Attorneys in Hate Crimes Trial Tied to Ahmaud Arbery's Death Want Jury Pool Expanded

Both prosecution and defense attorneys filed a joint motion Thursday for the upcoming federal hate crime trial in the death of Ahmaud Arbery to have the jury pool cover the Southern District of Georgia, aiming for a better chance of an impartial jury.

Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan were found guilty of murder in the death of Arbery. The three now face charges of committing a hate crime in which they're accused of confronting Arbery only because he was Black. They've pleaded not guilty.

The murder trial was previously held in Glynn County, from where the jurors were selected. However, news reporting on Arbery's death was extensively covered during that time and most jurors knew the basic facts of the case before the trial had even begun.

To prevent that from happening again, the attorneys filed a joint motion to have the jury selection for the federal trial to cover 43 counties made up of 1.6 million people instead of strictly from Glynn County and its six neighboring counties.

"The parties believe that it is likely that many potential jurors from the Brunswick Division will have experienced sustained exposure to the case and may have formed immutable opinions, in one direction or the other, that will ultimately preclude them from sitting on a jury in this case," the attorneys said in a joint motion.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Feb. 7.

Ahmaud Arbery, Trial, Death
Attorneys file a joint motion for the federal hate crime trial in the death of Ahmaud Arbery to have the jury pool cover the Southern District of Georgia to have a better chance of an impartial jury. Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan were found guilty of murder. The three now face charges of committing a hate crime. Above, from left, Travis McMichael, Bryan, and Greg McMichael during their trial at the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia. Pool/AP Photo

The first trial in Arbery's slaying, seen by many as a reckoning on racial injustice in the legal system, resulted in murder convictions in a state court the day before Thanksgiving.

The three men now face hate crime charges at the federal level that allege they violated Arbery's civil rights.

The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and jumped in a pickup truck after they spotted Arbery running past their home on a Sunday afternoon last year. They later told police they suspected he was a burglar, though they did not see him committing any crimes.

Bryan joined the chase in his own truck, telling police he used the vehicle to force Arbery into a ditch and cut off his escape from the subdivision. He used his cellphone to record video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery as he tried to run around the McMichaels' idling truck.

Travis McMichael testified he shot Arbery in self-defense after the running man attacked him and tried to grab his gun. Defense attorneys said the three men had reasonable grounds to suspect Arbery was a criminal and wanted only to detain him until police could arrive.

Like the state trial, the federal case will be tried in Glynn County, where the killing occurred just outside the port city of Brunswick. Typically, a federal jury would be drawn from residents of Glynn County as well as six neighboring counties that make up the Brunswick Division of the federal court system's Southern District of Georgia.

In the joint motion, they noted that court rules allow for a jury pool to be assembled from the entire Southern District.

The district covers 43 of Georgia's 159 counties, with its largest cities being Savannah and Augusta. Farthest from the courthouse is rural Wilkes County, more than 210 miles north of Brunswick.

The next pretrial hearing in the federal case is scheduled for Dec. 20.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys in the federal case say they hope to avoid the sort of slow-moving grind that made jury selection last 2 1/2 weeks before the state trial could begin.

In a separate legal filing in the federal case, prosecutors and defense attorneys asked the judge to approve a 14-page questionnaire to be sent to potential jurors ahead of time along with their jury duty notices. They proposed using the questionnaires to identify any pool members that both sides agree are too biased to fairly hear the case before jury selection begins.

Attorneys noted it would not be the first time a federal jury had been summoned from all 43 counties in Georgia's Southern District. That happened in 2005 for the federal corruption trial of Charles Walker of Augusta, who had been the powerful Democratic leader of the state Senate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Trial, William "Roddie" Bryan, Georgia
Prosecution and defense attorneys file a joint motion for the upcoming federal hate crime trial in the death of Ahmaud Arbery to have the jury pool cover the Southern District of Georgia to improve chances of an impartial jury. Above, William "Roddie" Bryan looks on as prosecutors make their final rebuttal before jury deliberations at the Glynn County Courthouse on November 23, 2021, in Brunswick, Georgia. Octavio Jones/Getty Images