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McMichael/Bryant Federal Trial

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in the federal hate crimes trial of the three Georgia men charged in connection with the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger whose 2020 shooting fueled protests and calls for racial justice.

McMichael/Bryant Federal Trial

Racist, violent evidence presented in federal trial against Ahmaud Arbery's killers

There was a text message from Travis McMichael, complaining about Black people at a local restaurant. "Need to change the name from Cracker Barrel to N****r Bucket," he wrote.

There was a video, shared by McMichael on Facebook, of a Black boy dancing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the original music cut out and swapped for the racist song "Alabama N****r" by Johnny Rebel. The music went on and on for an uncomfortably long time, the dehumanizing lyrics blasting through the courtroom like something from a blackface minstrel show.

A comment under a video of Black Lives Matter protesters, in which McMichael wished for a semiautomatic rifle in order to shoot the people he described as "goddamn monkeys," and another post advocating driving into a group of Black people with a vehicle.

Even a text conversation between McMichael and a friend about zoodles — that's noodles made of zucchini — involved the N-word.

"Is that the only evidence, or is there more?" asked the prosecutor.

"There was more," replied the witness, FBI agent Amy Vaughn.

Vaughn had analyzed the contents of cellphones and social media accounts for the government, building its case against McMichael; his father, Greg McMichael; and neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan, who are on trial for violating Ahmaud Arbery's civil rights when they chased him down a public street and shot him while he was out for a run on Feb. 23, 2020.

The three men were already convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in a state trial last year. Now, federal prosecutors are trying to prove that the McMichaels and Bryan went after Arbery because of his race, violating his right to use a public street. In opening statements on Monday, prosecutor Bobbi Bernstein claimed that texts and social media evidence from the defendants would prove the government's case.

Investigators were unable to get Greg McMichael's cellphone records because of phone encryption but pointed out a few Facebook posts, including one status update that "a gun in hand is worth more than an entire police force on the phone."

McMichaels laughed about trespassing while hunting
Prosecutors also played a video of the father and son laughing about trespassing on private property while out hunting, chuckling that "there's private property and then there's private property, you know?"

The McMichaels have tried to defend their actions against Arbery as justified because Arbery was seen trespassing on private property — a home under construction in the neighborhood.

Bryan's text records show, according to Vaughn, "a pattern seen over several years" of making derogatory comments about Black people on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and WhatsApp messages about Bryan's daughter's new Black boyfriend, including a message in which his daughter writes passionately that race doesn't matter and begs her father for understanding.

"I've always told her this is the only thing I could not accept," Bryan texted a friend. One day after killing Arbery, Bryan texted the friend again, still about the falling-out with his daughter.

Lawyers for the defense briefly argued that some of the racist comments are taken out of context but declined an extensive cross-examination. In their opening statements, the defense lawyers admitted that all three men have said very racist things but racial slurs are not illegal.

"I'm not going to ask you to like Travis McMichael," attorney Amy Lee Copeland told the jurors, saying they should consider the evidence and still find him not guilty.


Judge in Arbery death federal trial to seat jury Monday

The federal judge presiding over the hate crimes trial in the death of Ahmaud Arbery says she plans to seat a jury Monday, and expects attorneys to make their opening statements as well

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- The federal judge presiding over the hate crimes trial of three white men who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery said she will seat a jury Monday after a week spent asking potential jurors what they already know about the Black man's death as well as their views on racism in America.

U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood said Friday she's ready to start the trial with 64 people deemed qualified to serve as impartial jurors. That pool will be narrowed to a main jury of 12 plus four alternates Monday, when the judge also expects attorneys to make opening statements.

It will be the second time the port city of Brunswick, on the Georgia coast south of Savannah, has held a trial in Arbery's killing since November, when the same three defendants were convicted of murder in a Georgia state court.

Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves and chased 25-year-old Arbery in a pickup truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood on Feb. 23, 2020. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the pursuit in his own truck and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael blasting Arbery with a shotgun.

No arrests were made in the case until the video leaked online two months later.

A judge last month sentenced the McMichaels and Bryan to life in prison for their murder convictions. But they still face a federal trial on hate crime charges, which allege that they violated Arbery's civil rights and targeted him because he was Black.

All three men have pleaded not guilty in the federal case. The judge said she expects the hate crimes trial to last between seven and 12 days.

The judge and attorneys worked Monday through Friday to interview more than 160 potential jurors pulled from 43 counties across southern and eastern Georgia. Nearly two-thirds of them were dismissed for having strong opinions about the case after watching portions of the state murder trial or news reports about it.

Some of the 64 jury pool members returning to the courthouse Monday said they knew little about the case. They include a man, identified in court only as juror No. 421, who on Friday told the judge: "The only thing I really know is that it’s a high-profile case and there might be a video related to it.”

Others were able to persuade the judge they could set aside what they know and hear the federal trial based solely on the evidence presented in court. One of them, a woman identified as juror No. 422, said she had negative feelings about the McMichaels and Bryan because they didn't seem to show remorse in the state trial, but insisted she could still be fair.

The search for an impartial jury in federal court came just a week after attorneys announced the McMichaels planned to plead guilty in the federal case in a deal with prosecutors that quickly fell apart. The judge noted only one or two potential jurors said they were aware of that.

In the state murder trial, defense attorneys argued the defendants were justified in chasing Arbery because they suspected he had committed crimes in their neighborhood. Travis McMichael testified that he opened fire in self-defense after Arbery attacked him with fists and grabbed for his shotgun.

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