The three men accused in Ahmaud Arbery’s (pictured) murder did not act in self-defense because the black jogger was defenseless with ‘no weapons’ when he was shot and killed, a Georgia jury heard in court Monday
The man accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery had ‘reasonable suspicion’ to believe that he was a ‘threat’ and was ‘armed with his fists,’ the defense argued in closing statements shortly after the prosecution stated that he was ‘killed because he was a black man running down the street’.
Gregory McMichael, 65, his son Travis McMichael, 35, and neighbor William ‘Roddy’ Bryan, 52, are all charged with malice and felony murder in the February 2020 shooting death of black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Satilla Shores outside Brunswick, Georgia. Travis McMichael has admitted shooting Arbery dead.
Travis McMichael’s defense attorney, Jason Sheffield, said his client had ‘reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion’ to follow the 25-year-old in his truck because he believed he was a burglar.
He added that although Arbery was not armed with a weapon, Travis McMichael said he had reached into his shirt as if for a weapon, and he was also armed with his fists.
‘Travis felt something is not right…Aggravated assault is a felony that can be committed by the use of fists. Fists are a weapon. And right now as Ahmaud Arbery is running towards Travis McMichael he could have a gun and he definitely has fists,’ Sheffield said.
Earlier in her closing, Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said that ‘all three of these defendants made assumptions about what was going on that day. And they made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways, because he was a black man running down the street.’
‘Everybody in this case had a gun except for Ahmaud Arbery.’ She also told the jury that the defense will ‘try to convince you that Mr. Arbery was the attacker.’
Meanwhile, as the jury listened to closing statements, more than 100 New Black Panther Party activists – many wielding loaded AR-15 rifles – protested outside the Glynn County courthouse as the closing arguments were made.
Najee Muhammad, one of the commanders of the group which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled ‘antisemitic and racits’, said: ‘Our purpose here today is to get justice.’
Asked why his members were carrying rifles, he said: ‘It’s a self defense mechanism and also a statement. We know the 2nd Amendment and we carry out the 2nd Amendment. We believe black men and women in America have the right for self defense and this should not be infringed.’
One man in the group warned: ‘Ya’ll are in serious trouble because the wrath of karma is coming on America,’ said a man who identified himself as the supreme commander of the New Black Panther militia,’ according to Fox News.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski (left) told the jury told that the defense would ‘try to convince you that Mr. Arbery was the attacker,’ but alleged he had nothing on him during the incident: ‘He was somehow threatening to them. Three on one, two pick up trucks, two guns. Mr. Arbery, nothing in his pockets. Not a cell phone, not a gun, not an ID’ Travis McMichael’s attorney Jason Sheffield (pictured during closing statements Monday) argued his client acted in self-defense and had a series of experiences that led him to believe Arbery was guilty of burglary the day he was killed
Meanwhile, as the jury was presented with closing statements, more than 100 New Black Panther Party activists – many wielding loaded AR-15 rifles – protested outside the Glynn County courthouse as the closing arguments were made
Members of the New Black Panther group rallied with a coffin carrying a dummy corpse outside the courthouse
Dozens of BLM and New Black Panther Party members rallied outside the courthouse, carrying a photo of Ahmaud Arbery
Kevin Gough, representing Bryan, launched his fifth failed bid for a mistrial for his client – citing the Black Panthers outside the court.
He said: ‘There was a truck carrying a coffin with the names of the defendants on it. The Black Panther group… specific objective to influence the proceedings in this case.
‘I don’t know whether they intended to scare the defendants but I have co-counsel with a small child who is scared to death.
‘Large weapons, apparently automatic weapons that were seen outside the court house. And given everything else that has already transpired in this case we believe at this point that it’s for us to renew the motion for mistrial.
‘We have now got people driving around the court house with coffins with our clients names on them with semi or fully automatic weapons. This is no longer a figurative mob, this is a literal mob.’
Judge Timothy Walmsley denied the motion after saying: ‘Individuals have a right to be outside the court house. I agree… that the court needs to keep a very close eye on whether or not whatever may be going on outside the court house has any influence on the jury.’
Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones leaves the court in tears during a break in closing arguments
More than 100 Black Panther Party activists – many wielding loaded AR-15 rifles – protested outside the Glynn County courthouse as the closing arguments were made
The majority were in black combat gear and women as well as men were toting the long guns. Some wore black berets, others were in tactical helmets and goggles
Those with weapons were not allowed to stand in front of the court house by local order. They were gathering in groups around the precincts, with a march being planned
Dunikoski began closing arguments Monday in Arbery’s murder trial, alleging the defendants wrongly assumed the worst about the black jogger, demonstrated ‘malice aforethought’ when they illegally chased him through the streets of their Georgia suburb in pickup trucks and attacked him.
‘He was somehow threatening to them. Three on one, two pick up trucks, two guns. Mr. Arbery, nothing in his pockets. No weapon, no threats,’ she said. ‘No way to call for help: he didn’t even have his cellphone on him. He ran away for five minutes.’
She continued: ‘They want you to believe that he is a danger. They are going to try that they were justified in their actions. Because here is the thing, you cannot claim self-defense under certain circumstances. If you are the initial unjustified aggressor you don’t get to claim self-defense.’
She also argued the defendants had no right to detain him in an attempt to dispute the defense’s citizen’s arrest arguments.
‘They made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways because he was a black man running down the street,’ she said. ‘They killed him not because he’s a threat to them, but because he wouldn’t stop and talk to them.’
‘This case is about assumptions and driveway decisions. All three of these defendants made assumptions. Made assumptions about what was going on that day. And they made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways because he was a black man running down the street,’ she argued.
‘The bottom line. They assumed he must have committed some crime that day. He was running real fast down the street, right. They did not call 911.
‘They wanted to stop him and question him before calling 911. How do we know, because that’s what they told police that night. That’s what they said on the scene. Hey, stop we want to talk to you.’
Travis McMichael, wearing glasses and dressed in a gray suit, listened impassively Monday as Dunikoski described his actions in the deadly confrontation with Arbery
Gregory McMichael (pictured left alongside his attorney in court Monday), Travis McMichael and their neighbor William ‘Roddie’ Bryan (right with his defense team) have pleaded not guilty to all charges including murder
Prosecution vs. Defense: The arguments in Ahmaud Arbery’s murder trial
Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William Bryan are all charged with malice and felony murder in the February 2020 shooting death of black jogger Ahmaud Arbery.
The McMichaels armed themselves and jumped in a pickup truck to pursue Arbery after he ran past their home from a nearby house under construction.
Their neighbor, Bryan, joined the chase in his own truck, telling police that he tried to run Arbery off the road and then recorded cellphone video as Travis McMichael fired three shotgun blasts before Arbery fell facedown in the street.
The defendants also face charges of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony.
During the trial, the prosecution aimed to prove that the defendants wrongly assumed the worst about Arbery.
The state also sought to rebut arguments that the defendants were attempting a valid citizen’s arrest, which required that someone have ‘reasonable and probable’ suspicion that a person is fleeing a serious crime they committed.
The defense argues that Travis McMichael shot Arbery three times in self-defense, as the McMichaels and Bryan attempted to conduct a citizen’s arrest of Arbery under their suspicion that he committed a burglary at a nearby property.
They also argued that the chasing of Arbery was justified under Georgia’s 19th-century citizen’s arrest law that was repealed after an outcry over the killing.
‘You can’t do that. So what’s going on here? You know what’s really going on here. Mr. Arbery was under attack. They committed four felonies against him.
‘Then they shot and killed him. Not because he was a threat to them, but because he wouldn’t stop and talk to them. They were going him stop. We’re going to point a shotgun at you. That will make him stop. That should make him stop right here in your tracks because we want to talk to you.
‘And what did he do? He still ran away. For five minutes, ran away. Travis McMichael went to intercept him with that shotgun and he turned that corner. We can’t see if Mr. Arbery attacked him. That doesn’t matter, because how fast did he shoot him. How fast did he just pull that trigger.
‘They shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery. They all acted as a party to the crime.
‘But for their actions, but for their decisions, but for their choices Ahmaud Arbery would be alive.’
Dunikoski told the jury that at most Arbery could be accused of trespass 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.
‘Let’s get real: he’s a ‘looky-loo,’ he’s going in there at night and he shouldn’t be doing this, we all know this, okay?’ she said.
The defendants have argued that they had a right to try to detain Arbery under Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law, which was repealed in the wake of outrage over the killing.
That law allowed anyone to detain a person if there is reasonable and probably knowledge that the person is fleeing a serious felony crime they just committed.
But trespassing is a misdemeanor, she said, and none of the defendants knew where Arbery had been or what he was doing before running past their driveways.
