(BRUNSWICK, Ga.) — The murder trial of three white Georgia men charged in the 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man prosecutors allege was “hunted down” and shot to death while out for a Sunday jog, has begun.
The evidence portion of the high-profile case kicked off just after 9 a.m. in Glynn County Superior Court in Brunswick, Georgia.
“I do feel like we’re getting closer to justice for Ahmaud day by day,” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said in an interview scheduled to be broadcast Friday night on ABC’s Nightline.
The trial started under a cloud of controversy after a jury comprised of 11 white people and one Black person was selected on Wednesday, prompting an objection from prosecutors that the selection process, which took nearly three weeks, ended up racially biased.
On Thursday afternoon, one of the seated jurors, a white woman in her 40s or 50s, was dismissed from the panel for undisclosed medical issues. One of the alternate jurors, a white person, replaced her, bringing the number of alternates to three. All of the alternates are white.
The three defendants are Gregory McMichael, 65, a retired police officer; his son, Travis McMichael, 35; and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, 52.
The men have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, aggravated assault and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
The McMichaels and Bryan were also indicted on federal hate crime charges in April and have all pleaded not guilty.
Arbery was out jogging on Feb. 23, 2020, through the Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick when he was killed.
Nov 05, 3:59 pm
Bryan’s attorney defers opening statement
Kevin Gough, the defense attorney for William “Roddie” Bryan, told the judge that he wants to wait to give his opening statement until after the prosecution presents its case.
While Judge Timothy Walmsley described the strategy as unusual and one that he’s never encountered in his decade on the bench, he granted Gough’s request.
Nov 05, 3:53 pm
Gregory McMichael’s attorney gives opening statement
Franklin Hogue, an attorney for Gregory McMichael, told jurors that when his client saw Arbery running past his home on Feb. 23, 2020, he was certain it was the same man he saw in videos shown to him by neighbors of a suspected burglar targeting the Satilla Shores community.
“Greg was absolutely sure, he was absolutely certain, and his suspicions were well-founded,” Hogue said.
He agreed with Travis McMichael’s attorney, Rubin, that the elder McMichael feared that the man he and his son were chasing was armed with a gun.
He said that while in the rear bed of his son’s pickup on the phone with police, Greg McMichael saw Arbery running in his direction away from Bryan’s truck.
“Then you hear him yell, ‘Stop right there, damn it! Stop,"” Hogue said, referring to the recorded 911 call Gregory McMichael was on. “Then the last word you hear was him saying is ‘Travis.’
He’s in abject fear that he is about to witness his only son shot and killed in front of his very eyes,” Hogue said.
Hogue said that following the shooting, Gregory McMichael had a lengthy interview with police in which he said, “My intention was to stop this guy so he could be arrested or identified.”
“The truth of this case is that Greg McMichael is not guilty of any of these crimes,” Hogue said.
Nov 05, 3:36 pm
Travis McMichael was attempting to ‘de-escalate’ when he shot Arbery: Attorney
Rubin said that on the day of the shooting, a neighbor saw Arbery go into the house under construction and make eye contact with the man.
He said Arbery bolted from the house and ran at the pace of a 6-minute mile. Rubin said Gregory McMichael saw Arbery and recognized him from videos neighbors shared of the unidentified man who had been seen multiple times at the home construction site.
Rubin said the older McMichael went into the house and told his son that the man they had been on alert for just ran by. He said Travis McMichael grabbed his shotgun because he feared the man might be armed because of what occurred on his previous encounter with him.
He said that when the McMichaels caught up to Arbery in their truck, Travis McMichael told the man they just wanted to talk to him to find out what he was doing in the neighborhood, but that Arbery said nothing and continued to run.
Rubin said the McMichaels had every right under the state’s citizen’s arrest law to detain Arbery for the police, adding, “When seconds count, police are often minutes away.”
He acknowledged that Travis McMichael parked his truck and got out with his shotgun when he saw Arbery running away from Bryan’s truck and back toward him. He said Travis McMichael called 911 on his cellphone and handed it to his father as Arbery charged toward him, ignoring orders to stop.
