The fates of three men charged with the death of Ahmaud Arbery are in the hands of a Glynn County jury after the prosecution made its closing arguments Tuesday.
According to pool reports, deliberation will continue Friday and Saturday if necessary. Members of the jury will decide how long they will deliberate on any given day, including whether they recess early on Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
Greg McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie" Bryan confronted 25-year-old Arbery as he jogged through the streets of a Brunswick-area neighborhood in February 2020. The three men, who are white, chased Arbery, who was Black, in two pickup trucks for several minutes before shooting him. All three face multiple felony charges including murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment and could receive life sentences if found guilty.
Arbery's death gained national attention after Bryan released a video of the killing, which he believed would be exculpatory. Others drew a vastly different conclusion from the footage, and Arbery became one of the faces of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, with supporters arguing the three defendants targeted him because of his race. Protesters gathered outside the courthouse throughout the trial bearing signs and chanting slogans like “No justice, no peace."
Well-known Black pastors including Rev. Al Sharpton were present at the trial, spurring one of the defense lawyers to complain that the clergy could intimidate jurors. Judge Timothy Walmsley said Tuesday he was confident the jurors could not hear the protesters from inside the courthouse.
The defense team previously argued that Travis McMichael was afraid for his life before he pulled the trigger on his shotgun, and that the trio were reacting to reports of Arbery earlier walking through the construction site of a house in the neighborhood. They said they were attempting a citizen's arrest, which they say was allowed under state law at the time.
Gregory McMichael previously worked in law enforcement, including as an investigator for the district attorney's office in Brunswick. Former district attorney Jackie Johnson initially cited the state's citizen's arrest law as justification for not arresting the McMichaels. She was later indicted for her handling of the case, which is now being prosecuted by the Cobb County District Attorney's Office.
Lawmakers overhauled Georgia's citizen's arrest law, which had ties to the practice of rounding up runaway slaves during the antebellum period, earlier this year following the negative publicity surrounding Arbery's case. The state Legislature also passed a hate crimes bill following Arbery's death, and whichever way the Glynn County jury's verdict falls, the men will face additional federal hate crimes charges.
In her final statement to the jury, Cobb County Assistant District Attorney Linda Dunikoski dismissed claims that the men were justified in attempting to perform a citizen's arrest on Arbery under the old law, arguing that they would only be entitled to do so if he had committed a crime in their presence or if they had immediate knowledge of a crime he committed.
She read from what she said was a statement Gregory McMichael made to police:
“(Officer:) 'Did this guy break into a house today?' (McMichael:) 'That's just it, I don't know. That's what I told what's-her-name out there. I said, Listen, you might want to go knock on doors down there because this guy just done something because he was fleeing from — I don't know, he might have gone in somebody's house,'" she read. “You can't make a citizen's arrest because someone's running down the street and you have no idea what crime they have committed that day. You can't hold somebody so the police do show up and go, 'Well, he must have done something. Why don't you police officers go figure out what it was that he went and did today.' But that's what Greg McMichael told the police."
Dunikoski also sought to dismantle the defendant's claims they were acting in self-defense, feeling threatened by the unarmed Arbery.
Such a claim is not valid if the defendants were the ones who instigated the confrontation, Dunikoski said.
“In this case, they committed four different felonies, including aggravated assault with a shotgun," she said. “They started it. They do not get to claim self defense. And then of course, provocation. You can't force someone to defend themselves against you so you get to claim self defense. This isn't the Wild West."
Dunikoski urged the jurors to find all three men guilty of Arbery's murder even though Travis McMichael fired the fatal shots, comparing them to a team of bank robbers that includes a lookout and a getaway driver. Under Georgia law, all of them would be party to the crime even if they never entered the bank, she said.
“Of course, you're saying, but Linda, only one person had their finger on the trigger in this case, and that was Travis McMichael, so how do we find Greg McMichael and William “Roddie" Bryan guilty of malice murder?" she said. “Under the law in Georgia, it's as if they were all holding the gun together. And in this example, the guy who never got out of the car, who was the getaway driver, is just as guilty. In this example, the guy who got out of the car and stood at the front of the bank is just as guilty. Party to a crime."
Walmsley told jurors they could find Bryan guilty of reckless driving rather than aggravated assault in connection with using his truck to try to stop Arbery, a misdemeanor rather than a felony.
Dunikoski showed jurors gruesome photos from the scene, which spurred Arbery's father to leave the courtroom and his mother to cry out, according to pool reports.
She ended her presentation with a photo of a smiling Arbery juxtaposed with a close-up of his face after his death.
“They know exactly what they did, and they know why they did it," she said. “It's not a mystery to them. When you come back with your guilty verdict, all you're doing is telling them we know what you did too, and we're going to hold you responsible for it. Because guess what you did? You turned this young man into that young man. That's what you did, for absolutely no good reason at all."
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