Ahmaud Arbery: Opening Statements

9:45 AM

Blog #2

  • Last night, Joy Reid talked with Paul Butler about what happens in case like this when you have only a small number of African Americans on the jury.  Usually, the defendant is acquitted.  They talked about the Zimmerman case.
  • It is a travesty that there is only one black person on this jury.  The judge simply declined to do his duty in rejecting the Defense reasons for eliminating jurors.  Also, the judge allowed overly broad and comprehensive questions such as “Have you in any way supported Black Lives Matter or the Social Justice Movement?”
  • As the prosecutor pointed out, the defense lawyers questioned the black potential jurors in more depth than they did the white jurors.  She held up four pages of notes on the interview of a single black juror. 
  • What the prosecution was demonstrating was that the defense attorneys probed the personal lives and beliefs of the black jurors until they found disqualifying information, i.e., information they could use to disqualify the juror without seeming to discriminate which is against the law.

Ahmaud Arbery: Jury Selection

Defense Attorney, Kevin Gough

Blog Ahmaud Arbery 11/1/21

There are several blog posts that need to be written about Kevin Gough, the defense attorney for William Bryan.  Bryan is the man who joined in the chase of Ahmaud Arbery, tried to pin Arbery in with his (Bryan’s) truck, and actually at one point hit Arbery with the truck.  Bryan is also the man who videoed the incident and then through an attorney released the video because he thought it would help his case.

Gough has complained in open court for two weeks about the “protestors” outside the Courthouse in Glynn County, Georgia.  I have been to the courthouse several times in the past two weeks.  The most people I have seen at the courthouse were there for a march the weekend before jury selection.

On that occasion, 16 October, there were approximately 80 people gathered outside the courthouse.  Probably a third of them were media or County personnel.  There have been no loud, unruly demonstrations outside the courthouse.  For the most part, people are sitting in lawn chairs, talking and eating.

But, Gough, last week, seemed to believe that the jury pool was going to be tainted because those people were outside the court, and because an organization put up a banner with John Lewis’ picture on it, asking people to vote. 

When he put this matter before the judge, Chatham County Superior Court Judge Timothy R. Walmsley, Gough was told that if he wanted to curtail the First Amendment Rights of the people in front of the courthouse, to make a formal motion. 

Gough has also read before the court, statements made by the Arbery family and by the Arbery family attorney.  He is maintaining that these statements could have an effect on the jury. 

Then, Gough complained in court that there weren’t enough “good ole’ boys” or “six pack Joes” in the jury pool, people like his client, William Bryan.  Then, in an interview given to Court TV later, Gough explained the difficulty in defining exactly what the demographics of these “good old boys” or “six-pace Joes” were.  He then concluded the interview by saying that if you couldn’t define exactly who these jurors were, it wasn’t much use.  What?

I sincerely don’t know what Gough is trying to do with these antics.  The other two sets of defense attorneys seem to be trying to win the case using more conventional tactics.  I cannot see how these tactics will benefit Bryan, but I’m open to having it explained to me.

Ahmaud Arbery Jury Selection: Notes on the podcast “The Breakdown” with Shaun King

Notes Podcast “The Breakdown”

  • “All of us have a right to be skeptical” about the trial of the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery.
  • The three men are on trial in huge part because of the pressure that was brought to bear on Georgia, the governor, the AG, the GBI and others to make sure that they were arrested and made these people accountable.
  • “They (the state) had no plan to do that until we put the pressure on them.”
  • King notes the appointment of an outside prosecutor (a Republican) “I believe we have an ally in the prosecution…”
  • Over 1000 potential jurors were called.
  • There are a lot of factors that strike black people from jury pools before they even get to the process of being questioned at the courthouse.
  • The jury pool is selected with software that is supposed to make the process more random.  Note: The public has no access to that software or ability to judge the reliability and validity of that software.
  • African Americans are so “heavily policed, so heavily prosecuted” in Brunswick that even when Ahmaud Arbery was murdered, the system treated Ahmaud Arbery like the criminal.
  • Note: You can see this overpolicing in the body cam video of the police officer who questioned Ahmaud Arbery (several years ago) when he was doing nothing but sitting in his car listening to music.  The officers then used the fact that Arbery felt he was being harassed (which he was), and got angry about it, as an excuse for escalating the situation.  The officer escalated the situation while repeating over and over again that he wasn’t trying to escalate the situation.  When this officer testified in pre-trial hearings, he wore full body gear, and tried to make it seem that Arbery had acted irrationally.  I would have reacted the same way, but police would have never questioned me if I were sitting in my car listening to music. 
  • If you are caught up in the criminal justice system you are not even in the jury pool.
  • Also, it is much more difficult for African  Americans to commit to being on juries.  They are less likely to be able to take time off work, weather the economic problems caused by being away from work and family responsibilities.
  • The attorneys want to select people who say they don’t have a strong opinion about the case.
  • “If you live in Brunswick and you don’t have a strong opinion about this case, it tells me a whole lot about you.”
  • Note: One of the first questions asked by Sheffield (lawyer for Travis McMichael) is whether the potential jurors have a “negative” opinion of either of the three. 
  • “It’s going to be difficult to find somebody black, or white with any social conscience, who isn’t gravely concerned about this case.” 
  • Note: Again, Sheffield, for the defense attorneys, asks the jurors if they have supported “in any way” the social justice movement.  This is an extraordinarily broad question.  It implies that “the social justice movement” is a unified, single movement.  It also covers so many different issues and movements.  This reinforces King’s point.  If jurors who have “in any way” supported social justice movements are stricken from the jury, who do we have left?
  • If the trial lawyers are only trying to find people who are ambivalent.  “I’m concerned.”
  • Who doesn’t have an opinion about this case?
  • All it takes is one juror to hold out to create a hung jury.
  • The defense if giving jurors the Citizen’s arrest argument to hang their hats on. 
  • Note: After all the pressure that was put on the state of Georgia after the video was released, Brian Kamp signed a law banning citizen’s arrests.
  • But, the Citizen’s arrest law was in effect when the three men hunted down Arbery and killed him in the street.
  • Even under the law, the three men were “chasing him through a neighborhood with their guns out until they exhausted Ahmaud and then they murdered him.”

