Jury hears closing arguments in Ahmaud Arbery killing

Racially-charged US court trial in south Georgia set for jury deliberations

Greg McMichael, one of of three accused in the trial over the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, sits with his lawyer before the start of closing arguments in Brunswick, Georgia. AP
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A jury heard duelling accounts of whether the three white men charged in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery had any right to chase the unarmed black man through their mostly white neighbourhood of Satilla Shores as closing arguments in the murder trial began on Monday.

Gregory McMichael, his son, Travis McMichael, and their neighbour, William “Roddie” Bryan, have pleaded not guilty to charges including murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment.

Closing arguments were to resume on Tuesday. Prosecutors will get the final word because they carry the burden of proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

For the felony murder charges, the prosecution does not have to show the accused intended to kill Arbery. They only need to prove that the men assaulted him by driving at him, wielding the shotgun at him or falsely imprisoning him using their trucks, and that one of those underlying felony crimes caused Arbery's death.

In his closing argument, Jason Sheffield, one of the defence lawyers, began by discussing the law enforcement training Travis McMichael received during his nine years in the US Coast Guard, where he worked as a mechanic.

“De-escalation was always the goal,” Mr Sheffield said, recalling that Mr McMichael spoke about “using a weapon if it had to come to that to de-escalate a situation".

The younger Mr McMichael was the only accused to take the stand, saying that he fired his shotgun at close range at Arbery in self-defence in what he said was the most traumatic event of his life.

He said Arbery had grabbed at his gun after the five-minute chase through the of Satilla Shores neighbourhood on February 23, 2020.

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski attacked the credibility of the accused's assertions that Arbery posed a threat to them.

“They made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways because he was a black man running down the street,” she said, and added that they killed him “not because he's a threat to them, but because he wouldn't stop and talk to them".

“No weapon, no threats,” she said, “no way to call for help: he didn't even have his mobile phone on him. He ran away for five minutes.”

Ms Dunikoski said the jury should consider whether Mr McMichael lied on the stand and derided his evidence as self-serving.

“I don't dispute that it was the most traumatic experience of his life. How did Mr Arbery's day go for him, huh?”

Mr Bryan's mobile phone video of the killing sparked outrage when it emerged more than two months later and the public learnt that the men involved had not been arrested.

Mr McMichael said that he and his father thought Arbery might have been behind recent thefts in the neighbourhood.

“These are real experiences of real people who were very scared,” Mr Sheffield said of the McMichaels and their neighbours, who shared concerns about property crime in a community Facebook group.

No evidence has surfaced that Arbery took anything on his frequent runs through Satilla Shores.

Arbery had nothing on him when he was killed but his running clothes and trainers.

People march demanding justice for Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia, on November 4, 2021. Reuters

Ms Dunikoski told the jury that at most, Arbery could be accused of trespassing after jurors saw security-camera videos of him, dressed in his running clothes, walking around an empty, half-built house in Satilla Shores on several nights in late 2019 or 2020.

The accused have argued that they had a right to try to detain Arbery under Georgia's citizen's arrest law, which was repealed following outrage over the killing.

That law allowed anyone to detain a person if there is reasonable and probable knowledge that the person is fleeing a serious felony crime they had committed.

But trespassing is a misdemeanour, she said, and none of the accused knew where Arbery had been or what he was doing before running past their driveways.

The prosecutors from the Cobb County district attorney's office say the accused “assumed the worst” about Arbery, who was known to friends as an avid jogger.

Updated: November 23, 2021, 12:17 AM