Thursday, October 21, 2021

8:25 pm: Court will be in recess until Monday morning, October 25. Judge Timothy Walmsley cites an attorney’s prior obligation. He gathered the qualified jurors in the courtroom and told them he doesn’t know how long jury selection will take: “Next week, possibly the week after,” he said.

8:15 pm: The jury pool officially grows. As of tonight, defendants Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael, and Roddie Bryan have eight more people qualified for their jury pool. That makes 23 of the needed 64. They are Jurors 218, 219, 228, 234, 236, 246, 253, and 258.

7:40 pm: Juror #258 once worked in federal law enforcement. Saw #AhmaudArbery video on TV news several times, but had little interest in learning more.

“After doing this for so long, it’s really not shocking to me. When you’ve seen the number of things I have, it’s just another case,” he says. No. 258 has served on a jury before and has testified in court.

Juror No. 247 tells the court that one time, she saw Ahmaud Arbery out running in the area where he and the McMichaels lived roughly 2 miles apart.

“He looked very young,” she said. “I thought he might be the same age as my son.”

Asked if that would impair her ability to be a fair juror, she said: “I don’t think that would be a factor.”

Defense attorney Robert Rubin asked how she knows the runner she saw was Arbery and not someone else.

“I guess I don’t really know for sure,” she said.

She said she’s seen the video of the shooting an watched video of a preliminary hearing in the case “that was pretty compelling.”

Rubin asked what she thought after watching that hearing.

“I think my opinion was that it would be very hard for them not to be found guilty,” No. 247 said. She added “it’s possible” she would be unable to set aside those feelings if she was on the jury.

6:35 pm: Juror #246 used to be a teacher, and says that’s why she believes that she can be a fair, impartial juror.

“I’ve learned to wipe the slate clean for every person I’ve come into contact with,” she says.

She said she supports the Black Lives Matter movement and is raising Black children, and says she had talked with them that some people may look at them with suspicion when they enter stores and similar public places.

“Perhaps Ahmaud Arbery was looked at more closely because of his race,” said No. 246, who did not give her own race.

Jason Sheffield, an attorney for Travis McMichael, asked if she believes a crime was committed in Arbery’s death.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I have purposefully kept myself from it a bit.”

And she’s one of the few pool members so far to say she would like to serve on the jury in the trial of the McMichaels and Bryan.

“I kind of think it’s every American’s job to do as much as they can for their community,” No. 246 said. “When it comes to something this important, I don’t think it’s something you should shy away from.”

4:52 pm: Juror No. 236 said she’s worked in the criminal justice system, and she’s known Greg McMichael for decades.

Asked by prosecutor Paul Camarillo if she had an opinion on the defendants’ guilt or innocence, she said: “I don’t understand why they took it into their own hands. That’s the only thing that disturbs me about that day. I would have called 911 and let the police handle it.”

Otherwise, she said she doesn’t have a strong opinion about the case.

“I think it’s a tragedy that the young man died that day,” she said. “I don’t know what led up to, what made those events happen.”

4:35 pm: Juror 235 appears to be a white man in his 20s or 30s who knows someone who, along with her husband, previously testified in the defendants’ bond hearing. He says her opinion was in favor of the defense; they didn’t discuss his opinion.

No. 235 actively read court documents in the case that are available online, and researched Georgia’s former citizen’s arrest law that’s been raised as a defense in the shooting.

“I’ve read a lot on this,” he said. “I read up because I was trying to learn up a little more for this, and didn’t realize I was reading something I probably shouldn’t be reading.”

He says the court documents reinforced his belief that Ahmaud Arbery’s shooting was wrong, and No. 235 wonders why the defendants’ jail phone calls would be struck from the record. He recalls the call in which Greg McMichael opined, “‘No good deed goes unpunished.’ To me, that seemed very damning,” says #235.

No. 235 says he read the citizen’s arrest code and does not think it applies to what the McMichaels did. He believes they’re guilty and says it would be hard to change his opinion.

3:35 pm: Juror 223 said he knows “most of the people that’s on trial,” specifically Greg McMichael and Roddie Bryan. He told attorneys and the judge he didn’t feel like he could support any type of conviction.

“In the Bible it tells you do not judge any man or women. And I just don’t think I could be impartial,” the man said.

He was sent back to the panel without further questions.

Juror 228′s brother was one of the first responders on the scene when Ahmaud Arbery was shot.

“I don’t really know anything about what he saw, what was involved,” she said. “We didn’t discuss it. I don’t really know much.”

Asked if she could still be impartial: “Yeah, I suppose so.” Could refrain from talking about it with him, she says.

“Sometimes we need an excuse not to talk to family,” Judge Walmsley cracks, drawing some light laughter.

She doesn’t have an opinion on the case and has only seen snippets of the video. She takes medication that makes it difficult for her to sit for long periods of time.

She was sent to rejoin the panel.

Juror #234 is a self-employed woman, appears to be white, in her 20s or 30s, who knows little about the case other than “Ahmaud was shot and he died.”

