BRUNSWICK, Georgia – # 218 took a bike ride to support Ahmaud Arbery’s family after the young black boy was pursued and shot. # 236 was a longtime associate of one of the white men charged with murder.

Identified in court only by numbers, both individuals were summoned to jury service for Arbery’s murder. And after attorneys questioned them extensively on the case, the judge found both fair enough to stay in the pool from which a final jury will be selected.

An outcry over the February 2020 murder of 25-year-old Arbery reverberated in the United States after a cell phone graphical video of the shooting leaked online two months later. Given the ongoing jury selection in the 85,000-member Georgia ward where the killing took place, it is becoming increasingly likely that some of the jurors ultimately selected have preconceived notions and personal connections about the case.

The judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers have interviewed 71 pool members since the jury selection began on Monday. After the release of those with personal difficulties or unshakable prejudice, 23 were deemed qualified to move up. Dozens more are needed before a final jury of 12 plus four substitutes can be appointed.

When interviewing potential jurors, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski often told them that the ideal juror was a “blank slate.” In the trial of the Arbery assassination, she stated, that was probably impossible.

“We can’t get that because it was everywhere,” said Dunikoski in court on Thursday.

The result was that a number of potential jurors stayed in the pool even though they had already come to court and already knew a lot about what happened and the people involved. That’s because they said they can only decide the case fairly based on the evidence from the trial.

Georgia law allows someone to sit on a jury even if they come to court with an opinion on the case, as long as that person is willing to stay open-minded, said Donnie Dixon, a Savannah attorney and former federal attorney.

“The operational question is, is your opinion so firm that you won’t get a fair trial?” Said Dixon, who is not involved in the case. “The reality is who knows? But if you say these magic words, the judge must not disqualify you. “

Greg and Travis McMichael, a father and adult son, armed themselves and chased Arbery in a pickup truck after seeing him in their neighborhood. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase and took a cell phone video of Travis McMichael who shot Arbery three times at close range with a shotgun.

Greg McMichael, who recently retired after a long career as a district attorney’s investigator, told police Arbery was previously captured by security cameras in a neighboring home under construction and they suspected he had stolen. He said Travis McMichael shot Arbery in self-defense after Arbery attacked him.

So far, the case has been pushed forward by outsiders. The McMichaels and Bryan weren’t charged until the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took the case over from local police. Greg McMichael’s connections with the district attorney led to the appointment of outside metro Atlanta prosecutors. The Savannah Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley was also appointed to preside.

If a jury is in Glynn County, where 1,000 jury notices have been sent, the case will ultimately be decided by people for whom the killing was much closer to home.

Jury Pool Member # 218, a retail clerk who posed as black in court, wrote on her jury questionnaire that “a young man was shot for the color of his skin and the three men who committed the crime nearly escaped would be. “

She said in court Thursday that she took a bike ride to raise money for Arbery’s family after the shooting. And while telling the lawyers that she could be a fair jury member, she also said that from what she now knows, “I feel that you are guilty.”

Not all of the jury members were preoccupied with Arbery’s murder. One self-employed woman said she refused to listen when her husband tried to discuss the case and said she was trying “not to read the news or politics”.

It remains in the jury pool.

Others were disqualified for appearing too committed. The judge fired a woman who said she believed she saw Arbery running near her home shortly before he was murdered. She described feeling emotionally attached to him and closely followed the proceedings in court.

# 236 was held in the jury pool, despite having known Greg McMichael for 30 years. She still works as a clerk for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney. Although she and Greg McMichael weren’t close friends, she said the two were “just around each other”.

The woman said she also looked closely at Greg McMichael’s personnel file because she was tasked with removing private information from it after news organizations requested copies.

She told the judge and attorneys that she did not have a clear opinion on the case. The little opinion she offered was not compassionate.

“I don’t understand why you took it into your own hands,” said No. 236. “That’s the only thing that bothers me that day. I would have called 911 and asked the police to do it. “

If enough people summoned to the courthouse continue to express strong opinions, defense attorneys could ask the judge to stop the jury selection and move the case to another Georgia district.

“It’s the easiest time to change the venue,” said Don Samuel, an Atlanta attorney who is not involved in the case. “When half of the randomly selected people are so biased that they can’t even sit on a jury, you’re talking about a community saturated with pre-trial advertising.”