A jury has been seated in the federal trial of three white Georgia men charged with hate crimes stemming from the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was out for a jog in 2020 when he was chased and gunned down.
The 16 jurors, including four alternates, were empaneled on Monday morning following a lengthy selection process that started on Feb. 7.
Opening statements in the high profile case against retired police officer Gregory McMichael, his 36-year-old son Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, are set to begin on Monday afternoon.
The jury is comprised of eight whites, three Blacks and one Hispanic. Alternates are three white members and one Pacific Islander.
The trial in U.S. District Court in Brunswick, Georgia, is expected to last seven to 10 days.
All three men are charged with one count of interference with Arbery’s civil rights and with one count of attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels were also charged with one count each of using, carrying, and brandishing a firearm, and Travis McMichael faces an additional count of discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.
If convicted, the men face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The McMichaels and Bryan were convicted last year on state murder charges in Arbery’s death. They were all sentenced to life in prison.
Arbery was fatally shot after the McMichaels saw him jogging in their Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick, Georgia. They said they assumed Arbery was a burglar, armed themselves and chased him in their pickup truck. The McMichaels’ neighbor, Bryan, joined the pursuit, blocking the victim’s escape path with his truck and recorded video on a cellphone of Travis McMichael fatally shooting Arbery three times with a shotgun during a struggle.
If convicted in the federal case, the men must first serve their state sentences before being transferred to federal prison.
In the now-defunct plea deal filed with the court on Jan. 30, Gregory and Travis McMichael agreed to plead guilty to count one of an indictment alleging they interfered with Arbery’s right to enjoy the use of a public road he was jogging on “because of Arbery’s race and color.”
In exchange for the guilty pleas, prosecutors were to dismiss the other charges and allow the McMichaels to serve the first 30 years of confinement in federal prison before being transferred back to the Georgia Department of Corrections to serve out the remainder of their state sentences.
The same plea agreement was not given to Bryan.
Judge Lisa Wood rejected the McMichaels’ plea deal after Arbery’s parents, Wanda Cooper-Jones and Marcus Arbery, strongly objected and claimed it was forged without their consent. Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a statement that prosecutors were in constant communication with the Arbery family’s attorneys and had been assured the family would not object to the agreement.
Wood claimed she turned down the deal because it would have locked her into the three-decade federal prison sentence, saying she didn’t know if that was “the precise, fair sentence in this case.”
Following Wood’s decision, Gregory and Travis McMichael, who are being represented by court-appointed public defenders due to financial hardship, withdrew their guilty pleas and opted to go to trial.
(Subcribe to BritishHerald : Samia Suluhu Hassan | Mama Samia- Madam President | British Herald Magazine Jan-Feb 2022)