Jury begins hearing case in killing of Ahmaud Arbery
Prosecutors say when the defendants saw a Black man on a Sunday afternoon jog through a mostly white neighbourhood, they mistook him for a criminal.
BRUNSWICK — When three white men saw a Black man running through their mostly white neighbourhood in southern Georgia one afternoon last year, they “assumed the worst,” a prosecutor told the jury on Friday at the men’s trial for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
When they began chasing Arbery in their pickup trucks, they did so with violent intent, according to the prosecution’s opening statement: One man tried to swipe Arbery off the road with his truck, another shouted out a death threat.
Minutes later, Arbery would be shot dead by Travis McMichael, the youngest of his pursuers through the streets of Satilla Shores, a quiet, green cluster of houses outside the small coastal city of Brunswick.
Jurors looked on as a graphic video froze on a frame of Arbery’s body in the street, a gaping shotgun wound in his chest, an image left onscreen as technicians tried to fix technical glitches that hindered the first day of testimony.
Gregory McMichael, 65; his son Travis McMichael, 35; and neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment for their deadly pursuit of Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020.
Bryan’s cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery spurred outrage when it emerged more than two months after the encounter. It was seen by many as another example of a Black person falling under dangerous suspicion while engaged in some humdrum activity.
The men later said they thought Arbery might have been fleeing a crime and were trying to detain him under the state’s now-repealed citizen’s arrest statute in a neighbourhood their lawyers say was “on edge” over reports of thefts.
“It is a citizen’s job to help the police, and the law authorizes that,” Robert Rubin, Travis McMichael’s lawyer, said in his opening statement in the Glynn County Superior Court. “When seconds count, the police are often minutes away. The police are not going to catch this guy at the speed he’s running.”
Gregory McMichael was out in his driveway repairing seat cushions for his boat when Arbery ran by. He and his son grabbed a handgun and a 12-gauge shotgun and jumped in the son’s pickup truck in pursuit.
The defendants’ own words undermine their defence, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said in her opening statement to the mostly white jury, which has only one Black member.
“I assumed something was up,” Travis McMichael later told police when explaining why they chased Arbery, Dunikoski said.
Bryan saw the pursuit as it neared his home and jumped in his own truck. Dunikoski called the truck a “5,000-pound lethal weapon” that Bryan swerved toward Arbery four times to angle him off the road into a ditch.
“At this point in time, Mr. Arbery is under attack by all three of these men,” she told the jury. Bryan got so close that they found Arbery’s handprint and fibers from his white T-shirt on the truck.