km) south of Savannah. This prompted judicial officials to take extraordinary steps in the hope of bringing together an impartial jury.
They mailed 1,000 jury notices and nearly 200 were questioned by a judge and lawyers in the courthouse during jury selection.