“Before the first shot is fired they called the police. That is not intent to commit murder,” Rubin said.
He said Travis McMichael raised his gun at Arbery from 20 yards away because “that is how you de-escalate violence.”
“If he wanted to kill him this is an open shot,” Rubin said.
Rubin said Arbery moved to the opposite side of the pickup away from Travis McMichael and then came around the front of the truck and lunged at the armed man, trying to take his gun. That’s when Travis McMichael fired the first of three shots at Arbery.
“It’s tragic that Ahmaud Arbery lost his life, but at that point, Travis McMichael is acting in self-defense,” Rubin said. “He did not want to encounter Ahmaud Arbery physically. He was only trying to stop him for the police.”
He asked the jury to find Travis not guilty on all charges.
Nov 05, 2:35 pm
Travis McMichael’s previous encounter with Arbery
Rubin claimed that on Feb. 11, 2020, 12 days before the slaying, Travis McMichael had an encounter with Arbery outside the home that was under construction in his neighborhood.
He said the younger McMichael was going to get gas when he saw a Black male dart across his path and start “lurking in the shadows” 20 to 30 feet from the street.
Rubin alleged that when Travis McMichael got out of his car and approached, the man, who turned out to be Arbery, reached for something in a waistband leading McMichael to believe he was reaching for a gun. He said the man ran into the unfinished home while Travis McMichael went home and called 911.
By the time Travis McMichael and his father went back to the construction site armed, the Black man was nowhere to be found, Rubin said.
Nov 05, 2:00 pm
Travis McMichael’s attorney gives opening statement
The first defense attorney to give an opening statement was Bob Rubin for Travis McMichael.
“This is about duty and responsibility,” Rubin said of the case. “It’s about Travis McMichael’s duty and responsibility to himself, his family and his neighborhood.”
Months before the Arbery killing, the neighborhood of Satilla Shores was “on edge” due to a series of burglaries, Rubin explained.
He showed the jury a list of complaints lodged on online posts from neighbors saying, “This is ridiculous,” “I’m nervous” and “lock your cars.”
“People were on alert to suspicious behavior,” Rubin said, describing the neighborhood of Satilla Shores as a quiet, middle-class neighborhood where parents allow their children to play outside after dark.
He said Travis McMichael was a former U.S. Coast Guard border officer working in security. He said the younger McMichael was trained and authorized to make arrests, conduct investigations and searches and “use his weapon when appropriate.”
Travis McMichael was trained so well, Rubin noted, that his training became part of his muscle memory, adding, “Split seconds are often the difference between life and death.”
Nov 05, 1:57 pm
Defense objects to prosecutor’s opening statement
A defense attorney for Gregory McMichael objected to a part of Dunikoski’s opening statement in which the prosecutor mentioned that the investigation was “stalled” after Arbery’s killing and that the defendants were “sent home.”
Laura Hogue, a lawyer for Gregory McMichael, accused Dunikoski of violating a pre-trial agreement to not mention the more than two-month time lapse between the shooting and when the McMichaels and Bryan were arrested.
Hogue suggested that Dunikoski’s statement could mislead the jury into believing the delay had something to do with the defendants.
Dunikoski denied that she violated the agreement and noted that she didn’t mention that two district attorneys recused themselves from the case and former Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson was indicted on a felony charge stemming from her handling of the case.
Johnson, the first prosecutor to get the case and who once had a working relationship with Gregory McMichael, was indicted in September on a felony count of violating her oath of office by allegedly “showing favor and affection” to Gregory McMichael and a misdemeanor count of hindering a law enforcement officer. Johnson, who lost a reelection bid in November 2020, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, said in court that Walmsley should declare a mistrial, which he refused.
Nov 05, 12:10 pm
Arbery’s mother breaks down as death video played
Dunikoski methodically went through the events of Feb. 23, 2020, the day Arbery was killed.
She said it started around 1 p.m. when Gregory McMichael saw Arbery run past his home and allegedly assumed Arbery was a burglar seen in security videos a neighbor showed him. Dunikoski said at no time did Gregory McMichael ever see Arbery at the house under construction or had any reason to believe Arbery had committed a felony, grounds for making a citizens’ arrest.
