By Devon M. Sayers, Jason Hanna and Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN
Prosecutors and attorneys representing three men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged through their Glynn County, Georgia, neighborhood last year began delivering closing arguments Monday in the murder trial.
The arguments follow 10 days of proceedings and testimony from more than 20 witnesses. The defense rested Thursday. Lawyers and the judge worked Friday on jury instructions.
Three White men — Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. — face charges including malice and felony murder in the killing of Arbery, a Black man who was chased by the trio February 23, 2020, in the Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick.
Arbery’s family has said he was out for a jog — a common pastime for the 25-year-old — when he was killed.
Defense attorneys say the McMichaels, suspecting Arbery of burglary, tried to conduct a citizen’s arrest. Bryan, the defense says, saw the McMichaels chasing Arbery, joined the pursuit and attempted to cut Arbery off, before recording video of the younger McMichael shooting Arbery.
Travis McMichael testified he shot Arbery in self-defense as he and Arbery wrestled over McMichael’s shotgun. All three defendants have pleaded not guilty.
The case has survived several defense motions for mistrial and an alleged appeal for a plea deal — which defense attorney Kevin Gough, who represents Bryan, denied making. The prosecutor’s office declined to comment.
The latest motion for a mistrial came Friday, following a “Prayer Wall,” in which a large group of clergy and Arbery supporters gathered outside the Brunswick courthouse. Gough referred to the gathering as a “demonstration,” saying the pastors threatened to influence the jury.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski countered that Gough spurred the group to gather by repeatedly complaining of prominent African American pastors being in the courtroom, despite the court noting the pastors had not caused any disruptions.
“They’re responding to what he strategically, knowingly, intelligently did so that there would be a response so that he could then complain of it,” Dunikoski said. “That is good lawyering right there because now he’s motioned for a mistrial based on something that he caused.”
As he did on previous, similar motions, Judge Timothy Walmsley rejected Gough’s request.
Prosecutors cite inconsistencies from Travis McMichael
The McMichaels, according to their attorneys, and several neighbors were concerned about people entering an under-construction home — and Travis McMichael had encountered a strange man in the neighborhood nearly two weeks before the shooting.
According to testimony, a neighbor called police February 23 to say a man — later identified as Arbery — was at the construction site. Arbery ran off as the man called police, the neighbor testified.
Gregory McMichael, investigators testified, said he saw Arbery run by the McMichaels’ home and gave chase, believing Arbery matched the description of someone who had been at the site.
The prosecution has said surveillance videos show Arbery there multiple times, including the day he was killed, but he never broke in or took anything. Witnesses also testified the McMichaels did not know at the time that Arbery had been at the site that day.
The property’s owner, Larry English Jr., testified in September he probably told the McMichaels about incidents on his property, but he never authorized the McMichaels to confront anyone.
After his father saw Arbery, Travis McMichael testified, they jumped in their truck and caught up to Arbery, trying twice to talk to him. Arbery did not respond, Travis McMichael said.
Bryan, prosecutors allege, saw the chase and — not knowing what was happening — got in his truck and joined the pursuit, at one point striking Arbery with his vehicle.
Travis McMichael eventually drove ahead of Arbery, he testified, parked his vehicle, exited and pointed his shotgun at Arbery, telling him to stop. He testified Arbery darted to him, grabbed the rifle and struck McMichael before he then shot Arbery.
Dunikoski challenged McMichael over what she said were inconsistencies in his accounts, including when and where he told Arbery to stop. When he first spoke to police, she said, he could not remember if Arbery grabbed the gun and he failed to mention that he and his father were making a citizen’s arrest, a key point of the defense.
McMichael was “scattered” and “mixed up” in the hours after the shooting, he responded.
“This is the most traumatic event I’ve ever been through in my life,” he said.
McMichael also acknowledged several times that he never saw Arbery armed, never heard Arbery threaten him and that Arbery showed no interest in conversing with McMichael.
Bryan nor Gregory McMichael took the stand, and defense attorney Jason Sheffield suggested health concerns may have played a role in the latter’s decision not to testify.
The matter of race
The trial has touched on a number of issues: the role of race in the criminal justice system, how video evidence can spur action and the limits of self-defense rights.
In a county that is 69% White residents and 27% Black, 11 of the 12 jurors are White. Walmsley said before opening statements the court has “found that there appears to be intentional discrimination” in the jury selection, but he allowed the case to move forward.
While civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Arbery’s father, was critical of the jury makeup, Gough complained that older White men from the South without four-year college degrees, “euphemistically known as ‘Bubba’ or ‘Joe Six Pack,'” seemed underrepresented in the jury pool.
The case took a circuitous path to trial. Charges were not filed against the defendants for months until Bryan’s cell phone video emerged, sparking widespread outrage, and two prosecutors recused themselves due to conflicts of interest, citing their proximity to Gregory McMichael during the former law enforcement offcer’s career. Ultimately, prosecutors in Georgia’s Cobb County — more than 200 miles away — were appointed to the case.
In addition to murder charges, the defendants also face counts aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony. If convicted, each man could face life in prison without the possibility of parole. All have pleaded not guilty.
All three men have also been indicted on federal hate crime and attempted kidnapping charges.
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CNN’s Ryan Young, Travis Caldwell, Alta Spells, Angela Barajas, Eric Fiegel, Christina Maxouris, Dakin Andone and Jason Morris contributed to this report.