Dunikoski said the defense ‘are going to claim they are justified in starting this’.
She added: ‘They are going to claim they were justified in committing all these felonies against Mr. Arbery. How? Because they are gong to try to convince you that this was a citizen’s arrest.’
The prosecutor laid out the terms of a citizen’s arrest under Georgia law. She said: ‘A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence. Right here, right now. I’m seeing you do it. Right here, right now I’m watching you committing the crime. I’m witnessing it, you’re doing it in my presence.
‘Well, Mr. Bryan’s on his porch, fixing it. Where is Travis McMichael? He’s on the sofa inside the house. Where’s Greg McMichael – ‘this all started when I saw him running down the street’.
Gregory McMichael (left) allegedly told police that he, his son (right) and their neighbor had Ahmaud Arbery (pictured on the pavement) ‘trapped like a rat,’ noting that the jogger ‘knew he wasn’t going to get away’
Officer-worn body camera footage presented in court last Monday showed Gregory McMichael, 65, (left) consoling his son, Travis McMichael (right), after the 35-year-old shot Ahmaud Arbery
In the video recorded by Bryan, Arbery can be seen trying to wrestle a shotgun from Travis McMichael’s hands
After being shot three times by the younger McMichael, the video shows Arbery collapsing to the pavement. He died on the scene
The above map shows Ahmaud Arbery’s approximate path and locations of the events that occurred on February 23, 2020
Prosecutors allege jury in Arbery trial is ‘disproportionately white’
Prosecutors claim the jury seated for Ahmaud Arbery’s murder trial is disproportionately white.
Of the 12 members, one juror is black while the other 11 are white.
Defense lawyers struck all but one black person from the jury panel, drawn from a county where about a quarter of residents are black, but told the court the strikes were for reasons that had nothing to do with race.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley previously said he found that ‘intentional discrimination’ by defense attorneys appeared to have shaped jury selection, but argued Georgia law limited his authority to intervene.
He also alleged that the defense had race-neutral arguments for dismissing those potential jurors.
‘They have been able to explain to the court why besides race those individuals were struck from the panel,’ Walmsley said.
Summons were sent to 1,000 potential jurors and attorneys questioned these individuals for more than two weeks before selecting the current panel.
She said the law also says ‘in his immediate knowledge’. This would include a supermarket security guard watching an offense taking place on a video camera.
‘In order to make an arrest the offense needs to take place in the private citizen’s presence,’ Dunikoski told jurors. ‘Do we have that here? No.’
Travis McMichael, wearing glasses and dressed in a gray suit, listened impassively Monday as Dunikoski described his actions in the deadly confrontation with Arbery.
On the subject of reasonable force, the prosecutor said: ‘Travis McMichael’s belief that he had to defend himself with lethal force, has to be reasonable. So we have pointing a shotgun at Mr. Arbery when he is yard and yards away had to be reasonable and necessary.
‘So where is the use of force by Mr. Arbery? What was he doing? He turned away from Mr. Bryan’s truck. He is trapped between two cars, with no way for anyone to help him. Nobody out there to help him. He’s not threatening anybody. He’s just running away from the man with the shotgun.
‘Who brought the shotgun to the party? Who took the shotgun out of the car? Who pointed the shotgun?’
Dunikoski compared the defendants to school yard bullies who provoke someone and when that person fights back claims ‘they started it’.
DEFENSE CLOSING FOR TRAVIS MCMICHAEL
In his own closing argument, Jason Sheffield, one of Travis McMichael’s lawyers, began by discussing for several minutes the law-enforcement training McMichael got during his nine years in the U.S. Coast Guard, where he worked as a mechanic.
‘De-escalation was always the goal,’ Sheffield said, recalling that McMichael testified about ‘using a weapon if it had to come to that to de-escalate a situation.’
Sheffield – who painted a picture of a ‘once idyllic’ Satilla Shores neighborhood changing amid an increase of crimes and a sense of urgency with more police patrols in the area – argued his client acted in self-defense and had a series of experiences that led him to believe Arbery was guilty of burglary the day he was killed.
A frame of the video showing Arbery jogging down the road before he was shot dead shows Travis McMichael lifting his shotgun and pointing it at the jogger
While giving testimony in his defense last week, Travis McMichael said he wwas ‘scared’ and thought Arbery was going to attack him
The attorney said McMichael had ‘reasonable and probably grounds of suspicion’ when he left his driveway in his truck with his father to follow Arbery. ‘Travis believes he has committed an offense of burglary,’ he added.
