Jury Selection in the Trial of the Men who Killed Ahmaud Arbery: Grinding My Teeth

Travis McMichael holding his gun after he has shot Ahmaud Arbery. Arbery is stumbling toward his death. First responders didn’t even initially check to see if he was alive

I’ve spent a week and a half grumbling and grinding my teeth about the jury selection in the Ahmaud Arbery case.

Defense attorneys in this case wanted to shield the questioning of the jurors from the public entirely.  The judge, in what is called a “compromise” ruling, allowed two reporters at the time to listen in on individual questioning of potential jurors and take “notes.”  There is no transcript that is released to the public and as far as I know the general public is not allowed to sit in the courtroom and listen. *

Jurors are being called in 20 at the time.  First they are asked general questions by the Judge, the state prosecutor and each of the three defense teams.  Then, jurors are moved to another room and individual jurors are questioned out of hearing of the other jurors.

It is this last part of jury selection that the judge decided to shield from the public and only allow reporters (two at the time) to sit in and listen to.

These reporters supposedly release their notes not to the general public, but to other journalists.  So, what we the public have been left with every day are a few quotes from the potential jurors and some demographic information, that a couple of reporters think are important.

This is completely unhelpful for those of us in the public who feel we have a Constitutional right to observe pubic trials, especially ones this important and controversial.

As Shaun King notes in  “The Breakdown” podcast, (10/18/21) there are a lot of reasons to worry about the jury selection process, especially in a state like Georgia in a rural area like Glynn County.

As King notes, blacks are eliminated from the jury pool before we ever get to a trial.  For various reasons (such as involvement with the criminal justice system) many are not included on voter roles at all and therefore don’t appear on the lists of people who can serve as potential jurors.

Compound this with the questions defense attorneys are being allowed to ask potential jurors (Do you support the Black Lives Movement in any way?) and anyone with a brain would be concerned with black jurors (or even white jurors who have a social justice consciousness) who will make it onto the jury.

The questions about supporting (in any way) the Black Lives Movement, or what defense attorneys are calling the “social justice movement” have been allowed by the judge, again in what is being called a “compromise.”  Jurors are not being asked if they voted for Trump or support Trump “in any way.” 

And, remember these are questions that are being asked in the general questioning.  We know about them.  We do no know the questions nor the answers being allowed in the individual juror questioning.

Trials are public for a reason.  Democracy works when the public can oversee the workings of government and the court system.  We aren’t supposed to have secret trials in this country, but if jury selection can be conducted in secret, jury selection one of the most important parts of any trial, then the public can’t perform an oversight function.

In fact, the jurors in this trial are being treated as if they are flowers that might wilt and die at any moment.  The media keeps talking about preserving their “anonymity.”  We aren’t supposed to have anonymous jurors.

In the little town where I grew up, people were called for jury duty and were questioned.  They answered supposedly as truthfully as they could.  If they were embarrassed about their answers, they were embarrassed and needed to do some thinking about why they were embarrassed.  Other members of the community were allowed to think badly about them for their answers.  Members of the community had a right not to shop at their stores, or hire them for jobs depending on their answers.  This is what it is like to participate in a community.  If people are that embarrassed about their views then they damn well better think about asking themselves why. 

People, citizens in a democratic society should be willing to stand up and say what they believe and take the consequences.  That is what being a member of the community is about.  We are a community, not a collection of secretive, units, obsessed with keeping our opinions and attitudes hidden from others.  This is absurd.

But, the officials running this trial seem to think that jurors are fragile flowers who must be protected from giving an “unpopular” (not to say unjust) verdict.  Defense attorneys have moved to have the few people outside the court every day removed across the street in a “First Amendment Free” zone.  Folks, give me a break here, the United States is a “First Amendment Free” zone, not some parking lot designated as such by the Glynn County Sheriff’s office.

(Don’t get me started on Glynn County.)

To add to the problems caused by almost completely excluding the public from the jury questioning, for the past two days, the microphones in the court room have been turned down so low that even most of the general questioning cannot be understood.  For the past two days of jury selection when the judge or the attorneys turn their heads a fraction of an inch to the left or right, or look down, there is unintelligible sound.  No phone calls to the Clerk of the Court have been returned.

It might be useful to remember here that these three men are being tried by a county system that tried to cover up the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.  A Glynn County police officer went to Mr. Arbery’s home and told his mother that he had been killed in the process of a burglary (in the middle of the afternoon).  There were no arrests for two months after the killing and those only occurred because one of the perpetrators was stupid enough to think that releasing the video of the killing would help him.  The GBI only took the case away from the County after this video went viral and the state of Georgia looked so racist and corrupt that they were shamed into taking the case away from Glynn County.

A few other facts you might want to remember when considering that Glynn County is trying these men:

  • The County DA in charge when the killing took place was such a close friend of one of the men (Gregory McMichaels) that he phoned her at the scene and told her (on a first name basis) that he needed advice.
  • The Glynn County Police Department did not make any arrests at the scene.
  • First responders (from the GlynnCounty Police) did not even offer assistance or try to see if Arbery was still alive when they first arrived.
  • Officers repeatedly reassured the assailants that everything was alright and that they (the officers) could “only imagine” the terrible situation the men had faced.
  • The DA (jackie Johnson, for whom Greg McMichaels had worked) recused herself and immediately phoned another DA and had him offer an opinion about the shooting to the police.
  • This DA (George Barnhill, Sr.) told the Glynn County police that no arrests were necessary since the men had acted in self defense.
  • Then when the case was taken over by the GBI, Barnhill, Sr. was given the case.  Johnson did not tell the state attorney (who appointed Barnhill) that she had talked to Barnhill or that he had issued a letter absolving the men of responsibility.
  • Johnson has denied recommending Barnhill, Sr. to the office of the State Attorney.
  • Evidently when Barnhill, Sr. took the case, he also did not tell the state attorney that he had issued the letter.
  • The Glynn County Police Department has a history of corruption and brutality.
  • Their Drugs Unit was disbanded, the police chief was removed and indicted.  They also killed a young woman in a hail of bullets because she did not immediately stop her car when they ordered her to do so.
  • The Glynn County Police continued to employ a man who was actively stalking a former partner and bragging about it to other officers.
  • This officer went to the former partner’s home, murdered her and her friend and then killed himself.
  • This is just what I know and I don’t keep close track of the goings on in Glynn County.
  • A new police chief has just been hired by the Glynn County Police who lied on his application for the job. 
  • Members of the Glynn County Commission (voted out of office recently) prevented the citizens of Glynn County from even having the opportunity to vote on whether to disband the Glynn County Police.
  • One of the Commissioners who was central in preventing this vote from taking place was quoted in the media as saying “That’s not how it works.”
  • No, that’s not how it works. Citizens of Glynn County aren’t allowed to control their own police department.

The trial of the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery hasn’t even started yet and I am furious, incensed, disgusted by the way in which the trial is being handled by the Judge, Glynn County and the media.

*Phone calls to the Glynn County Clerk of the Court to complain about the microphone levels have not been returned.

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