“I go out of my way to not read news or politics,” says No. 234. “I would rather spend my energy elsewhere.” Her husband has talked about it in the past, but she refuses to engage in the conversation, saying in part that she needs to “protect her energy” as a mom and business owner.

Jason Sheffield asked No. 234 what her view of the State’s burden of proof is. She says they have a responsibility to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt, that people are innocent until proven guilty. Anything in the forefront of your thoughts that this is about racism? Not the case, but the timing, she said; it got “lumped in” with events all at the same time. Says she doesn’t know enough specifics to say either way.

The defense asked her what she’s heard about it. She recalled a conversation from someone in “the kitchen” who “defended each person. I remembering thinking, ‘You don’t know. None of us know.’ I remember thinking that’s a good point.”

Yes, she’s concerned that the case seems polarizing in Glynn County, but no, that wouldn’t affect her decision.

“I think that’s a natural fear. It’s a small enough town,” says #234. “I think it would be naïve to think there couldn’t be real-world repercussions. No matter what direction it goes, people will be upset. Do I think I can withstand that? Yes. If called to do so, I will.”

3:00 pm: Juror No. 221 is a woman, perhaps in her 50s, who said she would try hard to serve as an impartial juror, though it would test her beliefs favoring in the social justice movement.

“The system is broken. But I’m also an honest person. I’m not going to lie,” she said. “I’ve never tested my feelings in a setting like this. I would hope that I would be able to be a fair juror.”

No. 221 said she has taken part in rallies and demonstrations supporting Black Lives Matter and even one vigil in Ahmaud Arbery’s memory following the shooting.

Prosecutor Larissa Ollivierre read from No. 221′s jury questionnaire: “A young man was inappropriately shot walking around a neighborhood. Looked like a citizen’s arrest that went horribly wrong.”

She also wrote: “I do not feel Mr. Arbery was a threat to them or anyone else. This feels like a hate crime.”

Defense attorney Laura Hogue, Greg McMichael’s attorney, pressed No. 221 on her feeling that someone like her wouldn’t have been chased and killed if she had been in the same place as Arbery on the day he was shot.

“I’m a white old lady. It’s my race, my age, gender,” she said. “That’s why I think they wouldn’t come after me if I was walking the neighborhood.”

Of the defendants’ decision to arm themselves and pursue Arbery: “How is that right? If you see someone, you call the police. ... It’s wrong that they went after him, that they shot him, that they made assumptions and prejudged what he was.”

Juror #221 was asked about negative feelings toward the accused. She said she doesn’t know them to feel anything.

“What they did is unconscionable--to have arms and chase them down and shoot them? I would go after a person trying to shoot me, too,” said Juror 221.

She was sent to rejoin the panel.

2:35 pm: When court reconvened after lunch, Bryan attorney Kevin Gough told Judge Walmsley he’s concerned about signs, banners, and rallies in front of the courthouse supporting Arbery’s family.

Gough complained of a banner near the courthouse steps Thursday that included a photo of former Georgia congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis, which appeared to be advocating for voting rights. He also said a young girl had been riding a tricycle in front of the courthouse this week with a sign saying “Justice for Ahmaud” on her back.

Lawyers say they’re concerned these signs are intended to influence potential jurors as they come and go from the courthouse. Gough asked him “to prohibit any signs openly advocating for ‘Justice for Ahmaud Arbery’ on the grounds of the Glynn County courthouse.”

Travis McMichael attorney Robert Rubin chimed in, “We are concerned with any conscious or unconscious attempt to influence any jurors.”

Walmsley noted the courthouse grounds are a public space. He suggested the objecting defense attorneys draft a legal motion “walking me through the First Amendment rights you seek to infringe upon and how you intend to do this.”

Gough said: “The due process rights of our clients in this context outweigh the First Amendment rights of those who want to see our clients convicted.”

12:10 pm: Juror 219 appears to be a white woman who has experience in a healthcare-related field. Indicated earlier she wants to serve on jury. Wrote on her questionnaire: “Mr. Arbery was jogging & had no weapons. He was shot on the pretense that he was a burglar.” Tells State she tried, but couldn’t watch the whole video.

Juror #219 said her negative opinions about the defendants stem from her previous experience in healthcare, which makes her “believe in the sanctity of life.” Those negative thoughts are because someone died. Yes, she can fairly consider the defense’s position, she says: “We have a citizen’s arrest law.”

She wants to serve on the jury because she believes that as a citizen, when you’re called to do your duty and you are able to perform it, you should.

11:37 am: There was some hubbub about buttons that Marcus Arbery, Sr.--Ahmaud’s father--and a couple of other courtroom viewers were wearing. Bryan attorney Kevin Gough contends the pins, which show the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, his motto, “Make good trouble,” and the logos of some social justice groups, are not as innocuous as they seem, and Bob Rubin says political buttons shouldn’t be shown in court.

