Opening statements began Friday in the murder trials of three white Georgia men accused of chasing and killing Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery, a slaying that sparked a national outcry during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Arbery, 25, was shot to death in February 2020 as he ran through a suburban Glynn County neighborhood on a Sunday morning. Father and son Greg McMichael, 65, Travis McMichael, 35, and neighbor William Bryan, 52, are all accused of murder.
Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski told the jury: “All three of these defendants did everything they did based on assumptions, not on facts, not on evidence.”
Off the 12 panelists, only one is Black. The rest are white, something Arbery’s family criticized before opening statements commenced.
Arbery’s mother wept in court as Dunikoski showed an extended version of mobile phone footage taken by Bryan, in which Arbery is seen being shot three times by Travis McMichael. It was the first time the mother had seen the video. The three defendants have pleaded not guilty and said they were pursuing Arbery because they thought he was responsible for burglaries in the area.
Greg McMichael told investigators his son fired in self-defence.
But Dunikoski told jurors that Greg McMichael told police that he had yelled at Arbery, “Stop, or I’ll blow your f***ing head off!” during a five-minute chase in which Bryan allegedly struck the man with his truck. The senior McMichael also told investigators that Arbery had been “trapped like rat,” the prosecutor said.
“Mr. Arbery was under attack by strangers with the intent to kill him,” she said. “The only thing Mr. Arbery did was run away.”
Arbery’s death gained national attention after the video of his shooting was leaked to social media weeks afterward. The three white men were arrested and charged more than two months later after state investigators took over the case.
A grand jury indictment charged all three with malice and felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
“They didn’t simply follow Mr Arbery. All three ‘trapped him like a rat’ with their two pickup trucks,” said Dunikoski.
Bryan tried to hit the jogger four times with his vehicle, she said, driving so close that Arbery’s palm prints and T-shirt fibers were found on his truck.
“No one said ‘I’m making a citizen’s arrest today’,” she told the jury.
But defense attorney Bob Rubin, who represents Travis McMichael, said the trial should focus on three men trying to be good neighbors.
“This case is about duty and responsibility,” said Rubin. “It’s about Travis McMichael’s duty and responsibility to himself, his family and his neighborhood.”
“Travis has no choice but to fire his weapon in self defense,” Rubin said, describing the confrontation. His client “reasonably believed” Arbery would beat him up and use this own shotgun against him, the lawyer added.
After the shooting, Rubin said, his client was “distraught,” “upset” and covered in blood.
“There’s no glee in having done what he just did. It’s awful,” he said.
He advised jurors to set aside their emotions. “The only right verdict is not guilty on each and every count in the indictment,” he said.