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Patty Leon: Right to a fair trial
Patty Leon new

The family of Ahmaud Arbery had to wait 75 days before any arrests were made in their son’s death. They had to fight to be heard. Fight for justice for their loved one, who was gunned down by three White men. Travis and Gregory McMichael and William Roddie Bryan, the defendants, claim they were acting in self-defense.

Arbery’s family had to fight the District Attorney, Jackie Johnson, who has since been indicted by the state Attorney General for violating her oath of office, specifically in the Arbery case.

Video shot by Bryan shows Arbery being followed, some say stalked by the McMichaels, as he ran through the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick, the morning of Feb. 23, 2020. Arbery is soon confronted by Travis McMichael who had a shotgun in his hand. During the confrontation Arbery is killed.

When coupled with the deaths of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor, the murder of Arbery sparked national outrage and spearheaded the Black Lives Matters movement.

As the Arbery case moved closer to trial, which started this past Friday, the attorneys for the defendants argued for months that their defendants would not / could not receive a fair trail in Glynn County. They argued that they wouldn’t be able find jurors who would be impartial.

After questioning and vetting hundreds of potential jurors, the final panel consisted of 11 Caucasians and only one African American. The defendants definitely received a jury of their peers. Three White defendants charged with the murder of one Black man, got 11 White jurors and one Black juror.

But is this fair to the family of Ahmaud Arbery? Why weren’t more jurors of his peers seated? Many are calling foul to include Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump who represents Arbery’s dad, Marcus Arbery.

“After being hunted down, cornered, and shot for being a Black man in a White Georgia neighborhood, Ahmaud Arbery is again denied justice,” Crump said in a statement. “His killers’ fate will be decided by a nearly all-white jury after defense attorneys denied eight potential Black jurors.”

Crump pointed out that Judge Timothy Walmsley said, “This court has found that there appears to be intentional discrimination.” But the judge ruled there were valid reasons, beyond race, for why Black jurors were dismissed and allowed the trial to move forward.

Crump went on to say, “A jury should reflect the community. Brunswick is 55% Black, so it’s outrageous that Black jurors were intentionally excluded to create such an imbalanced jury in a cynical effort to help these cold-blooded killers escape justice.”

The Council on American- Islamic Relations (CAIR) and its Georgia chapter (CAIR-Georgia) also expressed outrage over the racial makeup of the jury. In a statement, Javeria Jamil, CAIR-Georgia’s Legal and Policy Director said, “It is outrageous that in a case in which racial bias led to the murder of Ahmed Arbery in the first place, the jury consists of only one Black juror. When the judge has already acknowledged the ‘intentional discrimination’ in jury selection, he should take steps to rectify the situation and empanel a new jury.”

The Sixth Amendment grants criminal defendants the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury consisting of jurors from the state and district in which the crime was alleged to have been committed.

Brunswick is a diverse community, so too should be the jury. A juror of your peers is supposed to be a representation of everyone in the community. As Crump mentioned, Brunswick is 55 percent African American.

It is somewhat baffling, to me, that a case with such racial undertones and one where the judge acknowledges an intentional discrimination during jury selection could continue and be considered a fair trial.

The right to a fair trial should also include the right of the victim to be fairly represented by his peers on a jury.

Arbery doesn’t have the ability of testifying or presenting evidence on his own behalf because he is dead. The prosecutors don’t have the ability to place him on the witness stand and ask him if he feared for his life or why he felt the need to run from the defendants.

I honestly hope that the trial is conducted in a professional manner and that the jury can stick to the evidence presented to draw their verdict. But if the opening arguments are any indication of what’s to come, it’s going to be a long trial with constant interruptions from both sides.

Patty Leon is senior editor of the Courier.

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