By Devon M. Sayers, Eliott C. McLaughlin and Travis Caldwell, CNN
The prosecutor in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial sought Tuesday to simplify the events that led to Arbery’s death, taking the podium the day after defense teams spent much of their closing arguments trying to criminalize Arbery, alleging he brought his death on himself.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski began her rebuttal early Tuesday. She had almost two hours remaining after delivering the first part of her closing arguments ahead of the defense teams.
Lawyers for the three White men charged with murder in Arbery’s killing used their final statements to the jury Monday to say Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. had every reason to believe Arbery was up to no good because he’d entered an under-construction home and he ran when confronted by the McMichaels.
Laura Hogue, one of Gregory McMichael’s attorneys, referred to Arbery as a “recurring nighttime intruder” and implied he had nefarious intent when he arrived “in his khaki shorts with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails.“
Dunikoski immediately seized on the defense notion that the McMichaels were scared — and their Glynn County, Georgia’ s Satilla Shores neighborhood had been living in fear because of crime in the area. She flatly said the armed men’s decision to chase Arbery for five minutes in their trucks is evidence alone they weren’t scared.
They had plenty of alternatives — including never chasing Arbery or calling police to deal with Arbery — but instead they chose to keep chasing him even after Arbery repeatedly tried to elude them on foot, said Dunikoski. They committed aggravated assault with their trucks — and the McMichaels, with their guns — while trying to falsely imprison Arbery. During the course of these felonies, Dunikoski said, they killed Arbery.
“If you take that out would he be alive?” she asked the jury. “It’s real simple. The answer is you can’t take out any of these crimes. If you take out any one of these crimes that they committed and he’s still alive. All of the underlying felonies played a substantial and necessary part in causing the death of Ahmaud Arbery.”
Judge denies motion for mistrial
While defense lawyers made remarks Monday that some legal experts felt were racially insensitive, Dunikoski has been insistent that the defendants targeted Arbery “because he was a Black man running down the street.”
The men acted on gossip and rumor, she has said, and had no immediate knowledge Arbery had committed a crime, a key factor to claiming citizen’s arrest as the McMichaels are.
The defense moved for a mistrial based on what they said was Dunkioski’s misstatement of the state’ now-defunct citizen’s arrest law, but Judge Timothy Walmsley denied the motion.
McMichael has 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.
Travis McMichael, along with his father, Gregory McMichael, and his neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., face charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony in the February 23, 2020, killing. The trio pursued Arbery — whom they said they suspected of burglary — in their vehicles, which led to Travis McMichael fatally shooting Arbery.
The three men have pleaded not guilty.
Travis McMichael says he shot Arbery in self-defense after Arbery grabbed his gun. He concedes he was “scattered” and traumatized when he initially told police he did not know if Arbery grabbed the shotgun.
If convicted, the men face sentences of up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
After the prosecution finishes its closing, Walmsley will charge the jury with instructions and deliberations will begin.
Family objects to comments from defense attorney
On Monday, Hogue claimed in court that Arbery repeatedly trespassed when entering an open construction site in Satilla Shores, outside Brunswick.
“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,” Hogue said.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones,almost tripped leaving the courtroom after Hogue’s remark, saying “I gotta get out of here.”
Arbery was never charged with any previous crimes in the neighborhood, and the owner of the construction site has never said he committed a crime, just that Arbery was caught on camera at the property.
Race has been a key focus during the trial, with Arbery being Black and the three defendants as well as 11 of the 12 jurors being White. Ben Crump, an attorney for Arbery’s father, suggested race played a role in Arbery’s death.
“They had dozens of other people who visited the home. Nobody chased them. Nobody said that they burglarized the home. Why is that?” said Crump after court Monday.
Attorneys for each of the three defendants chose to present their own closing arguments Monday.
“Travis McMichael spent almost a decade of his life learning about duty and responsibility,” his attorney Jason Sheffield said, referring to McMichael’s time in the US Coast Guard. “He received extensive training on how to make a decision that will ultimately impact his beliefs.”
Sheffield then reiterated the feelings of neighbors who testified that they were afraid because of incidents in the neighborhood, including burglaries. Sheffield argued that Travis McMichael felt a “responsibility” to help protect the neighborhood.
“These are real experiences with real people who were very scared. And so, they took it upon themselves to do something about it. Got cameras, called the police, notify each other, citizens watch, neighborhood watch,” Sheffield said.
Hogue told the jury they neededonlu to consider two questions when determining his guilt.
“Did Greg McMichael have reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion to believe that Ahmaud Arbery had committed a burglary … and did he have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that Ahmaud Arbery was escaping or attempting to escape yet again?” she said.
Attorney Kevin Gough, who represents Bryan, described his client more as a witness than a defendant. Gough argued that considerations should be made for Bryan as he was the one who filmed the video that changed the course of the investigation.
“He did not know, and could not know, that Arbery would be shot. By that time sadly, there was nothing that Roddie Bryan could do to prevent this tragedy. He didn’t shoot anyone. At the time of the shooting, he was some distance back he was armed only with his cell phone,” Gough told the jury.
“Ladies and gentlemen, without Roddie Bryan, there is no case,” he said.
Prosecutor grills defendants in first remarks
Dunikoski railed against the defendants during the prosecution’s presentation Monday, saying they acted not because Arbery was a threat, but because “he wouldn’t stop and talk to them.”
The three defendants were going to make him stop, she said, adding “but for their actions, but for their decisions, but for their choices, Ahmaud Arbery would be alive.”
“Three-on-one, two pickup trucks, two guns,” highlighted the prosecutor, even though Arbery had nothing in his pockets, “not a cell phone, not a gun, not even ID.”
Comparing the crimes charged to the efforts of a winning Super Bowl team, Dunikoski spent time explaining how the state viewed the defendants — including Bryan — as being party to all the charges.
“Everybody gets a Super Bowl ring, right? The quarterback gets a Super Bowl ring. The guys in the field get the Super Bowl ring. The dude on the bench gets a Super Bowl ring, right? Everybody is involved, everybody’s responsible,” she said.
“The amount of force has to be reasonable. Unarmed man running with hands at the sides. Never pulled out a weapon, never threatened anybody. This is completely excessive force,” said the prosecutor.
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CNN’s Alta Spells, Martin Savidge, Angela Barajas, Jade Gordon, Theresa Waldrop and Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.