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Jury selection begins in the trial of 3 men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

What does the law make of a chase that is shown on video, followed by the death of a man? Jury selection has begun in the trial of three men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery. People are waiting outside the courthouse in Glynn County, Ga.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: What do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Justice.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: When do we want it?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Now.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Are we going to give up?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: No.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Are we going to stand up?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Yes.

INSKEEP: NPR's Debbie Elliott is covering the trial. Debbie, good morning.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How's jury selection going?

ELLIOTT: It's going slowly. It's going to be a long and deliberate process here, trying to find 16 people - that would be 12 jurors and four alternates - who don't already have their minds made up. This is such a highly publicized and racially charged case.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: Three men - a father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael, and a neighbor of theirs, William "Roddie" Bryan - face murder and other charges. They chased Arbery with pickup trucks. He was cornered. He resisted. That's when Travis McMichael killed him with three close-range shotgun blasts, and Bryan recorded all of this on his cell phone. It was not until that video was released months later that anyone was arrested. Now, the accused are going to argue in court that it was self-defense because Arbery fought back as they were trying to make a citizen's arrest. They say they had - there had been break-ins in their neighborhood, and they suspected Arbery after seeing him on a new home construction site.

INSKEEP: What are lawyers asking potential jurors as they consider them?

ELLIOTT: Well, a big question has been whether they've seen this graphic video or shared it or talked about it with family or friends, and most everyone has. And several people indicated they had drawn judgments from that. One woman said it was disgusting to videotape the scene. Another man said he thought Gregory McMichael's behavior was stalking as he looked at the video. A pressing concern that the judge acknowledged yesterday is how this case affects people so deeply, both here and around the country, and the kind of pressure that creates. And a couple of prospective jurors talked about being afraid. One said he feared being a juror with someone's fate in his hands. A woman said she would fear for her safety if she reached a verdict that somehow angered people - so a very painstaking process now underway. On the first day, the court only got through a first panel of 20. That's a fraction of the 600 people summoned for jury duty this week.

INSKEEP: Wow. Well, let's go outside the courthouse for a moment because we heard that chanting outside. What is it like in the community?

ELLIOTT: You know, there are some people who've come from out of town, but there are also a lot of local residents who have shown up, you know, looking for some resolution to what has really taken a toll in Brunswick. Willetta McGowen is deacon at the St. Mark's Episcopal Church, not far from the courthouse. She came early Monday morning with a group of faith leaders to sing and pray on the steps before the start of the trial. And here's what she said about this moment.

WILLETTA MCGOWEN: I've been feeling a little anxiety, a little hope, a little of God's presence, and I sincerely hope that things will go well, that they will get the jury that they need, and, you know, people will cooperate, that this will be a peaceful time in Glynn County.

INSKEEP: That's the hope anyway. What is Arbery's family saying?

ELLIOTT: You know, they want the focus to stay on proving this murder case, yet the larger implications are not lost on them. Here's Marcus Arbery. He's Ahmaud Arbery's father, and he spoke just outside the courthouse.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARCUS ARBERY: Long as I get justice, I'm good. But I know my son was lynched - lynched by a white mob.

ELLIOTT: So this - clearly a very emotional time for both the family and the broader community.

INSKEEP: NPR's Debbie Elliott is in Glynn County, Ga. Debbie, thanks for your reporting.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.