Ronny Reyes, Daily Mail, October 20, 2021
A Georgia county court overseeing the trial of Ahmaud Arbery has mistakenly exposed potential jurors to banned evidence, creating a chance for a mistrial.
Jury candidates who visited the Glynn County Superior Court website to learn about the jury duty process had easy access to all the motions filed so far on the murdered black jogger and the three suspected killers, Travis and Gregory McMichael and William ‘Roddie’ Bryan.’
Among the documents jurors could access was the mental health and prior criminal history records of the victim, which a judged removed as admissible evidence from the trial.
It also included evidence of Travis’s truck with a Confederate flag vanity plate and how often he and his father’s used their firearms. The judge has yet to decide whether these two pieces of evidence will be admissible in court.
‘We are aware of that issue, and the decision about that [solutions] will be made by the judge,’ Glynn County Superior Court Clerk Ronald Adams told VICE News.
Suparna Malempati, a professor at John Marshall Law School in Atlanta, said the courts error court hurt the validity of the trial.
‘Prominently displaying that information and it being accessible to jurors with just a click of a button, I would say is problematic,’ Malempati said.
‘When potential jurors have information that may or may not be admitted in the courtroom, the jurors may be influenced.’
But the chances of this incident trigger a mistrial is slim.
The court has only recently verified eight potential jurors among a pool of dozens, who would then be whittled down to the 12 jurors who will oversee the trial, the Associate Press reports.
It is unclear if steps have since been taken to remove the evidence that is not supposed to have been shared.
The defense had previously asked to use Arbery’s mental health records to argue that it could have influenced his actions on the day of his death.
A judge ultimately ruled that such records would not be allowed in court as it would violate the late Arbery’s right to medical privacy, as would any use of previous run-ins with the police.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley argued that Arbery’s history could ‘lead the jury to believe that although Arbery did not apparently commit any felony that day, he might pose future dangerousness in that he would eventually commit more alleged crimes, and therefore, the Defendants’ actions were somehow justified,’ Newsweek reported.
The defense also asked the courts to limit photographic evidence that depicts the front of his white Ford truck that displays the former ‘Georgia State Flag’ also known as the Confederate flag. His lawyers claim ‘it is not relevant and is prejudicial,’ a court motion said.
But prosecutors are asking that the courts reject McMichael’s request, claiming that it is actually relevant that the jury see the vanity plate because it was on McMichael’s new truck at the time of the homicide.
The flag can be seen on McMichael’s truck in bodycam footage of the February 2020 killing. That saw McMichael, his son Gregory and pal Roddie Bryan box Arbery in with the truck, before shooting him dead as he tried to flee. Travis McMichael fired the shots that killed Arbery, while his dad watched, and Bryan filmed.
The judge is still deciding whether or not to enter the photo as evidence in the trial.
Arbery was killed on February 23, 2020, by three close-range shotgun blasts after the McMichaels pursued him in a pickup truck as he was running through their neighborhood.
The McMichaels and Bryan, who are all being held in jail pending a trial date, all deny felony murder charges.
Their lawyers, who have previously said McMichaels and Bryan believed Arbery was a burglar, are yet to comment on the federal hate crime allegations.
The federal indictment alleges the McMichaels ‘armed themselves with firearms, got into a truck and chased Arbery through the public streets of the neighborhood while yelling at Arbery, using their truck to cut off his route and threatening him with firearms.’
It also alleges that Bryan got into a truck and then chased Arbery before using the vehicle to block his path.
The indictment alleges that the men ‘used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery´s right to use a public street because of his race’.
In addition to the hate-crime charges, prosecutors allege the men tried ‘to unlawfully seize and confine Arbery by chasing after him in their trucks in an attempt to restrain him, restrict his free movement, corral and detain him against his will, and prevent his escape’.
The McMichaels and Bryan already face state criminal charges of murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony but no trial date has been set.
They weren’t arrested until 10 weeks later when when a cellphone video of the shooting was leaked online and a national outcry erupted.