Trial on Death of Ahmaud Arbery Is Coming to a Close

AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool

The defense and prosecution have each given their closing arguments in the trial of the killing of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery on Feb 23, 2020. Judge Timothy Walmsley has instructed the jury on the law regarding this case and the group is now deliberating for a verdict.

The trial, which began on Nov 5, 2021, has not received much attention due to the Kyle Rittenhouse case. But since that particular trial has come to a close, the nation will be focused on the outcomes of the trial of Gregory and Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan, who are facing multiple charges in connection with the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery.

CNN noted that the trial consisted of “11 White jurors and one Black juror began deliberating on the charges facing Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael and their co-defendant William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., the three men accused of chasing and killing 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery just before noon this morning.”

The makeup of the jury was a source of contention as the defense successfully eliminated all but one black juror. Despite challenges from the prosecution, the jury stood as is. Judge Walmsley said:

“This court has found that there appears to be intentional discrimination,” but ruled that the case could go forward with the selected jurors because the defense was able to provide valid reasons, beyond race, for why the other Black jurors were dismissed.”

CNN noted that Glynn County’s racial makeup is “70% White and 27% Black according to information from the US Census Bureau.”

The outlet also explained:

Each of the defendants faces nine separate charges, including malice and felony murder (four), aggravated assault (two), false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit a felony.

If the jury finds Bryan not guilty of the second aggravated assault charge, they can consider three lesser misdemeanor charges for simple assault, reckless conduct, or reckless driving.

Each defendant has pleaded not guilty to all charges. The McMichael’s claimed they were trying to carry out a citizen’s arrest after seeing Arbery running past their house. The defense also claims Travis McMichael acted in self-defense when he shot and killed the young man.

Before sending the jury to deliberate, he instructed them on Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law. He described it as saying:

“A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence, or within his immediate knowledge. If the offense is a felony, and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable or probable grounds of suspicion.”

The defense “raised numerous objections to the state’s description of the law for making a citizen’s arrest,” according to CNN.

He also noted that a “private person” is not allowed to conduct a citizen’s arrest based on “unsupported statement of others alone” and that the arrest must happen “immediately after” the crime happens or “in the case of felonies, during escape.”

The judge concluded, “if the observer fails to make the arrest immediately after the commission of the offense, or during the escape in the case of felonies, his power to do so is extinguished.”

Throughout the trial, the defense emphasized the narrative that the McMichaels were attempting to conduct a lawful citizen’s arrest when Arbery put Travis McMichael in the position of having to defend himself. Roddie Bryan’s lawyer has attempted to distance his client from the McMichaels, noting that he was not the one who initiated the chase and documented it on video for posterity.

During her closing argument, Laura Hogue, an attorney representing Gregory McMichael, became the source of controversy when she made derogatory remarks about Arbery. She said:

“Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after the choices that he made does not reflect the reality of what brought Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in his khaki shorts with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails,”

The comment prompted Arbery’s mother to get up and walk out of the courtroom. She later told CNN’s John Berman:

“I thought it was very, very rude to talk about his long, dirty toenails and to totally neglect that my son had a huge hole in his chest when he was shot with that shotgun.”

The defense insisted that the McMichaels believed that Arbery had burglarized a house that was under construction and were only attempting to detain him until the police arrived. “Security cameras recorded Arbery inside the house five times, but none of the videos showed him stealing or damaging anything,” according to the Associated Press.

“He chose to fight,” said Hogue, stating that “without any sense of reason to run at a man wielding a shotgun, leaving him with no other alternative but to be placed in a position to kill him.”

Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney,” argued that if Arbery was scared he should have cried out for help.

“Why isn’t he calling out, `Hey, somebody call 911! There’s crazy people after me,’” he said. “Maybe that’s because Mr. Arbery doesn’t want help.”

The lawyer also argued that Bryan was not aware that the McMichaels were carrying firearms until moments before the shooting and even went so far as to imply that God himself guided Roddie’s actions that day.

“You you can call it karma. You can call it fate. I would call it divine providence,” the attorney said. “Somebody is guiding Mr. Bryan, whether it’s a conscious thought process or not. Something is guiding Mr. Bryan down this street to document what’s going on.”

Throughout the trial and the closing arguments, the defense did their best to set the scene, noting that the neighborhood had experienced a string of burglaries and thefts in the weeks leading up to Feb. 23. They painted the picture of a neighborhood that was already on edge by the time Arbery went for a jog on that day. Arbery was never tied to any of the burglaries or thefts that occurred in the area.

The prosecution, for its part, argued that all three men gave chase to Arbery for no valid reason. She noted the fact that Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law did not give them the right to chase the young man with firearms.

Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski, in her opening statement, argued: “All three of these defendants did everything they did based on assumptions – not on facts, not on evidence.”

Throughout the proceedings, Dunikoski continually emphasized the fact that none of the men bothered to call the police instead of trying to chase Arbery down.

BBC News noted:

On 8 November, the jury saw footage from police body cameras in the moments just after Mr Arbery was killed. Prosecutors used the video in court in an effort to undermine the defence’s argument that the three men were simply trying to detain Mr Arbery.

“You had no choice,” the elder McMichael is heard telling Travis as the first officer approaches. Mr Arbery is shown on the ground just a few steps away.

During her closing argument, the prosecutor said the three men jumped to conclusions about Arbery that were inaccurate and tried to detain him “without legal authority.”

She argued that “you can’t create the situation and then go ‘I was defending myself’,” and that the men took action because Arbery “was a black man running down the street.”

At this point, it is difficult to imagine that the three men will go free. The video itself is pretty damning and while the defense did its best to create reasonable doubt, the details of the case including the video, statements the three men made to police after the shooting, and the fact that they were never able to tie Arbery to a crime could make it pretty clear to the jury that the McMichaels and Bryan acted inappropriately that day. Of course, that “long, dirty,” didn’t do them any favors.

The prosecution hammered the point home that at multiple points during this altercation, the McMichaels could have made decisions that would have avoided the tragic outcome. However, this is not a guarantee of a slam dunk case for the prosecution. One thing is clear: The jury has their work cut out for them.