• 1,000 of the 62,000 registered voters in Georgia’s Glynn County received jury summons for the trial of three men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery last February.
  • Judge Timothy Walmsley barred media outlets from publishing identifying information on jurors, and assured jurors repeatedly that anonymity is being maintained by the court.
  • This week, a potential juror stated to the court that “any verdict, innocent or guilty, will be unpopular among some people.” Maybe I’d even feel unsafe, I don’t know.”

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Would-be jurors in the murder trial of the three men charged with killing 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery expressed concerns this week about remaining anonymous should they be selected to serve – particularly given the size of the community and intense public interest in the high-profile trial.

1000 of the registered voters in Glynn County got summonses. The judge hopes to narrow the jury pool to a smaller group of 64 and eventually to 16 people: 12 jurors and four alternates.

The fact that there are no standardized procedures to facilitate this process makes it even more difficult.multiple prospective jurors have told the court they know Arbery, the defendants, potential witnesses, other prospective jurors and some of the local figures involved in the case. Some worried they would be identified as a juror in the press and feared they would face personal repercussions after rendering a verdict.

“I don’t want to have to relocate because of something that goes wrong,” one prospective juror said Monday.

Self-defense or a ‘lynching’ 3 Georgia men go on trial in the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery

Under questioning by lawyers for the defendants, another prospective juror expressed similar concerns: “Any verdict, guilty or innocent, is going to be unpopular with some people,” she said. “Maybe I’d even feel unsafe, I don’t know.”

One juror told the court she was concerned about “making sure my name is out of the news.”

“It’s a small enough town,” another prospective juror told lawyers for the defendants Thursday. “I think it would be naïve to think there couldn’t be real-world repercussions.”

Judge Timothy Walmsley has barred the media from releasing identifying information about jurors and repeatedly assured jurors the court is working to maintain their anonymity.

Anonymous juries are uncommon. But due to social media, the ease of internet searches, and concerns over juror safety, the practice could become more common – a shift some legal scholars say could jeopardize transparency and the need for more diverse juries.

Brunswick is predominantly Black but sits in the overwhelmingly white Glynn County. Due to the complexity of this case and the diversity of its members, it is important that the jury’s demographic composition be carefully monitored.

Arbery, who was Black, was fatally shot in February of last year while out jogging in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick. Three white men – Greg McMichael, 65, his son Travis, 35, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52 – stand accused of his murder.

Ahmaud Abery’s death: Where and what was it?

The defendants’ connections in the small community have complicated the case from the outset. The first prosecutor assigned to the proceedings, Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson, had to recuse herself because Greg McMichael previously worked as an investigator for her office and as a Glynn County police officer. She has since been indicted for misconduct in the case.

The next prosecutor, Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill, also had to recuse himself because he was recommended by Johnson, who failed to disclose she asked him to advise police on Arbery’s death. 

In court late Wednesday, Kevin Gough, Bryan’s defense attorney, called Brunswick a “fishbowl” where everybody knows everybody. He even appeared to recognize one of the jurors.

Travis McMichael, left, his father, Gregory McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. will stand trial for murder in the death of Ahmaud Arbery.

First week of jury selection a local affair as a cast of characters paraded through the court: A baker, a teacher, a security guard, a housekeeper, a crane operator, a hair stylist, a server.

The majority of respondents said that they had at least one acquaintance with the people involved in the case. This included the defendants and their attorneys. One said they knew someone from a local Rotary Club. Two claimed that the witness cut their hair. One claimed they knew the neighbor of the defendant.

On a questionnaire, one juror stated that Roddie’s spouse and his colleagues are “best friends”.

One juror said a defendant is “a friend of my father’s and he’s been over to our house multiple times.”

One potential juror Thursday stated that he knows all three defendants since “for years”. The McMichaels and he have been hunting together for more than two decades, said the prospective juror.

According to Linda Dunikoski, the prosecutor, “I feel like they know me too well.” I want to be truthful.”

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Arbery was known to multiple potential jurors. One of his classmates went to school with him. One went to school together with his parents. One said that his son had played football with Arbery.

The courtroom was filled with jurors who recognized one another. One woman said she knew six other jurors, including her son, a former student and current and former coworkers.

Some potential jurors, despite their different degrees of knowledge about the case and the people involved in it, said that they would be neutral if they were placed on the panel.

Thursday afternoon’s potential juror informed the court she knows one defendant since 30 years. A woman who was asked by the judge whether she wanted to remain neutral answered “yes”

She did not say if she was going to continue with the next stage of the process.

On Monday, the jury will be re-selected.

Source: USAToday.com

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