“It’s going to be a very long process. A very long and slow process,” Wanda Cooper Jones, the mother of Ahmaud Arbery said about the jury selection for her son’s murder trial which began Monday in Glynn County Superior Court.
Cooper Jones went on to say she was hopeful of the process. “I am confident that my legal team will select the right jurors to do the job.”
Arbery, an African American, was killed on Feb. 23, 2020 as he jogged through the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick. The case was embroiled in controversy from the start when former Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson, recused herself from the case and turned the matter over to Ware County DA George Barnhill. As the case lingered with no arrests, Barnhill also recused himself and turned the case over to Atlantic Judicial Circuit DA Tom Durden in April 2020.
Durden requested the assistance of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation after a video was leaked on the internet in early May, showing Arbery’s killing. By May 7, three men were arrested for the crime.
Defendants Travis and Gregory McMichael and William Roddie Bryan were indicted on five counts of murder, two counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony. The three defendants were also charged with federal hate crimes and will face another trial on those charges at a later date.
All three men claim they acted in self-defense.
According to the Glynn County Clerk of Superior and Magistrate Court around 600 potential jurors were summoned on Monday and possibly up to 400 more scheduled for next week. Jury selection could take up to two weeks as attorneys battle each other over questions presented to the jurors and the defendants’ rights to a fair trial.
The arguments between attorneys on what should and should not be admissible in the case has been ongoing.
Just last week attorneys for defendants filed last minute motions requesting the jurors be informed that Arbery was on probation at the time he was shot and killed.
Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump, representing Arbey’s dad Marcus Arbery, said the motions were an attempt to make Arbery appear the villain and not the victim.
"The defense's attempt to assassinate the character of Ahmaud Arbery just days before the McMichaels’ and Bryan’s trial is set to begin, is a cheap and blatant attempt to distract from the concrete facts of this case and the horrific actions of these defendants,” he said. “It is irrelevant that Ahmaud was on probation when he was murdered because the defendants had no knowledge of that, nor would it be material if they did. What is relevant is that Gregory and Travis McMichael and William Bryan wrongfully and illegally attempted to take the law into their own hands and kill a man while recording it, seemingly for no reason other than sport.”
Crump compared Arbery’s death to that of Trayvon Martin who was killed on Feb. 26, 2012 by a white man while walking through a neighborhood in Sanford, Fla. Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch member, who had a brief encounter with Martin before he shot him in the chest, claiming self-defense.
Crump said the main difference is that Arbery’s case has compelling video evidence that will show the jurors that Arbery was hunted down and killed.
“The video is the important witness here and it is going to get justice for Ahmaud Arbery,” Crump said. “In South Georgia, I doubt that without that video they would have ever accepted the word of Ahmaud’s father and mother. But on that video, everybody can see it for themselves.
Arbery’s case along with the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others sparked nationwide marches for the Black Lives Matters movement. Several peace walks were held in Hinesville and Brunswick in honor of Arbery and others killed.
Crump said he hopes this case will draw national attention for the removal of what he called antiquated lynching laws that are still in the books. “The same ones we’ve been fighting for since Emmett Till,” Crump said.
Till was a 14-year-old African American who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after being accused of offending a white woman in her family's grocery store.
On Sunday Arbery’s aunt, Thea Brooks, held a prayer vigil. The hour-long ceremony was held to pray for her nephew and the justice she said he deserved.
Judy Wolfe, made the drive from Darien, to support the family and called for unity and justice. She said she’s known the family for some time and they all worship at the same church. She said people need to support each other during difficult times.
“I am a Christian and I believe in God and I believe that the Lord wants us to come together,” she said. “People are not the problem. It is the Devil behind all the stuff going and to me it is really important that we support one another.”
On Sept. 2, State Attorney General Chris Carr announced the indictment of former DA Jackie Johnson saying she Violated her Oath of Public Officer and for Obstruction of a Police Officer. As alleged in the indictment, these charges are related to the investigation surrounding the shooting death of Arbery. The investigation into the handling of Arbery’s case continues. Crump and Civil Rights Attorney Lee Merrit, who represents Cooper Jones said they hope Carr will indict Barnhill and others who were involved in the case.
Lewis Levine contributed to this story. Video by Lawrence Dorsey.