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.

Jury Selection: Ahmaud Arbery Case

25 October 2021

Ahmaud Arbery Case: Jury Selecti

One of the most infuriating parts of trying to cover the trial of the three men who killed Ahmaud Arbery is that individual questioning of the jurors is shielded from the public.

When each panel of 20 potential jurors is called before the court, lawyers ask general questions, asking the potential jurors to raise their hand if they agree or disagree with a particular statement. If you are lucky you can catch this part of the trial on Court TV, or a streaming service.

Then, potential jurors in this pool are taken to another room individually and questioned outside the hearing of the other potential jurors. The problem is that the public has no access to this second, individual questioning. Reporters (2 at the time) are allowed to witness this part of the trial, but they are only taking “notes.” This has resulted in a few quotes and a little bit of demographic information for some of the jurors. So, the reporters are not making a transcript, they are taking “notes,” jotting down facts they deem important. As far as I know, the public does not have access to the notes, only other reporters.

So, one of the most important parts of the trial, the selection of the jury, is being essentially held in private outside the view of the public. 

At the beginning of the jury selection, Glynn County, Ga, the county where the trial is being held, made a decision to hold the trial in a normal courtroom in the downtown courthouse.  This courtroom is not large enough for a high profile trial.  And, because of social distancing, the county has limited the number of people in the courtroom.

Defense attorneys tried to make the entire jury questioning process secret and held away from the public.  Reports are that the judge in the case made a “compromise” by allowing reporters, two at the time, to sit in the courtroom while individual juror questioning is being conducted. 

The reporters are rotated in and out of the courtroom so no reporter is witnessing even an entire day of questioning.  I am guessing that they are limited to a couple of hours at the time.

This arrangement serves the interests of journalists, since they can file stories as if they were witnessing the process, and they only have to report a small snippet of what is going on since that’s all they are witnessing and all they are allowed in terms of air time.

It does not, however, serve the interests of the public.  First, because reporters are being treated as if this is a favor, they are going to err on the side of not reporting anything they think might get them kicked out of doing the coverage.  Second, they are witnessing only a small snippet of the trial and cannot therefore form impressions of trends that may be relevant had they been allowed to witness the entire day.  Third, they are either not allowed or not reporting any information about body language or facial reactions.  One of the jury experts on Court TV noted that the answers of the jurors were not nearly as important to her as were the pauses, the body language, and the facial expressions of jurors.

Ahmaud Arbery: Jury Selection

Brunswick, Georgia

Wednesday, 10/20/21

Already, on day three, I have a lot of questions about the way in which the Ahmaud Arbery case is being tried.   

If my understanding is correct, no members of the public are allowed to attend the trial.  Only people involved with the case are allowed in the courtroom.  This means that the community is excluded from participation.

In addition, all the potential jurors are being questioned privately, that is outside the hearing of the other jurors.  Defense attorneys did not want the public to have access to the juror answers to the questions when they were questioned individually.  The judge made a “compromise” and allowed two journalists in the room to take “notes.”

These “notes” are obviously not comprehensive.  The reporters are not taking down a transcript.  The public is then only hearing information about jury selection that is filtered through reporters.  As of today, these “notes” supposedly released to other reporters have consisted of a few quotes and some numbers.

To make matters worse, the reporters are being rotated in and out, so there is no prolonged observation.  This may please the reporters since each of them can file stories as if they were in the room, but it does not serve the public interest since each reporter is only observing a tiny snippet of the questioning. 

To me, this system is insane.

