The trial for the men accused of murdering 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in a Georgia suburb began on Friday with lawyers from the prosecution and defense giving their opening statements. Monday marked the start of the full first week of testimony in the trial of Gregory and Travis McMichael, along with their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan.
Upon taking the stand, Ricky Minshew, the first officer to arrive on the scene after the shooting, stated that he spoke with Bryan, who told the officer that he “blocked,” “cornered,” and “cut off” Arbery as he fled from the armed men. “Should I have been chasing him? I don’t know,” Bryan said according to a transcript of Minshaw’s bodycam, which was read aloud in court. It was later revealed that he had tried to hit Arbery four times with his truck during the chase.
Minshew told the court that upon arriving on the scene, he saw two men pacing with Arbery’s body on the ground. He noted that “[Arbery] appeared to be deceased” and that he heard a “death rattle” coming from the young man. He did not attempt lifesaving measures because he “did not have the adequate medical training,” and his car did not contain any medical supplies.
When asked by prosecutor Larissa Ollivierre how Arbery appeared, the officer told her that he looked “unresponsive to his surroundings, he appeared to be deceased.” He pointed out that the amount of blood was “exceeding the perimeter of his body.”
USA Today reported that jurors were also shown several photos taken of the crime scene. The author wrote:
Prosecutors showed jurors the photos: The body covered by a bloodstained sheet lying in the street with a white truck in the background, a shotgun lying in the grass, bloodstains and shotgun shells on the driveway.
Prosecutors then showed jurors graphic close-ups of Arbery’s wounds. Several jurors squirmed in their seats as the first few photos were shown. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, exhaled quietly.
Jurors were also shown photos that Ramos took of a bullet that went through the window of a neighbor’s house and was lodged in the living room wall.
According to the bodycam footage, Bryan also noted that near the end of the chase, Arbery appeared to be tired from running. “When I rounded the corner out there, it was almost like the black guy was tired of running,” he said. He also told Minshew that he never heard Arbery say anything, but recalled hearing one of the McMichaels yell at Arbery, “What’d you steal? What’d you do?”
The Associated Press reported that Greg McMichael told police on the scene that he had shouted a warning at Arbery while they were chasing him. “I said, ‘stop,’ you know, ‘I’ll blow your f*cking head off,’” he said. “I was trying to convey to this guy we’re not playing, you know?”
Minshew told the prosecutor that neither Greg nor Travis McMichael told Arbery that he was under arrest.
In the leadup to the trial, there was a controversy over the racial makeup of the jury, which includes 11 white people and only one black person. Some indicated this could indicate a level of bias against Arbery and does not reflect the racial makeup of the community. USA Today noted:
More than 26% of residents in Glynn County are Black, and more than 55% of residents in Brunswick are Black, according to Census Bureau data.
During their opening statements, the defense lawyers attempted to portray the three men as law-abiding citizens who were attempting to stop a crime in progress. The New York Times reported:
A lawyer for one defendant, Travis McMichael — the man who, at the end of the chase, fatally shot Mr. Arbery at close range with a pump-action shotgun — also argued that his client had acted in self-defense. The lawyer, Robert G. Rubin, said that because Mr. Arbery confronted and fought with Mr. McMichael at the end of the chase, Mr. McMichael had “no choice” but to fire on Mr. Arbery, “because if this guy gets his gun, he’s dead, or his dad’s dead.”
Mr. Rubin portrayed Mr. McMichael as a selfless helper, saying he had felt a “duty” to protect his neighborhood, which had suffered a series of property crimes before the afternoon of Feb. 23, 2020, when the killing occurred.
Rubin argued that the McMichaels had “probable cause” to attempt a citizen’s arrest under Georgia law because he previously saw and confronted Arbery after he was seen walking around at a construction site in the neighborhood two weeks prior to the shooting.
Linda Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor, contended that the three men made “driveaway decisions” when they decided to chase Arbery through the neighborhood. She argued the men “assumed the worst” about Arbery and were not justified in chasing him down because they possessed no knowledge that he had just committed a crime. “All three of these defendants did everything they did based on assumptions,” she said. “And they made decisions in their driveways based on those assumptions that took a young man’s life.”
Arbery had been seen on camera footage in the home that was under construction. He is seen walking in and then running out. He did not take anything from the site. Law enforcement never tied Arbery to any of the burglaries and thefts that had occurred in the area.
None of the three defendants were arrested shortly after the shooting. It was later discovered that former Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson intervened to ensure that officers did not take the men into custody. The elder McMichael had worked for her office as an investigator in the past. She is now under indictment in relation to this matter.
This week will see more testimony from people who were involved in the case. It is expected that the defense will attempt to paint Arbery as a violent criminal against whom Travis McMichael was forced to defend himself. The prosecution is highlighting the events that led up to the fatal encounter, arguing that had the men not acted in the way they did, Arbery would still be alive. At this point, there is no telling how the jury is responding to the testimony, but it is evident that the defense has an uphill battle in this particular case.