“Transformative Justice Coalition seems innocent if you don’t understand what’s going on,” said Gough. “Marcus [Arbery] talked to CNN before...said he wanted to get the right jury--which means a jury to convict these young men.”

Someone handed up a button for Judge Walmsley to see. He told lawyers he wasn’t going to “hyper-analyze” the pin, noting, “His life had merit.” Walmsley asks that buttons with any politics logos or statements not be worn in the courtroom.

“I’m going to ask anyone who comes in the gallery, whether or not you have any particular feeling or opinion about the case, this is not the place to display it,” the judge said. “I respect the fact this case has garnered a great deal of interest and a number of movements have been attached to it. I don’t have a problem with that.”

Judge Walmsley said he knows Arbery’s slaying and similar cases “have really opened up a very important discussion. But it’s not a discussion that’s appropriate for this courtroom right now.”

Juror 218 returns to court. She acknowledged participating in a bike ride to support Arbery’s family after he was shot, but still said she could be a fair juror.

The defense questioned her about how race might have played a role in this incident.

“I don’t know facts of the case. I feel like sometimes, some areas, we don’t belong,” said #218.

“Do you believe Travis McMichael shot Ahmaud Arbery because of race?” asked Bob Rubin.

“Yes. Because of where he was at,” says No. 218.

“Because he was in that neighborhood?”

“Yes.”

“Most of the time you really don’t see a lot of young Black people running or jogging anywhere,” she added. “It’s like it would be out of the ordinary to see them just exercising like that.”

Rubin notes she had shown support for Arbery’s family. Asks, “Do you think you’re the right juror for a case like this? Meaning a juror open to all explanations, all facts in the case?”

No. 218: “I think so. But hearing the answers that I gave, I don’t know.

“I like to stand on the side of right, regardless who it is.”

11:00 am: The individual voir dire is underway. The first two were a man who is in federal law enforcement and a woman who is over 70 and doesn’t want to serve. Then, Juror #218 was up. She is a Black woman, possibly 40s. She said she’s gotten much of her information on the case from YouTube and saw the video once, when somebody else sent it to her.

Reading from No. 218′s questionnaire, Linda Dunikoski asks: “You think the facts of the case is a young man was shot due to his color and the three men that committed the act almost got away?”

“Yes,” she replies. But she says she can still be a fair juror, basing her verdict only on courtroom evidence. She says Yes, she would hold the State to its burden of proof and Yes, she would consider defenses of citizen’s arrest and self-defense. So though she says “I feel like they are guilty,” she can put aside what she’s heard and seen beforehand to consider only courtroom evidence.

Robert Rubin, one of Travis McMichael’s attorneys, objects to Dunikoski referring repeatedly to Ahmaud Arbery in questions as “the victim.”

“I just think we’re using the word victim as if it’s a proven fact,” Rubin said. Dunokoski rephrases her question, referring to Ahmaud Arbery by name instead.

No. 218 is asked about raising her hand that she thinks Black and white people are treated differently by the court system.

“I just try to stay out of the way,” she said. “I don’t know what you want to hear from me on that. I just feel like it’s true.”

No. 218 is asked to leave the courtroom after Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, Sr., enters with two other people and Roddie Bryan attorney Kevin Gough raises an objection.

9:58 am: Jason Sheffield begins the defense’s panel voir dire. When he asked them about negative opinions of each defendants, four said yes each time--but not always the same four. Jurors 218, 219, 221, 240 think negatively about Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan. Jurors 218, 219, 221, 235 think poorly of Gregory McMichael.

9:10 am: Judge Walmsley introduces himself to the next jury panel and swears them into the case. As with previous panels, he tells them he’s appreciative of them. “I realize when folks get up in the morning for jury selection, most folks are not terribly excited about coming down to the courthouse...and I would believe that in this particular case, that is maybe doubly so.” He asks the statutory questions.

Asked if any have formed an opinion about the defendants’ guilt or innocence, almost half raised their hands.

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski does the State’s voir dire of the panel, and as defense lawyer Jason Sheffield gets up to begin, they decide to let a couple jurors take a quick bathroom break beforehand.

8:40 am: Everyone is in place for the start of Trial Day 4. Judge Timothy Walmsley agreed to hear an emergency motion filed by some media entities in response to a partial gag order he issued, prohibiting lawyers from talking about evidence already ruled inadmissible or evidence likely to be ruled inadmissible.

“Prior restraints on speech are presumptively unconstitutional and can be only used as a last resort,” the TV stations’ attorney, Ian Byrnside, told the judge.

“Our concern is this gag order will have a chilling effect on speech, on the attorneys, itself. I don’t believe it’s entirely clear what’s prohibited.”

Assistant District Attorney Linda Dunikoski noted the order limiting what attorneys can say hasn’t stopped them from giving interviews. She told the judge attorneys for all three defendants have done TV or radio interviews since the order was imposed, and did so without violating it.

“Access to the defense attorneys has not been hindered in an way by your order,” Dunkoski said.

The judge did not rule in court. He said he’ll issue a written order later.

Brief break.

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