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A nearly all-white jury will hear evidence in the Ahmaud Arbery case


A jury has been seated in the trial of three men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. He was a Black man running through a neighborhood. The defendants are three white men who took it upon themselves to chase him and now plead self-defense. One Black man will be the only person on a nearly all-white jury. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: After weeks of intense questioning, prosecutors and defense lawyers spent Wednesday exercising their peremptory strikes to narrow the jury pool to 12, plus four alternates. But after the defense eliminated all but one prospective Black juror, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski stood.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I understand the state has a motion.

LINDA DUNIKOSKI: Yes, Your Honor. At this time...

ELLIOTT: Dunikoski argued that defense lawyers unconstitutionally removed Black members from the jury pool because of their race.


DUNIKOSKI: The defense struck these jurors, and, in this case, we're talking about the 11 African American jurors, because of racial bias.

ELLIOTT: She asked Judge Timothy Walmsley to reinstate some of them, but first he heard from attorneys for the defendants, father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan. The three neighbors face charges including murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment for chasing Ahmaud Arbery with pickup trucks, cornering him and shooting him to death in a struggle. They say they suspected him in recent break-ins. Nearly all the potential jurors had seen graphic cellphone video of the killing, recorded by defendant Bryan, and many indicated they thought Arbery was targeted because of his race and had negative opinions of the defendants. Greg McMichael's attorney, Laura Hogue, argued the defense struck jurors because of their fixed opinions, not their race.


LAURA HOGUE: We struck 13 white people to this 11, number of 11, African Americans, and those were based on the same reasons, Your Honor, the same strong-rooted bias.

ELLIOTT: Bryan's lawyer, Kevin Gough, said he was just doing his job.


KEVIN GOUGH: I have a right as the defense counsel not to believe that answer, and that has nothing to do with whether he's Black, white or a Martian.

ELLIOTT: In the end, Judge Walmsley agreed in part with the prosecution's argument.


TIMOTHY WALMSLEY: This court has found that there appears to be intentional discrimination in the panel.

ELLIOTT: But he said the law prevented him from reinstating Black members to the jury pool because defense lawyers were able to cite race-neutral reasons for striking them. He called it a difficult balance.


WALMSLEY: One of the challenges that I think counsel recognize in this case is the racial overtones in the case.

ELLIOTT: So a jury of 11 white people and one Black man will weigh the testimony and evidence and the defense argument that they acted in self-defense - that in a county where African Americans make up more than a quarter of the population. For some, the image of a nearly all-white jury sitting judgment in South Georgia harkens to another time.

BARBARA ARNWINE: I mean, come on, people, come on.

ELLIOTT: Barbara Arnwine is with the Transformative Justice Coalition.

ARNWINE: It hurts. I mean, we know how biased the system is. We know how big a fight, an uphill fight, this is to get justice for Ahmaud. But, my goodness, that was chilling.

ELLIOTT: For Arbery's family, the jury makeup is a blow. His mother, Wanda Cooper Jones.

WANDA COOPER JONES: I was very shocked that we only had one Black African American man. I mean, that was just devastating.

ELLIOTT: Opening statements are set for Friday morning. Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Brunswick, Ga.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALFA MIST'S "MULAGO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.