BRUNSWICK, Ga. — The prosecution on Friday told jurors three white men made fatal assumptions about Ahmaud Arbery when they saw the 25-year-old Black man running in their neighborhood, with two grabbing their guns and pursuing Arbery as a third man joined the chase.

“We are here because of assumptions,” prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said in her opening statements in the trial over Arbery’s killing in this small coastal town early last year.

Defense attorneys gave opening statements for two of the defendants Friday afternoon. Attorneys argued that father and son Greg and Travis McMichael were trying to make a citizen’s arrest and that Travis shot Arbery in self-defense.

Prosecutors also called their first witness – a police officer who responded to the scene of the shooting. When trial resumes Monday morning, more witnesses are expected to testify.

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 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.

Bryan’s attorney expected to make the argument that Bryan was an innocent witness. After the state had presented its evidence, Bryan’s attorney would make his opening statement.

On Friday morning, Judge Timothy Walmsley called the jurors to order and clarified key terms. 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.

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Outside the courthouse Friday, a small group of faith leaders gathered to pray and sing. The Rev. John Perry appealed to the community for unity despite outrage about the dearth of racial diversity in the jury.

“We’ve heard the shock we’ve heard the disappointment,” he said. We encourage you to have faith in Jesus and to live your life with unity.

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Play graphic bodycam video, Prosecutors summon first witness

On Friday afternoon, the state summoned William Duggan from Glynn County Police, who was one of the first to arrive on the scene.

Duggan told prosecutors that when he arrived, he saw Travis McMichael covered in blood. The officer asked McMichael if he was okay, prompting him to quickly reply, ‘No I’m not okay I just ‘effing’ killed somebody,” according to Duggan.

Prosecutors played dash camera video and graphic footage from Duggan’s body camera for the jurors. Duggan can be seen turning over Arbery’s body and attempting to apply pressure to his wound before saying: “There’s nothing I can do for this gentleman.”

Duggan said he decided there was nothing he could do because of massive blood loss, the lack of rise or fall of Arbery’s chest, and the gaping wound. 

Duggan stated that he recognized one McMichael at one point from the body cam footage.

Jason Sheffield was Travis McMichael’s attorney when Duggan said that Arbery could not be revived due to blood loss. He also observed that Arbery’s eyes weren’t reacting to the light.

Duggan, who was cross-examinationed by Sheffield, confirmed that Travis McMichael had been “very upset”, pacing and cooperative on the spot. Sheffield observed that McMichael’s reaction was similar to that of an officer who had hit a child.

Greg McMichael, according to his lawyer, was in “abject fear” for the safety of his son.

Greg McMichael’s attorney, Frank Hogue, spoke to jurors Friday afternoon and echoed many of the same statements made by his son’s attorney, Bob Rubin, presenting a picture of a neighborhood on edge and a father and son determined to detain a potential criminal.

Hogue said Greg McMichael, a retired investigator for the Brunswick district attorney’s office and a former officer for the Glynn County Police Department, saw Arbery running down the street “hauling ass” from the direction of a neighbor’s house.

Hogue said the neighborhood had witnessed “break-ins and burglaries and thefts over many months,” and that Greg McMichael believed Arbery to have “burglarized” the house. Hogue said Greg McMichael wanted to detain Arbery for police questioning.

Hogue added that intent is what matters in this case. He also said Greg McMichael believes Arbey was the man he saw inside the house several times.

Travis McMichael pulled the truck over, dialed 911, and then handed it to his father. Hogue reported that Travis McMichael then got out of his car, dialed 911, and Arbery began to move toward him.

“He’s now in abject fear that he is about to witness his own son possibly get shot and killed in front of his own eyes,” Hogue said. Hogue stated that the shooting was self-defense.

Travis McMichael was acting in self-defense according to his lawyer.

Travis McMichael’s attorney, Bob Rubin, showed surveillance videos, played audio clips of calls to police and displayed photos of the fatal confrontation to jurors over the course of his hour-long opening statement.

