Alyssa Guzman and Ronny Reyes, Daily Mail, October 22, 2021
Potential jurors for Ahmaud Arbery’s murder trial fear ‘real-world repercussions’ if they are identified and will consider relocation.
Many of the 1,000 registered voters in Glynn County, Georgia, who received jury summons claim they knew Arbery, 25, the defendants or potentially witnesses, as Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley tries to narrow the pool down to 16 people.
The court has only recently verified eight potential jurors among a pool of dozens, who would then be whittled down to the 12 jurors and four alternatives who would oversee the trial.
Some jurors are worried that they will be identified by the press and could face ‘real-world repercussions’ after the verdict is rendered.
‘It’s a small enough town,’ one prospective juror told lawyers, USA Today reported. ‘I think it would be naïve to think there couldn’t be real-world repercussions.’
Others are concerned the verdict – whether guilty or innocent – would result in major life changes if the public were to identify them.
‘I don’t want to have to relocate because of something that goes wrong,’ one prospective juror said Monday.
Walmsley has banned the media from releasing identifying information about jurors and has allegedly told jurors the court will maintain their anonymity, USA Today reported.
However, anonymous juries are rare, with only roughly a dozen a year. The process could become more commonplace due to the rise in social media and ease of access to the internet, the outlet reported.
Critics blast the notion, saying it could jeopardize the transparency of juries.
‘It’s been a slow and constant march toward this, and if in the end no one knows who’s on the jury, people can lose faith in the system and see it as a faceless machine,’ Gregg Leslie, executive director of the First Amendment Clinic, told USA Today.
With race being a significant factor in the case – three white men are accused in the death of Arbery, who is black – the jury is being carefully selected.
Potential jurors have allegedly been asked questions like: ‘Do you support the Black Lives Matter movement?’ and ‘Do you believe the Confederate flag is a racist symbol?,’ according to USA Today. One of the accused, Travis McMichael, had a truck that had a confederate flag vanity plate.
Brunswick, where the shooting took place, is a predominately black community, whereas Glynn County, where the jurors are being selected, is mostly white.
Brunswick poses another issue, as the small town is home to a little over 16,000.
A lawyer for one of the men accused of murder, William ‘Roddie’ Bryan, even appeared to know one of the potential jurors, according to USA Today.
He called the small town a ‘fishbowl’ and insinuated that everyone knows everyone.
Many jurors have claimed to know at least one person attached to the case, with two even claiming one of the witnesses used to cut their hair.
Another juror claimed they were coworkers with the best friend of Bryan’s wife.
‘My coworkers are best friends with Roddie’s wife, we discuss this case all the time,’ one juror allegedly wrote on the questionnaire, according to USA Today.
Other prospective jurors went to school with Arbery or played football with him.
Another problem occurring is potential jurors know each other, with one juror recognizing her son among the crowd.
It was also discovered earlier this week that the Glynn County Superior Court, which is overseeing the trial of Ahmaud Arbery, has exposed potential jurors to banned evidence, creating a chance for a mistrial.
Jury candidates who visited the court’s 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 Bryan.
Among the documents jurors could access were the mental health and prior criminal history records of the victim, which a judge 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 court’s error could 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 triggering a mistrial is slim.
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.
Judge 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 sees 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 alleged 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 a cellphone video of the shooting was leaked online and a national outcry erupted.