By RUSS BYNUM Associated Press
BRUNSWICK, Ga. (A P) — The federal judge presiding over the upcoming hate crimes trial of three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery said Monday she plans to summon a jury pool of roughly 1,000 people scattered across an expansive area that covers 43 Georgia counties.
U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood told prosecutors and defense attorneys at a pretrial hearing that she was granting their joint request to cast a wider net for potential jurors.
Jury selection in the fed- eral case is scheduled to be- gin Feb. 7. Attorneys had ar- gued in legal filings it could be tough to seat an impartial federal jury so soon after the same three defendants were found guilty of murder in state court the day before Thanksgiving.
“I think the reasons set forth on both sides are ex- tremely valid,” Wood said, adding: “It’s a case that has received so much pretrial publicity.”
The judge said she plans to have approximately 1,000 jury duty notices and ques- tionnaires mailed to people living throughout the federal court system’s Southern Dis- trict of Georgia, which covers 43 of Georgia’s 159 counties.
The Southern District has a population of about 1.6 mil- lion people, with Savannah and Augusta being its largest cities. Its farthest community from the courthouse is rural Wilkes County, located more than 210 miles (338 kilome- ters) north of Brunswick.
Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, are scheduled to be sentenced in the state’s mur- der case Jan. 7, exactly a month before the federal trial begins. Their murder convic- tions carry a mandatory life sentence. The question for the judge is whether they will serve life in prison with or without a chance of parole.
A Glynn County jury in No- vember found all three guilty of murder and other crimes in the Feb. 23, 2020, kill- ing of Arbery. Bryan record- ed cellphone video of Tra- vis McMichael blasting the 25-year-old Black man with a shotgun after Arbery spent several minutes running as the three men chased him in pickup trucks.
Now the McMichaels and Bryan face hate crime charg- es at the federal level that allege they violated Arbery’s civil rights, unjustly pursu- ing and threatening him on a public street, because he was Black.
The judge said Monday she plans to keep the federal tri- al in Brunswick, noting the families of Arbery and the defendants live there, as do many of the witnesses being called to testify.
Typically in a federal trial, a jury would be pulled from Glynn County, which in- cludes Brunswick, and six neighboring counties.
Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery Sr., told reporters out- side the courthouse he’s fine with a jury coming from a wider area of the state.
“It don’t matter, because the evidence is overwhelming,” he said.
The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and jumped in a pickup truck af- ter they spotted Arbery run- ning 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 subdi- vision. He used his cellphone to record video of Travis Mc- Michael shooting Arbery as he tried to run around the McMichael’s idling truck.
Travis McMichael testified he shot Arbery in self-de- fense after the running man attacked him and tried to grab his gun. Defense attor- neys said the three men had reasonable grounds to sus- pect Arbery was a criminal and wanted only to detain him until police could arrive.
At the time of his death, Ar- bery had enrolled at a techni- cal college and was preparing to study to become an elec- trician like his uncles.
Attorneys on both sides in the federal case have said they hope selecting a jury from a wider area will help avoid the slow-paced grind that made jury selection last 2 1/2 weeks before the state trial could begin.
The state’s jury pool was drawn exclusively from Glynn County, where Ar- bery’s death had dominated
news reports and social me- dia feeds. Most potential jurors arrived at the court- house already knowing ba- sic facts about the case and many were dismissed for having strong opinions.
The judge agreed with at- torneys to send a 14-page questionnaire to potential jurors along with their jury duty notices. Attorneys will be able to review them before jury selection begins.