Something’s not right with the jury in the trial of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers

You know things are bad when a judge voices his opinion on “intentional discrimination” in a murder trial, but the judge in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial felt compelled to do just that. Judge Timothy Walmsley is overseeing this trial, and he questioned the jury that has been seated to pass judgment on two white men accused of killing a black man: eleven whites and one black. Defense lawyers used their preemptory strikes to prevent 8 black jurors from sitting on the final panel. There were only 12 in the pool of 48, so it certainly seems suspect that all those potential jurors save one were predisposed to find one way or the other.

Following final selection, Judge Walmsley went on the record with his feelings, though he allowed the jury to be seated. Prosecutors asked the judge to reverse the strikes made by defense attorneys and said in open court that the jurors were targeted over race. The prosecution presented a decision in Batson v. Kentucky, which ruled it unconstitutional to strike potential jurors based on race or ethnicity, but the judge said that he could not make that determination because the defense’s justifications did not mention race. Come on. Did he think the lawyers would specifically point out issues of race if they intended to remove those potential jurors? They would not be very decent lawyers if they did. Their questions were likely more subtle than that.

It will be difficult if not impossible to get an impartial trial for these men in Glynn County, which is 69% white and 26% black. The odds were against seating many blacks but striking 11 out of 12 is a bit suspect. They likely find it more plausible for an all-white jury to believe their ridiculous story about “self-defense.” Self defense typically involves a person defending him or herself from harm caused by another. The McMichaels chased Arbery down as he jogged through their precious neighborhood and confronted him with a shotgun. If anyone had a right to employ self-defense, it was Arbery, but he stood no chance. Now, his family might not even receive justice for his death.

Unfortunately, the defense side in this case had a huge advantage in jury selection. Preemptory challenges give each side the opportunity to eliminate potential jurors whom they do not believe can be impartial, and the defense got twice as many peremptory challenges as the prosecution. According to Thomasville Times-Enterprise, the defense in the Arbery case had 24 challenges, while the prosecution had only 12. This extremely large number of challenges was given because of the high-profile nature of this case. The defense was thus given an incredibly unfair advantage in striking people it did not want on this jury—specifically, black people. How this will impact the trial of this case remains to be seen; however, even if acquitted, the McMichaels and their neighbor are not off the hook because they have been hit with federal charges. Hopefully, they will eventually be fairly tried and punished for the murder of this young black man.

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