BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected to select final jurors and begin opening statements Monday in the federal hate crimes trial against three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, who was Black, as he jogged through a coastal Georgia neighborhood nearly two years ago.
Between 700 and 800 potential jurors have been asked a series of questions over the past week, which included if they believed the three men charged — father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan — were guilty and if the racial undertones of the case would affect their ability to be impartial.
The court on Friday qualified 64 jurors to undergo additional questioning before attorneys used pre-emptory strikes to winnow the pool to 16 people. The trial is expected to last seven to 12 days, said federal judge Lisa Godbey Wood.
Travis, 36, and Gregory McMichael, 66, and Bryan, 52, face one count each of interference with rights and attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels also are charged with one count of using, carrying, and brandishing — and in Travis case, firing — a gun during and in relation to a crime of violence.
Although race has been at the center of the case, state prosecutors did not need to prove Arbery’s death was racially motivated to secure a conviction — a key difference from the federal trial.
Federal prosecutors argue the McMichaels and Bryan violated Arbery’s rights when they willfully interfered with his right to enjoy a public road in the Satilla Shores neighborhood and did so because of Arbery’s race.
More:Lawyers say FedEx driver was chased and shot at in Mississippi, drawing comparisons to Arbery’s murder
Several potential jurors said problems with racism are exaggerated and questioned the need for hate crime laws.
Potential juror No. 171, who described himself as a “white man from the South” said during questioning last week he’s “never seen a real problem with (racism) in my day.” Still, he told prosecutor Christopher Perras he could support a hate crimes conviction “with the right evidence.”
“There would have to be a real drive for them to chase a man because of his skin color, a real history,” said the potential juror, who was qualified to advance in the jury pool.
A woman identified in court as juror No. 156, whom was qualified to remain in the jury pool, said, “I just think it doesn’t matter what the race is. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong.”
Unlike the state trial — where jury selection took more than two weeks, partly due to potential jurors’ concerns about remaining anonymous — few potential jurors knew the men. Wood issued 1,000 jury summons across the Southern District of Georgia, which spans 43 counties include Glynn County, where Brunswick sits.
Related reporting:Ahmaud Arbery’s killer withdraws guilty plea in federal hate crimes hearing
Proving hate as a motivating factor in this trial will be difficult without direct evidence, Brunswick-based trial attorney Page Pate has said. Prosecutors would have to use jail calls, social media posts or statements from friends, coworkers and others to show racial prejudice or hatred..
“You have to get inside someone’s mind, someone’s heart,” he said. “Here not only do they have to prove that they killed, they have to prove that they did it because of racial prejudice and hatred.”
How do you prove hate in the Ahmaud Arbery case? The answer is more complicated than you think
Contributing: N’dea Yancey-Bragg, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
Raisa Habersham is a watchdog and investigative reporter for The Savannah Morning News, part of the USA TODAY Network.