By Jonathan Allen
BRUNSWICK, Ga. (Reuters) – A Georgia judge ruled on Thursday that the jury in the trial of three white men charged with murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger, will not see a toxicology report showing that a small amount of THC, a psychoactive compound in marijuana, was found in Arbery’s blood.
The jury is due to be sworn in and hear opening statements on Friday morning in Glynn County Superior Court about the deadly shooting that took place on Feb. 23, 2020, when Arbery went on a Sunday afternoon run through the mostly white residential neighborhood of Satilla Shores.
On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley heard arguments from prosecutors and defense lawyers about what evidence can be presented to jurors.
Lawyers for Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan say the three men acted in self-defense after chasing and cornering the 25-year-old Arbery.
Police say Travis McMichael, 35, fired a shotgun three times after Arbery initially grappled with the weapon and then turned to run. The men say they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest of someone they thought resembled a burglar.
The defense has sought to argue before the jury that Arbery had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, and that smoking marijuana can cause aggression in someone with this condition. The judge previously ruled that Arbery’s mental health records are not admissible as evidence.
Prosecutors from the Cobb County district attorney’s office said initial tests on Arbery’s body found no evidence of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine or other drugs. A second test found 3.2 nanograms per milliliter of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, in his blood, which they called a tiny amount.
Linda Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor, said the state had no plans to tell jurors about the toxicology reports, and that the THC finding was irrelevant to the defense.
“Why Mr. Arbery did anything he did is completely irrelevant,” she told the court. “The question is about what the defendants did, and they knew nothing about what was in his system.”
It took more than two weeks to select jurors from Glynn County, which is about 70% white, to serve in the trial. On Wednesday, after a grueling process, a jury of 11 white people and one Black person was seated.
In the final round of selection, defense lawyers struck 11 of the 12 Black potential jurors in the pool, dismaying prosecutors and Arbery’s supporters. The defense was able to convince the court that all 11 were struck for reasons that had nothing to do with their race.
Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney representing Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, said in a statement that it was “outrageous that Black jurors were intentionally excluded to create such an imbalanced jury in a cynical effort to help these cold-blooded killers escape justice.”
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in Brunswick; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, editing by Ross Colvin and Howard Goller)
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