BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Prosecutors on Friday described how three men made fatal assumptions about Ahmaud Arbery when they saw him jogging in their neighborhood, grabbed their guns and chased him down before fatally shooting the 25-year-old Black man.
On Friday, defense lawyers were scheduled to present their opening arguments in the trial of Arbery’s murder in this coastal community in January. The defense was expected to argue that father and son Greg and Travis McMichael were trying to make a citizen’s arrest and that Travis shot Arbery in self-defense.
The McMichaels and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan are accused of murder and other crimes in Arbery’s death, who was shot three times at close range with a shotgun.
Video of the incident, captured by one Bryan, was released by a Georgia attorney two months later, spurring arrests and propelling growing national outrage against the treatment of Black Americans in the U.S.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley, who swore in jurors and clarified key legal terms early Friday morning, was the judge of Superior Court. The predominantly white jury – only one person of color was seated – was finalized this week even after Walmsley acknowledged “intentional discrimination” in the jury selection process.
Each person has a different perspective. Register for This is America to receive a weekly update on news and information from reporters with diverse backgrounds.
Outside the courthouse Friday, a small group of faith leaders gathered to pray and sing. The Rev. John Perry encouraged the community not to be divided by outrage at the absence of racial diversity among the jury members.
“We’ve heard the shock we’ve heard the disappointment,” he said. “We encourage you to have faith in Jesus and to live in unity.
Subscribe to USA TODAY for the latest news and updates.
According to the prosecutor, neighbors saw Black man running away and grabbed their firearms.
Linda Dunikoski presented jurors their cell phones and surveillance videos, as well as audio clips of police calls. She also read some of the statements of defendants. The evidence, she said, will show the defendants are guilty of felony murder and malice murder, two counts of aggravated assault, and one count of false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Dunikoski explained that the defendants’ actions the day Arbery died were “driveway decisions”, which were made based on their assumptions regarding Arbery’s activities in their community.
The first “driveway decision,” she said, was when Greg McMichae chose to go insideAfter seeing Arbery run down the street, Dunikoski went to his house and got his gun. Dunikoski explained that Arbery assumed the worst and was unaware of any crimes.
Dunikoski was a part of Greg McMichael’s 911 Call.
“What’s the emergency?” You can hear the dispatcher asking.
“There’s a Black male running down the street,” Greg McMichael can be heard saying.
The second driveway decision, Dunikoski said, was when Travis McMichael grabbed his shotgun and got into his truck. Greg joined him, squeezing on top of a child’s car seat.
“This driveway is where all the magic begins. Ahmaud Archery was killed five minutes later,” she declared.
The third, she said, was when their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan saw them driving after Arbery and got in his own truck to follow. “He has absolutely no idea what’s been going on, and he joins the McMichaels in chasing down Mr. Arbery,” she said.
Dunikoski told jurors Bryan attempted to hit Arbery with his truck four times, leaving fibers from Arbery’s T-shirt and a palm print on the truck, as Arbery attempted to run away.
“He was trapped like a rat,” Dunikoski recited from Greg McMichael’s statement to police.
Arbery had nothing on him at the time – not even a cell phone to call for help, Dunikoski said.
Dunikoski stated that Arbery had not committed any crime. Dunikoski stated, “Not one defendant ever said that I tried to arrest him or discussed what crime he actually committed.”
Video of Arbery’s Death played to the Jury
Linda Dunikoski, the prosecutor, played Bryan’s cellphone video from the crime scene. Dunikoski stated that it shows Travis McMichael jumping out of his car and firing three shots at Arbery.
Minimum one juror previously stated to the court that she had never seen the video.
Marcus Arbery was Arbery’s father. Wander Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, cried as the video started.
Intentional Discrimination in Jury Selection
Opening statements follow a lengthy jury selection process complicated by the high-profile nature of the incident and many potential jurors’ familiarity with the people involved in the case.
The trial is taking place in Brunswick, a predominantly Black town with just 16,000 residents about 70 miles south of Savannah. The town sits in the mostly white Glynn County, where about 26% of residents are Black, according to Census Bureau data. About 1 out of every 62 voters registered in the county was summoned to jury duty.
After a woman was dismissed Thursday from the jury due to a medical issue, the panel now consists of 11 white women, three white men and one Black man, according to information available to reporters. Three are alternates. The court declined a request to provide the jurors’ racial self-identifications.
While Judge Walmsley agreed with prosecutors about likely discrimination, he ruled the defense’s move to strike eight Black potential jurors from the jury pool was legal.
Peremptory strikes by the defense allowed for the exoneration of quite a few African American jurors. But that doesn’t mean that the court has the authority to re-seat,” Walmsley said.
In a case many high-profile people have called “lynching”, the almost all-white jury stands out. Bryan and McMichaels were charged with federal hate crimes in connection to this killing.
Georgia didn’t have hate crime legislation until June 2020, when Gov. After Arbery’s passing, Brian Kemp signed this bill. Kemp also signed an amendment to the state’s citizens’ arrest law. This allowed private citizens, who were suspected of having committed a crime in their presence, to hold someone.
On Thursday, Walmsley ruled on a number of issues about what evidence the jury will be allowed to hear. The judge prevented the defense from bringing in a use-of-force expert and having a psychiatrist testify on how the presence of a small amount of THC found in Arbery’s system may have affected his behavior.
Walmsley added Friday that jurors cannot be told Arbery was on probation but can view a photograph of the vanity plate on the pickup truck the McMichaels used that day. He previously ruled a 2018 mental illness diagnosis was inadmissible.
Ahmaud Arbery supporters and family react to the overwhelmingly-white jury
Outside the Glynn County Courthouse on Thursday, supporters for Arbery’s family expressed mixed emotions about a jury with only one Black juror.
Lynn Whitfield, election protection director with the Transformative Justice Coalition, said she wasn’t surprised but not deterred.
Whitfield is an experienced criminal lawyer with 30 years.
Diane Jackson, Arbery’s aunt, expressed concerns that a nearly all-white jury would create pressure on the sole Black juror. She said she plans on following the trial from outside the courtroom.
Gregory Reed, who drove from Camden County to support the Arbery family, questioned how the jury could not better reflect the demographics of the county.
He stated, “I do not want to be mistaken but I don’t understand how Ahmaud will get a fair trial by this jury.”