Potential jurors see racism behind Ahmaud Arbery’s slaying

People questioned during jury selection about the killing of Ahmaud Arbery have said he was “racially profiled” by the white men who chased and shot him, singled out “due to his color” and targeted for being “a Black person who was thought to have been stealing things.”

The statements came in response to blunt questions about race from prosecutors and defense attorneys who are trying to seat an impartial jury for the trial over Arbery’s death in the coastal Georgia city of Brunswick. The inquiries elicited some pointed responses.

“The whole case is about racism,” one woman, identified only as potential juror No. 199, said Thursday in the courtroom. She said the three men charged with murder “hunted him down and killed him like an animal.”

Another prospective juror, No. 72, told the attorneys: “If it was a white guy running through the neighborhood, I don’t think he would have been targeted as a suspect.”

The comments could signal trouble for defense attorneys, who have often argued for the dismissal of potential jurors who see Arbery as a victim of racial prejudice. Several of them, including No. 199 and No. 72, have been deemed qualified by Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley to remain in the pool from which a final jury will be chosen.

“It could be devastating for the defense,” said Michael Schiavone, a Savannah criminal defense attorney who isn’t involved in the case. “I would be very skeptical that they could be fair after they told me their opinion.”

Under Georgia law, potential jurors are not automatically disqualified for showing up with preconceived opinions about a case, as long as they pledge to set those opinions aside and remain fair and impartial while hearing the trial evidence. Walmsley has repeatedly cited that standard.

Greg McMichael and his adult son, Travis McMichael, armed themselves and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck after spotting the 25-year-old man running in their neighborhood on Feb. 23, 2020. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery three times with a shotgun.

Defense attorneys say the McMichaels and Bryan had reason to suspect Arbery was committing crimes in the neighborhood after he was recorded by security cameras inside a home under construction. They say Travis McMichael fired his shotgun in self-defense when Arbery attacked him with his fists.

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