Sheffield also showed jurors parts of the widely seen cellphone video Bryan made of the shooting as he drove near in his own truck, freezing it at the moment Arbery runs towards Travis McMichael, who had just aimed his shotgun at Arbery.
‘There’s no question that Ahmaud’s hands are on this gun,’ he said, saying McMichael was in fear of his life at this moment. ‘You are allowed to defend yourself. You are allowed to use force that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury if you believe it’s necessary. At that moment Travis, believed it is necessary.’
During his closing arguments to the jury, Sheffield walked jurors through the events that took place before Arbery was shot.
He described Travis McMichael’s attempts to talk to Arbery when he pulled his truck next to the jogger.
‘Mr. Arbery takes off running down the street,’ said Sheffield. ‘Travis just watches him. He doesn’t take a gun out and shoot him in the back. He doesn’t take a gun out and try to kill him. He doesn’t try to hit him with his truck. He watches him.’
‘Travis then tries to speak to Arbery again,’ said Sheffield. ‘He (Arbery) doesn’t say a word, he looks him dead in the eyes. Travis says, we want you to stay right here, we’re calling the cops. And Mr. Arbery bolts.’
Members of the New Black Panthers rolled a coffin with a dummy corpse to the front of the courthouse on Monday
A protester holds up a sign outside the court house that reads: ‘What is the people’s justice for Ahmaud’
Sheffield showed the jury the re-enactment video of Bryan’s route through the neighborhood as he described events.
The chase progressed to a dogleg bend in the road near the intersection of Satilla Drive and Holmes Road. Travis parked his truck.
‘Armaud Arbery comes across that dogleg, he’s coming at Travis,’ said Sheffield. ‘At this moment he is looking into Travis’s eyes and ultimately get within 10ft of him. While Travis is saying, stop, do not get any closer.’
‘Arbery backed off but then came back a second time, said Sheffield. ‘Travis felt something is not right. I see where this is going. Aggravated assault is a felony that can be committed by the use of fists. Fists are a weapon. And right now as Ahmaud Arbery is running towards Travis McMichael he could have a gun and he definitely has fists.
‘He is coming straight at him. Travis says he gets 30 to 40 feet from him. He’s afraid that he will be on him in a matter of seconds, he is afraid that he will beat him with his fists or whatever weapon he might have. And he’s scared.
‘And so he has done what he thinks the law allows him to do, which is to try to de-escalate that approach by showing force. Showing force necessary to prevent Travis himself from getting possibly killed. So he raises the gun. And he does it to defend himself.’
Arbery switched direction, but ‘once the gun is down he comes back again,’ said Sheffield.
Travis, out of the truck, backed up to create space and distance, said the attorney.
‘Travis is thinking to himself, please turn,’ he continued. ‘Please don’t come at me. I am backing up.
‘He never ever when he left his driveway that day that thought things would end this way. Travis doesn’t have a duty to retreat. He is allowed to stay where he thinks he is lawfully allowed to be and to try to defend himself and others.
‘And then Ahmaud takes that turn. Travis is thinking if this guy gets hold of my shotgun, this is not going to end well. He’s going to end up with the shotgun and kill me. Travis is thinking, my son.
‘Ahmaud comes around, squares up.’ Pointing to Bryan’s video of the killing, Sheffield said: ‘Ahmaud comes across to Travis and the first shot happens right over here.’ Speaking of Arbery, Sheffield said: ‘Right here, his head is down, in full charge.
‘There is no question that Ahmaud’s hand is on this gun. This is about this gun. Travis turns into Ahmaud, trying to use his entire body, pulls the end of the shotgun away from him, gets pushed across the road into the grass and the second shot goes off.
Continuing to talk jurors through the video, Sheffield continued: ‘Travis, coming out of the grass now, trying to yank this gun from Mr. Arbery, Ahmaud’s hand still on it. Is there any question that Ahmaud Arbery is assaulting Travis McMichael right before that third shot? Not one single bit of question.
‘These two men stand, face to face, looking into each other’s eyes, with never a word being spoken by Mr. Arbery. It is absolutely horrific and tragic that this has happened.
‘This is where the law is intertwined with heartache and tragedy. You are allowed to defend yourself, you are allowed to use force, likely to cause death or serious injury, if you believe it is necessary. At that moment Travis believed it was necessary.’
