The jury heard closing arguments in the trial of three Georgia men charged in the murder of
with the prosecution portraying the defendants as vigilantes and defense attorneys describing the killing as a tragedy that wasn’t the defendants’ fault.
Travis McMichael, 35 years old, is accused of chasing Mr. Arbery with his father, Gregory McMichael, 65, and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., 52, in two pickup trucks on Feb. 23, 2020. Travis McMichael shot Mr. Arbery three times with a 12-gauge shotgun, according to court records and video of the incident. The three men face charges including murder and aggravated assault.
Mr. Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was unarmed when confronted by the three defendants during daylight hours in Satilla Shores, a predominantly white residential area outside Brunswick, Ga. Prosecutors say Mr. Arbery was out for a run that day and that the defendants chased Mr. Arbery based on unfounded suspicions that he was a neighborhood thief. All three defendants are white.
At the trial held in Brunswick on Monday, state prosecutor Linda Dunikoski attacked defense claims that the men acted legally under citizen’s arrest and self-defense laws.
“All three of these defendants made assumptions, assumptions about what was going on that day, and they made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways because he was a Black man running down the street,” she said.
She disputed that Mr. Arbery posed any danger to the defendants, saying the incident was three people against one. “Two pickup trucks, two guns,” she said. “Mr. Arbery, nothing in his pockets, not a cellphone, not a gun, not even an ID.”
Although only one of the men fired his gun, all the men were responsible for Mr. Arbery’s death because they created a situation that put him in extreme danger, Ms. Dunikoski said.
Jason Sheffield, a lawyer for Travis McMichael, told the jury in his closing that his client had good reason to suspect Mr. Arbery of committing crimes in the neighborhood, including video recordings of him trespassing on private property. Many residents were worried, Mr. Sheffield said.
“What was happening in their neighborhood scared them,” he said.
Laura Hogue, a lawyer representing Gregory McMichael, said in her closing statement that Mr. Arbery wasn’t an innocent victim but a recurring nighttime intruder who chose “to run at a man wielding a shotgun.”
Mr. Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, said he was unarmed during the pursuit and that Mr. Bryan had no idea that the McMichaels were carrying weapons until moments before the shooting when it was too late to prevent it.
Prosecutors don’t dispute that Mr. Arbery had been walking around the property, but say the defendants had no more than a hunch that his presence at the property was more menacing or that he had committed any crime that day.
Since the trial began Nov. 5, defense lawyers have argued that their client’s pursuit was a legitimate citizen’s arrest under a state law that authorized private citizens to arrest a criminal suspect in limited circumstances. The statute, which Georgia lawmakers repealed in May, stated that a civilian can arrest a suspect “if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.” If the suspect is fleeing, the civilian can make an arrest upon “reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion” that the suspect committed a felony.
Mr. Arbery’s death drew nationwide attention after a video showing the fatal February 2020 shooting circulated. It put laws authorizing citizen’s arrests under scrutiny and led to the passage of a hate crime law in Georgia.
The prosecution is expected to finish its closing statement Tuesday.
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Appeared in the November 23, 2021, print edition as ‘Closings Heard in Arbery Case.’