Ahmaud Abery’s February 2020 murder was a turning point in the reckoning with racial injustices that pervaded much of America’s public consciousness over the past year. Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was jogging in a suburban Georgia neighborhood when three men—father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael, and William Bryan—pursued, shot and killed him. Bryan and McMichaels are both white.
Three months later, cellphone footage of William Bryan’s fatal shooting was made public. There was widespread outrage over the graphic footage and demands for investigations into why they hadn’t been charged. Now, more than a year later still—and more than 18 months since Arbery’s death—the trial of the McMichaels and Bryan is scheduled to begin on Nov. 5. Both are facing federal hate crimes and murder charges.
The jury selection process began Oct. 18, and lasted for over two weeks. One Black person and 11 White people make up the jury.
After a jury was initially selected on Nov. 3 from a pool of around 50 qualified candidates, the prosecution challenged the defense attorneys’ striking of eight potential jurors, all of whom were Black. Each of the three defense teams representing the McMichaels and Bryan respectively was given eight strikes—across those 24 total, the defense eliminated 11 of the 12 potential Black jurors. All twelve strikes that the prosecution could afford were applied to whites.
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Prosecutors argued that many of these strikes made by the defense were solely because of the would-be jurors’ race, per the Associated PressThis was an allegation the defense lawyers denied. And trial judge Timothy Walmsley said that there appeared to be “intentional discrimination” in the jury selection process. He ruled in favor of the strikes and called for the sitting of the jury to resume on November 3.
“It is a lived experience for Black people in America that we can never take for granted that a white person will be convicted for killing a Black person, no matter how much evidence we have,” civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing the Arbery family, said during an Oct. 18 press conference.
Although there have been many hurdles in the way of justice, the Arbery clan is optimistic that the trial will move forward after so many delays. Here’s everything you need to know about the case.
Ahmaud Abery, what happened?
Arbery, who was running near his Brunswick home in Georgia on Feb. 23rd was involved in an altercation between Travis and Gregory McMichael.
Gregory McMichael stated that Arbery fit the description of someone who was responsible for numerous break-ins that occurred in the region. Later, The Brunswick NewsOnly one burglary was reported to police in January. The owner of the home where Arbery lived on February 23rd later informed police that no items were taken.
Arbery was finally followed by McMichaels who were armed and drove in their pickup truck. William Bryan, who was initially believed to be a bystander, joined—and allegedly assisted—the McMichaels in their pursuit.
According to the McMichaels, Arbery assaulted them after they confronted him. Arbery can be seen sprinting on the streets when Arbery comes across two men in what appears to be a pickup truck. One of them is standing next to the truck, while the other is standing on the truck’s bed. Arbery tried to escape them but they got into an argument with one another. There are three shots.
Arbery had no weapons, as it later emerged. His autopsy revealed that there was no alcohol or drugs in his body.
Why did the McMichaels’ arrests take so long?
The handling of this case from the beginning was difficult. The Glynn County Police Department and the Brunswick District Attorney’s Office were responsible for the initial investigation. Jackie Johnson, Brunswick’s district attorney, later withdrew her support because Gregory McMichael (a former officer in the county police) was working as an investigator for Johnson’s office. (In Sept. 2021, Johnson was indicted by a grand jury on charges of “obstruction” and “violation of oath by a public officer” for interfering with efforts to have the McMichaels arrested immediately after Arbery’s death.)
The case was then taken over by Waycross Judicial Circuit district attorney George Barnhill, who told the police that he did not believe there was enough evidence to charge the three men because of Georgia’s citizen arrest and self-defense laws. To use these laws for justification, McMichaels must have knowledge about Arbery’s crime. But this wasn’t the case.
Barnhill, whose conduct in the matter has been the source of some criticism, later had to step away from the case as well—because his son had previously worked with Gregory McMichael in the Brunswick prosecutor’s office.
The case was handed over to Tom Durden (a member of the Atlantic Judicial Circuit) in April 2020. A month later—and amid the response to the footage of Arbery’s death—Durden asked if the case could be reassigned again. Joyette Holmes was Cobb County’s district attorney and took the case. In Nov. 2020, Holmes was elected as the DA. Flynn Brody Jr. took over Holmes’ position and is currently overseeing the case.
After an investigation by Georgia Bureau of Investigations, McMichaels was arrested on May 7, 2020 and they were charged with felony killing and aggravated assault.Bryan was arrested on May 21 for felony murder, and criminal attempt at false imprisonment.
Bryan and McMichaels were also charged in federal hate crime cases in April 2021.
How will they argue it?
According to the prosecution, the McMichaels are not just aggressors but also were motivated by racial motivation. A Georgia Bureau of Investigations investigator claims Travis McMichael uttered the n word after Arbery was killed. The prosecution tried to show that they were racist by using social media messages and text from McMichaels during a bond hearing.
Learn more Atlanta Mayor Calls Ahmaud Arbery Shooting a ‘Lynching’ and Blames ‘White House Rhetoric’ for Emboldening Racists
And since prosecutors are arguing that it was the McMichaels were the ones who pursued Arbery, they would not be protected under Georgia’s now-repealed self-defense law.
How will defense defend itself?
The three accused have all pleaded guilty to the charges. McMichaels defense team says that Arbery was suspected of being a burglary victim and that there was no racial motivation to the incident.
The claim also states that Travis McMichael thought Arbery was trying kill him even though McMichael had a gun and Arbery didn’t. On the day of shooting, Travis McMichael stated to authorities that he did not intend on killing Arbery.
Kevin Gough, a lawyer for William Bryan, has previously argued that his client was nothing more than a witness—despite the evidence that Bryan’s car was used to help trap Arbery, who was on foot, during the three men’s pursuit of him—and will likely do so again.