Dunikoski said Gregory McMichael ran into his home, armed himself with a handgun and got his son, Travis. She said Travis armed himself with a Remington 12-gauge pump-action shotgun and that he and his father got into his pickup truck and chased after Arbery.
She said that Bryan joined the chase with his pickup truck, not knowing why the McMichaels were chasing Arbery. Dunikoski said that during the five-minute chase of Arbery, Bryan attempted to strike the man with his pickup on four different occasions and admitted to running Arbery off the road and into a ditch.
Dunikoski played a cellphone video of the moment Arbery was cornered between the McMichaels’ pickup and Bryan’s truck and when Travis McMichael got out of his vehicle and shot Arbery.
As the video was played, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, who was sitting at the rear of the courtroom, broke down in tears.
Dunikoski also played a 911 call Gregory McMichael made at 1:14 p.m. and described an emergency: “I’m here in Satilla Shores. A Black male is running down the street.”
“This was an attack on Mr. Arbery for five minutes and the only thing Mr. Arbery did was try to run away,” Dunikoski said.
Nov 05, 10:47 am
Videos of Arbery in home under construction shown
Dunikoski said the evidence will show that the defendants wrongly assumed Arbery was burglarizing a home under construction in their neighborhood.
The prosecutor played multiple videos of Arbery inside the unfinished home dating back to Oct. 25, 2019, to show that Arbery had a routine of running through the Satilla Shores neighborhood where the defendants lived.
But Dunikoski said none of the videos showed Arbery stealing or damaging anything. She said that after Arbery was captured on surveillance video on Feb. 11, 2020, the owner of the home under construction, Larry English, told the McMichaels through a sheriff’s deputy that the unidentified Black man had been seen on security video at the home before and that he never stole anything.
Dunikoski also played a body-camera video of a sheriff’s deputy speaking to the McMicheals outside the home under construction.
“At no time on this video do you hear the words burglary or attempted burglary,” she said, referring to the reasons the McMichaels claimed they were attempting to make a citizen’s arrest of Arbery.
Nov 05, 12:37 pm
Prosecutor gives opening statement
Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor in the case, began her opening statement by telling the jurors why they were there.
“We are here because of assumptions and driveway decisions,” Dunikoski said.
“A very wise person once said do not assume the worst of another person’s intentions until you actually know what’s going on with them.”
Dunikoski went on, “And in this case, all three of these defendants did everything that they did based on assumptions. And they made decisions in their driveways based on assumptions that took a young man’s life and that’s why we are here.”
Nov 05, 9:52 am
Jury sworn in
The jury of 11 white people and one Black person was sworn in by Judge Walmsley.
The judge acknowledged that many of the jurors have never served on a jury before. During his instructions, he went over the charges against the three defendants and told jurors the men have all pleaded not guilty to the charges.
“The charges and the plea of not guilty are of evidence of guilt,” Walmsley told the panel, which sat socially distant, divided between the jury box and one side of the courtroom gallery.
“The defendants are presumed innocent until each is proven guilty. Each defendant enters upon the trial of the case with a presumption of innocence in his favor,” he said.
Nov 05, 9:48 am
Judge makes last-minute rulings
Judge Timothy Walmsley, who is presiding over the murder trial, made his final rulings on motions before the jury was expected to be sworn in to hear opening statements.
Walmsley denied a defense motion to blur out a Confederate flag vanity plate that was on the front of Travis McMichael’s pickup truck that was used to chase down Arbery on the day he was killed. Walmsley declared the vanity plate was relevant to the case after prosecutor Linda Dunikoski argued at a recent hearing that there was circumstantial evidence that Arbery saw the license plate as the truck came toward him and prompted him to reverse course.
“He put this on his truck. He wanted the world to see it,” Dunikoski alleged of Travis McMichael, accusing the defense of being “disingenuous” for asking that the plate be blurred out.
The judge also denied a request from the defense to allow the jury to hear that Arbery was on probation at the time of his death.
Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.