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 jogging 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 began giving their opening statements 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.
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. Bryan’s lawyer expected to claim that Bryan was innocent.
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.
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 in unity.”
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Travis McMichael, according to his attorney in opening
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 claimed that Arbery armed his client and chased him to the police because he felt a duty to their community and to keep them safe.
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 Travis McMichael’s 10-year-old training with the U.S. Coast Guard gave him probable cause to believe Arbery was a thief “under all the circumstances.”
Rubin explained that Travis McMichael reached for his shotgun in order to chase Arbery when he was attacked and killed. The McMichaels didn’t brandish weapons upon first contact with Arbery, he said to the jury. Travis McMichael dialed 911.
Rubin explained, “Before the initial shot is fired they call police.” Rubin stated, “It isn’t evidence of an intent to kill.”
Rubin claimed that Travis McMichael trained him to display his weapon to reduce violence and gain compliance. 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 doesn’t have any other option. 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.”
According to the prosecutor, neighbors saw a Black man run and grabbed their firearms.
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 said 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 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.
“What is your emergency?” The dispatcher may be heard 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 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.
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 stated that Arbery had not committed any crime. She stated that Arbery was not a criminal.
A judge admits that there was 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. 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 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.
This is a notable case in which several prominent figures called it a “lynching”. 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 signed the bill to repeal the citizen’s arrest law of the state, which permitted private citizens detain anyone suspected of committing an felony while they were present.
Ahmaud Arbery’s family and supporters react to an 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 has over 30 years experience in criminal law and believes that this will be a great opportunity to show the world justice does not depend on skin color.
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.”