Glynn County, Georgia has chosen to hold the trial in a regular courtroom completely ignoring the interest in and the importance of this case.  Then, because of social distancing, they are only allowing people involved in the case to attend.  This means that the community is prevented from performing the oversight function it is meant to perform during a public trial.  There is a reason trials are public, so the public can witness and monitor and alert the rest of the community when something is going wrong.

We do not have that in the trial of the men who hunted down and shot Ahmaud Arbery. 

I also do not understand how jury selection can be carried out in secret.  I can understand if a particular juror asks to speak in some completely private forum, but to allow all the jurors to be questioned in private, not seen and not heard by the rest of the community just seems wrong.

Jury selection is one of the most important parts of a trial and the community is being prevented from monitoring this phase of the trial. 

In an interview on Court TV, one of the criminal defense attorneys said that he was always less concerned with what a particular juror said than he was with the facial expression and the body language of the juror answering.  But, in this case, we have been denied access to that information entirely and we only have the answers given by the potential jurors through third, fourth and fifth parties. 

Jury Selection: Ahmaud Arbery Case

Ahmaud Arbery Blog #5, Monday 18 October 2021

Approximately 1,000 people were called for jury duty in the Ahmaud Arbery case in Brunswick, Georgia.  Roughly 600 of them showed up on Monday when jury selection began.

During the first part of the day, the judge considered objections to juror questions.  The judge increased the number of peremptory strikes of both the defense and the prosecution.  In cases where there are multiple defendants, it is common for the judge to increase the number of peremptory strikes.  One lawyer on Court TV, however, commented that he thought it was unusual for the judge to give the prosecution additional strikes.

Defense attorneys tried to exclude the press from juror questioning entirely, but the judge allowed two reporters in the courtroom to take “notes” on jury pool members’ answers to questions. This means that the only access the community has to the answers of potential jurors is filtered through a third party. Because only people involved in the case are allowed in the courtroom, members of the community have no independent source for this information. The reporters are not making a transcript, only making “notes.”

According to these “notes,” one juror who was retired military was dismissed from the jury pool.  This man said that he had a negative view of Gregory McMichael, but not evidently of Travis McMichael.  When asked why, he said that Greory McMichael seemed to him to be the “lead dog.”  This potential juror also said that he got the impression that Gregory McMichael was “stalking” Arbery. 

Another potential juror said that he had seen the video of the killing a number of times and that he was “sick of the video.”  He also said that he had talked about the video with his brothers, one of whom was also called for jury duty.  This same juror claimed not to care what happened in the case, but admitted that he had “said they were guilty.”

Ahmaud Arbery Trial: Glynn County, Georgia

Ahmaud Arbery

Blog #3

Case of Police Violence

Gregory McMichael was an investigator for the DA’s office for more than 20 years and was a Glynn County police officer for seven years before that.  He retired in May of 2019. 

When Gregory McMichaels saw a young man jogging past his house, he called to his son.  They immediately armed themselves, jumped in a pick up truck, and drove after Arbery.  They cut him off in the street with their truck and the truck of a neighbor who (of couse) saw the chase and joined in. They shot and killed Arbery in the street.

Three men, saw a black man jogging past their houses, armed themselves and gave chase.  Defense attorneys plan to argue that information Arbery was on probation should be admitted to the trial because that information explains why Arbery ran from the men.

First, Arbery was already running.  He was jogging.  He wasn’t in the beginning running FROM anybody.  Second, the fact that he kept running and did not stop does not necessarily mean he was running FROM the three men.  Third, Arbery had no obligation to stop running because someone ordered him to.  Even if you concede that Arbery was running FROM the men at some point in the chase, what of it?  I am a 71 year old white woman and I would have run from three white men (two of them armed) in pick up trucks who were driving after me and trying to cut me off when I was walking down a residential street. Third, none of these men could have known that Arbery was on probation, and even if they did, they had no right to stop him. 

Greg McMichaels has agued that he thought Arbery was a man who had burglarized a house in the area that was under construction.  But the owner of the house had access to all the video from the site.  The owner did not phone the police or become concerned about anything he saw on the videos.  So, who does Greg McMichaels think he is to try to hold a man even if he entered the house site?  Second, there is video of various people walking in and out of the house site.  Why is Arbery considered different from the other people (white) who entered the construction site?  Third, McMichaels has provided no evidence to demonstrate why he thought Arbery was one of the people on the video tape who had entered the house.   

It is obvious that Gregory McMichaels still considered himself active law enforcement, able to chase, stop and detain other people at will. And, also McMichaels also thought he was perfectly within his rights to arm himself and chase down another human being. None of the men saw Arbery commit any crime. They saw a black man in a predominately white neighborhood and assumed he had committed a crime. They armed themselves and hunted him down and killed him in the street.

A GBI investigator testified that Travis McMichaels used the N word in the conversation that occurred with the police officers who arrived on the scene of Arbery’s killing.