BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Jurors in the murder trial of the three Georgia men charged in Ahmaud Arbery’s killing listened to hours of closing arguments Monday as four attorneys presented various views of what happened on that day early last year.
The prosecution said Arbery was “under attack” by white men who saw a Black man running in their small coastal neighborhood and hopped in pickup trucks to pursue him.
Defense attorneys for two of the men painted a picture of residents on edge about crime in the neighborhood and said the men were trying to detain Arbery for police. An attorney for the third said his client was a witness who merely documented the killing.
The nearly all-white panel of 12 jurors and three alternates is scheduled to hear a rebuttal from the prosecution Tuesday morning before receiving charging instructions and beginning deliberations.
Father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan are charged with murder and other crimes in the February 2020 shooting in Brunswick, about 80 miles south of Savannah. They were arrested two months after the shooting, when Bryan’s cellphone video of the incident was released.
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Defense attorney Kevin Gough, who represents Bryan, told jurors his client was guided by “divine providence” to capture video of Arbery on the street that day, saying Bryan acted as a well-meaning witness to the killing.
Gough said Bryan is a “regular guy” who did not “intentionally” aid in the crime. He was “armed only with a cellphone” and was initially unaware that the McMichaels were armed, Gough said.
“Something is guiding Mr. Bryan down this street to document what’s going on,” Gough said. “He’s being guided, whether that’s by a god, if you believe in God, or some other entity. But do you really believe it’s just coincidence or chance?”
Dozens of people with Black Lives Matter and the Black Panthers protested outside the Glynn County courthouse Monday during closing arguments. Some were seen carrying weapons.
Demonstrators held up a large image of Ahmaud Arbery and brought a black coffin inscribed with the names of slain Black people. “Say his name! Ahmaud Arbery!” protesters chanted.
Gough motioned for a mistrial over the demonstration. The judge denied the motion.
A defense attorney for Travis McMichael told jurors McMichael was motivated by “duty and responsibility” to question Arbery about a crime he suspected and that he shot Arbery in self-defense.
Attorney Jason Sheffield said the Satilla Shores neighborhood was on edge after a series of crimes, including the theft of equipment from the owner of a house under construction.
Sheffield said McMichael knew a man had been seen on surveillance video at the construction site and that he’d briefly encountered a man there two weeks before Arbery’s death. Sheffield said that Arbery trespassed in the house multiple times, as seen on video, and that there was “no evidence that Ahmaud Arbery ever jogged or exercised in Satilla Shores.”
So when McMichael saw Arbery running, McMichael used his Coast Guard training to conclude there was “reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion” that Arbery committed burglary, Sheffield said.
Arbery did not try to defuse the situation by talking to McMichael or by running through a yard, away from the men pursing him on the street, Sheffield said. After a five-minute chase, as Arbery ran toward him, McMichael shot Arbery, Sheffield said.
McMichael was “totally freaked out” after the shooting, Sheffield said. “If this was a case about wanting to murder a Black jogger, if this was really a case about that, Travis would not have reacted the way he reacted,” Sheffield said.
An attorney for Gregory McMichael, Laura Hogue, echoed many of the same points in her closing argument. Hogue said McMichael, a retired investigator, was “seeking to protect his community” and had “no doubt” that Arbery was the same man seen on surveillance video.
“A good neighborhood is always policing itself,” she said.”The police can’t be everywhere, and in a safe, secure neighborhood, police are helped by those neighbors.”
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski argued the three defendants made rash decisions based on assumptions that Arbery had committed a crime, an assumption for which she argued they had no proof. Dunikoski argued the men killed Arbery because he refused to stop and talk to them when they tried to question him.
“They made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways because he was a Black man running down the street,” Dunikoski said. “This was an attack on Ahmaud Arbery.”
Dunikoski said Arbery was seen multiple times on surveillance video wandering around a house under construction in the neighborhood but said he never took or damaged anything.
While Arbery was inside the site the day he was killed, the three men had “no immediate knowledge” of that and determined Arbery committed a crime because he was running, Dunikoski said. She said the men later claimed they were making a citizen’s arrest to “justify their actions.”
Dunikoski argued the men cannot claim self-defense “because they were the initial, unjustified aggressors, and they started this.”
“Who brought the shotgun to the party?” Dunikoski asked. “You can’t create the situation and then go, ‘Oh I was defending myself.'”
Gregory McMichael, 65, and Travis McMichael, 35, and Bryan, 52, are charged with felony murder and malice murder, two counts of aggravated assault, and one count of false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Both murder charges could result in a life sentence. Aggravated assault has a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. False imprisonment is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. If the defendants are convicted on multiple counts, they will be sentenced on the most serious charge.