Rubin stated that his client was arming himself and pursued Arbery for “detention by the police.” He and other people felt they had a duty and responsibility to defend themselves and their communities.

Rubin characterized Satilla Shores as a “neighborhood on edge,” saying Travis McMichael knew a man had previously entered neighbor Larry English’s house and that items had been taken when he encountered Arbery.

Rubin claims that Arbery was the one who entered the house four more times before he died. 

Rubin stated that Travis McMichael saw Arbery close to English’s house 12 days prior to the shooting and believed he was armed. Jurors heard a clip of the 911 call Travis McMichael made when he spotted someone near English’s home.

Rubin argued, based upon Travis McMichael’s 10 year training as a Coast Guard officer, that he was probable to believe Arbery was a burglar, “under the whole of the circumstances.”

Rubin stated that Travis McMichael took his shotgun and pursued Arbery the day after he was murdered. To the jury, McMichaels never brandished their guns when they came in contact with Arbery. He also stressed that Travis McMichael was the one who called 911.

Rubin stated, “Before they fire the first shot, they call police.” This isn’t evidence that there was an intention to murder.

Rubin stated that Travis McMichael was trained to use his gun to stop violence and to get cooperation. Rubin showed still clips of the video jurors saw earlier, arguing that Arbery had a clear path to escape but instead came toward Travis “such that Travis has no choice but to fire his weapon in self-defense.”

While pantomiming the struggle, Rubin said Arbery started “pounding” Travis as his client tried to wrestle the gun away before firing two more times.

He has no other choice. If this guy gets his gun, he’s dead or his dad’s dead,” he said. “The right verdict for each case is that it’s not guilty.”

Prosecutor: Neighbors observed Black man running and grabbed their guns.

In her 1 1/2-hour opening, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski showed jurors cellphone and surveillance video, played audio clips of calls to police and read parts of what the defendants told police. According to her, the evidence would prove that defendants were guilty of felony murder and malice killing, two counts of assault, one count each of false imprisonment, criminal attempt, false imprisonment, and aggravated murder.

Dunikoski described the actions of the defendants on Arbery’s death as “driveway decision” based upon assumptions about Arbery’s behavior in the neighborhood. 

The first “driveway decision,” she said, was when Greg McMichae chose to go insideArbery ran down the street and Arbery forced him to flee his home. Dunikoski stated that he assumed all the worst, and had no knowledge whatsoever of any crime.

Dunikoski performed a portion of Greg McMichael’s 911 call.

Gregory McMichael sits during opening statements in the trial of Ahmaud Arbery killers at the Gwynn County Superior Court on November 5, 2021 in Brunswick, Georgia.

“What is your urgent?” 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 Bryan saw the McMichaels 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.

William "Roddie" Bryan listens to opening statements in the trial of the accused killers of Ahmaud Arbery at the Gwynn County Superior Court on November 5, 2021 in Brunswick, Georgia.

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 cellphone to call for help, Dunikoski said.

Dunikoski stressed that Arbery did not commit any crimes. Dunikoski stated, “No single defendant ever said that I tried to arrest him or discussed what crime he actually committed.”

For jury purposes, video of Ahmaud’s murder played

Linda Dunikoski was the prosecution’s opening statement. She showed Bryan’s phone video, in which Bryan is seen getting out of her car and taking three shots at Arbery, during Dunikoski’s statements.

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.

Attorney Lee Merritt, Cobb County’s prosecutor, held a short press conference outside of the courthouse as jurors ate lunch.  

Merritt stated that “the family has been affected” by the information they had heard, however, he said to a gathering of wet reporters.   

Cooper-Jones spoke briefly, saying she’d avoided the video for the past 18 months.

Jury selection: Judge admits to ‘intentional discrimination.

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. A jury summons was issued to approximately 1 of the 62 county registered voters.

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 of the 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.

The defense used peremptory strikes to excuse 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 are facing federal hate crime allegations in relation to the murder.

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.

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 said, “I don’t want to be right but I don’t see how Ahmaud could get a fair trial before this jury.”

Source: USAToday.com

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