Our criminal justice system says that when you are charged with a crime, you are entitled to your day in court with a jury of your peers. For Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, and their neighbor William Bryan, that statement could not prove more true. A jury has been selected to decide their fate, and that jury consists of one Black person and 11 whites.
In Glynn County, where the trial will take place, Black people make up 25% of the population, according to the New York Times, and “[a]nxiety over what the jury’s racial makeup would be had been palpable among observers and participants in recent days.”
Eight potential Black jurors were removed by the defense, something Linda Dunikoski, a special prosecutor from the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office, challenged in court on Wednesday. Dunikoski cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that deems it unconstitutional to eliminate potential jurors based on their race.
While Glynn County Superior Court Judge Timothy R. Walmsley acknowledged that “quite a few African American jurors were excused through peremptory strikes executed by the defense,” he ultimately ruled that the defense had given legitimate reasons for why each juror was eliminated.
Opening arguments in the trial are set to begin Friday morning in the case that gained nationwide attention and was part of the racial reckoning our country has been experiencing over the past two years.
The McMichaels and Bryan told authorities that they pursued Arbery to make a citizen’s arrest because they suspected he was the culprit in a string of break-ins in their neighborhood.
The statute they were operating under has since been “largely repealed,” according to the Times, and Arbery’s death led to Georgia passing its first hate crime statute.
It took over two months for the men to be arrested and charged in the killing.
From the Times:
Gregory McMichael is a former Glynn County police officer and a former investigator with the local district attorney’s office.
Shortly after the shooting, the prosecutor for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, Jackie Johnson, recused herself because Gregory McMichael had worked in her office.
The case was sent to George E. Barnhill, the district attorney in Waycross, Ga., who later recused himself from the case after Mr. Arbery’s mother argued that he had a conflict because his son also worked for the Brunswick district attorney.
But before he relinquished the case, Mr. Barnhill wrote a letter to the Glynn County Police Department. In the letter, he argued that there was not sufficient probable cause to arrest Mr. Arbery’s pursuers.
After being voted out of office, Jackie Johnson was eventually charged for violating her oath of office by showing favor to Greg McMichael. She was also charged with obstruction for telling officers on the day of the shooting not to arrest Travis McMichael.
Jury selection began on Oct. 18, and Lee Merritt, an attorney for the Arbery family told the Times, “This has been the strangest jury selection process I have ever seen. We understand there are some unique circumstances. There’s very few people who wouldn’t have heard about this case. Most have developed an opinion about the case. So I understand that the attorneys in general will have some questions that we’re not used to.”
Merritt also felt that the defense “badgered” some of the potential jurors.
Lawyers tell the Times the trial is likely to last 30 days.
It will surely be one the nation will watch with as much intensity as it viewed the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis cop who was convicted of murdering George Floyd.
The McMichaels and Bryan all face life in prison if convicted. All three have also been indicted on federal hate crime charges.
A jury of 11 white people and one Black person is all that stands between the accused killers and justice.
Here’s hoping justice prevails.