BRUNSWICK, Ga. — After two and a half weeks of jury selection in the murder trial in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, the court chose a jury on the twelfth day, but not without controversy.
It became clear that the defense team struck 11 out of 12 Black members of the jury pool Wednesday. That left one Black juror and 11 white jurors on the final panel. It's not clear what the makeup is of the alternates.
"This court has found that there appears to be intentional discrimination in the panel," Judge Timothy Walmsley told the court Wednesday evening.
Defense attorneys said they struck 13 white potential jurors for the same reason they struck Black potential jurors. They said they had a fixed opinion.
"We are stuck between a rock and a hard place given the fact that the majority of the African-American jurors that came in here were struck for cause immediately because of their firm opinions," Laura Hogue, Gregory McMichael's attorney, said.
"Never before have we had a case where so many people have entered into the courtroom for jury selection already having an opinion about the guilt of the men charged," Jason Sheffield, Travis McMichael's attorney, added.
Despite his findings, the judge said he was not going to change the final makeup of the jury because of the limitations of the court on what he can do if the defense gives a "legitimate, non-discriminatory, clear, reasonably specific reasons" to strike them.
The judge also acknowledged race is a big part of this case.
"One of the challenges that I think counsel recognized in this case is the racial overtones in this case," Walmsely said. "This case makes it difficult because race has been injected into this process," he said.
The defense said they're sensitive to the topic of race and how much it is a part of the case.
"The truth is, race is a part of this case," Travis McMichael's attorney Bob Rubin said. "We’ve all been talking about it for the 18 months that this case has been pending and we had to explore both white jurors, Asian jurors, Black jurors' position on race and this case as it pertains to race," he said.
"The judge very graciously allowed us to do so and recognized it was an issue we had to explore and so, we tried our best to thoughtfully and sensitively explore those issues and I think through the exploration process, we were able to find jurors who were not suited for this particular case," Rubin added.
Rubin and Sheffield said they think they have a fair and impartial jury.
"Thankfully, there were enough people here in Glynn County who have shared with us 'we don’t have an opinion. We’re willing to give you a fair shot,' and now we’re ready to start," Sheffield said.
Sheffield and Rubin also said the idea to change the venue of the case isn't on the table anymore. They said they feel confident now about the jury.
"I was very shocked that we had only one Black, African-American juror," Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said. "That was devastating."
She said she's happy the court finally chose the jury, though.
Cooper-Jones' attorney, Lee Merritt, said the ruling is frustrating.
"It’s very difficult for a family who just wants a fair day in court without racial bias, but it’s inherently built into our system," Merritt said. "We need to continue to work to change laws and improve our system so it doesn’t continue," he said.
Both Cooper-Jones and Merritt said they're hopeful the jury will get justice for Ahmaud.
“We're still confident that this jury will be able to hear the facts of this case and come back with convictions of all men," Merritt said.
"I’m very confident that they’ll make the right decision once they see all of the evidence," Cooper-Jones said.
The judge will hear motions Thursday starting at 9 a.m., and opening statements Friday.