Over a year and a half after the killing of Ahmaud Arbery outraged the country and presaged the civil rights demonstrations that followed the murder of George Floyd, three white men, Gregory and Travis McMichael and William Bryan, went on trial in Georgia.
Prosecutors described to the jury how the men chased, “trapped” and then killed the 25-year-old Black man during his Sunday jog near a construction site.
“Greg McMichael said it perfectly. Mr. Arbery was ‘trapped like a rat,’ that is what he told police,” said State Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski in Glynn County Superior Court in Brunswick, Georgia.
The jury is composed of 11 white people and one Black person. Prosecutors asked Judge Timothy Wamsley this week to reinstate eight Black potential jurors and argued that defense lawyers had held them from the final jury due to their race.
Arbery was out for a jog in a residential neighborhood in Brunswick on February 23, 2020, when he was shot to death by the McMichaels, who do not contest they shot him. But Gregory McMichael told police he believed Arbery resembled a suspect involved in a string of robberies in the area.
Dunikoski showed a map outlining the location of Arbery’s home and where the construction site was located. Video footage showed Arbery walking around the construction site in the Satilla Shores neighborhood and then leaving as neighbors made a 911 call.
Arbery and other people in the neighborhood had previously been filmed near the construction site, but Dunikoski said that neighbors had told the McMichaels 12 days before the men shot Arbery that there was no evidence anything had been taken from the site. Rather, she said, the father and son acted off of a presumption that a Black man was a threat, chased Arbery and gunned him down in broad daylight when they saw him near the site again.
In 911 calls the prosecution played on Friday, Gregory McMichael is heard saying there is a “Black man running down the streets” moments before apparently shooting him.
“They did everything they did based on assumptions. And they made decisions in their driveway that took a young man’s life,” Dunikoski told the jury at the beginning of her statement.
Video footage also shows William Bryan jumping inside of a pickup truck and chasing Arbery down during the incident. Bryan, who is also charged in the case, captured the video of Arbery’s killing. Authorities say he participated in the fatal encounter.
The footage then shows the men confronting Arbery. As the video played, Dunikoski described how the 25-year-old was shot in his torso and also his wrist while the men surrounded him.
Arbery was unarmed when he was killed, Dunikoski said. Prosecutors then mentioned that Gregory McMichael had said that he told Arbery, “Stop! I’ll blow your fucking head off!” in his statement to police.
“At this point, Mr. Arbery is under attack. By all three of these gentlemen,” Dunikoski stated. “Mr. Arbery could not even call for help, even if he wanted to, because he did not have a cell phone on him.”
Following video footage of the killing, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, broke down in tears in the courtroom.
Remarks from the defense followed, with attorney Robert Rubin arguing, “It’s tragic that Ahmaud Arbery lost his life, but at that point, Travis McMichael was acting in self-defense.” According to the prosecution, Travis McMichael killed Arbery at close range after the three men had chased him for five minutes. Rubin told the jury that his client had fired his gun three times at Arbery.
Frank Hogue, Greg McMichael’s attorney, agreed with many of Rubin’s arguments and depicted the Satilla Shores neighborhood as a community suffering from the fear of property crime. He told jurors the neighborhood had witnessed several break-ins.
It was a “quiet street in a quiet neighborhood,” Hogue told the jury, and Greg McMichael had suspicions about the “young man” who ran past him “hauling ass,” as he had described it to police.
“He was absolutely sure, he was absolutely certain and he was absolutely right,” Hogue said of Greg McMichael recognizing Arbery from prior video footage in which the 25-year-old hadn’t taken anything from the construction site. “The guy he saw was the guy he suspected,” Hogue said.
Glynn County police officer William Duggan, a 12-year veteran of the department and the second to arrive at the scene of Arbery’s death, was the prosecution’s first witness on Friday.
Duggan’s body camera footage capturing Arbery’s death and the McMichaels reacting to it was played for jurors after the judge asked anyone who would have an “emotional” reaction to leave the courtroom.
The footage showed blood in the middle of the street. Duggan said he saw Travis McMichael “covered in blood” and asked him if he was OK.
It was quick reply, he recalled.
“No, I’m not OK, I just fucking killed somebody,” Duggan told prosecutors of McMichael’s response.
Duggan said he did not know the father and son at the time of the incident.
The defense had asked the court to limit the state’s presentation of the body camera footage during the trial. On Oct. 1, the state filed a motion asking that the request be denied.
The state also filed several other motions last month to make some information inadmissible, including that Arbery was on probation at the time of his killing. Additionally, the state moved for a GBI toxicologist’s report that found THC in Arbery’s system to be inadmissible.
After mass protests against racism and police brutality following the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the trial of Arbery’s killers now sits as a landmark case on race relations in America.
It took over two months for the McMichaels and Bryan to be arrested.
The three Georgia men are all charged with a federal hate crime and attempted kidnapping in Arbery’s death. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation also charged them with felony murder. They were arrested over 70 days after the video of Arbery’s killing went viral on social media.