BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Ahmaud Arbery was “under attack” when three white men saw him running in a small, coastal neighborhood and hopped in pickup trucks to pursue him, a prosecutor said Monday in the murder trial over his killing.
A nearly all-white panel of 12 jurors and three alternates heard an hour-long closing argument from the state Monday morning and were set to hear from lawyers for each of the three defendants. After closings, the jurors are expected to begin deliberations on a verdict.
Father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan are charged with murder and other crimes in the February 2020 fatal 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.
Here’s what to know:
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski on Monday argued the three defendants made rash decisions based on assumptions that Arbery had committed a crime, which she argued they had no proof of.
“They made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways because he was a Black man running down the street,” Dunikoski said. She added: “This was an attack on Ahmaud Arbery.”
Dunikoski argued the men killed Arbery because he refused to stop and talk to them when they attempted to question him.
Dunikoski acknowledged 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, Dunikoski said, and determined he committed a crime because he was running. She said the men later claimed they were making a citizen’s arrest to “justify their actions.”
She 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, adding, “You can’t create the situation and then go ‘oh I was defending myself.'”
Gregory, 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.
Defense attorneys have argued the men were attempting to detain Arbery, 25, because they had reason to suspect Arbery had burglarized a house under construction. The attorneys say residents had been increasingly on edge about crime in the neighborhood and that a man matching Arbery’s description had been spotted on camera multiple times inside site.
Attorneys for Travis McMichael say he shot Arbery in self-defense. And attorneys for Bryan say he did not intend to hurt Arbery and was not attempting to assault Arbery with his truck.
From an initial pool of 1,000 people, the court ultimately selected 12 jurors and three alternates: 11 white women, three white men and one Black man.
The jury’s makeup, with just one person of color, has drawn criticism for not mirroring the demographic makeup of Glynn County, where more than 26% of residents are Black, or Brunswick, where more than 55% of residents are Black, according to Census Bureau data.
Race was a major theme in questioning. Attorneys questioned prospective jurors about their views of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Confederate flag, the criminal justice system and more.
Judge Timothy Walmsley even acknowledged “the racial overtones in the case” but said while there “appears to be intentional discrimination” in the jury selection process, he could not take action because defense attorneys were able to give nonracial reasons for their decisions to strike the potential Black jurors from the panel.
Jury selection in the case was further complicated by many would-be jurors’ familiarity with Arbery’s killing, privacy concerns and personal connections to people involved in the incident and the trial.
Last week, more than 100 Black pastors and other spiritual leaders held a prayer vigil and march outside the courthouse after Bryan’s defense attorney, Kevin Gough, repeatedly tried to have “high-profile members of the African American community” removed from the courtroom. Gough told the judge that the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson were “intimidating” the jury.
The judge denied the requests, and Gough’s words became a clarion call for Black clergy across the country to converge on Brunswick in a show of spiritual solidarity.