DEFENSE CLOSING FOR GREGORY MCMICHAEL
Attorney Laura Hogue, who represents Gregory McMichael, argued during closing statements that her client believed Arbery was an intruder.
She quoted McMichael saying: ‘I watched him and I got a really good look at him.’
The attorney argued that Arbery was routinely recorded on surveillance footage at neighbor Larry English’s under construction home, and that Gregory McMichael was only trying to keep his neighborhood and his family safe.
‘Is he the person for responsibly for stealing Larry English’s expensive boat equipment? I don’t know. We don’t know. No one investigated that. But could anyone reasonably believe that Ahmaud Arbery was just doing a ‘lookie loo’ on those of those nights,’ she said.
‘Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after the choices that he made, does not reflect what brought Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in his khaki shorts, with no socks and long dirty toenails.’
Hogue’s comments prompted Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, to bolt out of the courtroom, pool reporters allege.
Cooper-Jones was reportedly heard saying: ‘I gotta get out of here.’
Before she concluded, Hogue also alleged that ‘no one but Ahmaud Arbery’ made the decision not to stop when Travis McMichael pulled up to him or stay when he was told police were on the way.
She reiterated: ‘Greg McMichael is not a murderer.’
The case has gained the attention of several prominent civil rights activists, including the Black Panther Party who assembled outside the courthouse on Monday. The majority were in black combat gear and women as well as men were toting the long guns. Some wore black berets, others were in tactical helmets and goggles
A member of the New Black Panther Party stands outside the courthouse as closing arguments are heard
DEFENSE CLOSING FOR WILLIAM ‘RODDIE’ BRYAN JR
Bryan’s lawyer Kevin Gough dealt immediately with the murder allegations against his client in his closing remarks – distancing the defendant from the McMichaels.
He asked the jury: ‘When did Roddie Bryan know the McMichaels brought guns? When did Roddie Bryan know Travis McMichael would shoot Mr. Arbery? And at that point what could Roddie Bryan have done to stop it?
‘The inconvenient truth is that Roddie Bryan did not know and could not know that these men were armed moments before Mr. Arbery’s tragic death. He did not know, he could not know that Arbery would be shot and by that time, sadly, there was nothing Roddie Bryan could do to prevent this tragedy.
‘Roddie Bryan didn’t shoot anyone. At the time of the shooting he was some distance back. He was armed only with his cell phone. Isn’t it time that we sent Roddie Bryan home?’
Returning to the theme later in his speech, Gough talked jurors through the shooting video while playing specific segments. He sought to demonstrate Bryan could not see Travis or Greg McMichael had guns as he approached them from behind with Arbery running towards the father and son.
‘From Mr. Bryan’s perspective, when did Roddie Bryan know the McMichaels brought guns?’ he asked. ‘When did Roddie Bryan would shoot Mr. Arbery, I would say he can’t know until Mr. Arbery was shot.’
Gough said his client fully cooperated with the police, gave several different statements and ‘provided the now famous video that you have seen so many times’.
He added: ‘The reason that we can have this trial is because of Roddie Bryan. Roddie’s decision to cooperate with law enforcement helped them discover the truth about the events of February 23.’
Jurors saw a short clip of video from a police interview with Bryan in which said: ‘After I angled him off the side of the road. I didn’t hit him, I wish I would have.’ Gough said this was a ‘reflection of regret’ for what was later to happen to Arbery.
Bryan is not a vigilante, Gough insisted. He told the jury: ‘Roddie is a quiet man, Roddie repairs small engines at the local hardware store…Roddie Bryan keeps to himself, his neighbors don’t really know who he is. Roddie is not boastful or a braggart. He is not loud or boisterous. Roddie is respectful…
‘Roddie Bryan is no vigilante. There is no evidence of that. Roddie isn’t running around Satilla Shores with guns, openly carrying in broad daylight.’
BLACK MILITIA RALLY OUTSIDE COURTHOUSE
The case has gained the attention of several prominent civil rights activists, including the Black Panther Party who assembled outside the courthouse on Monday.
The majority were in black combat gear and women as well as men were toting the long guns. Some wore black berets, others were in tactical helmets and goggles.
But those with weapons were not allowed to stand in front of the court house by local order. They were gathering in groups around the precincts, with a march being planned.
Of the comments by defense attorney saying ‘we don’t want any more black pastors here in this court,” Najee Muhammad, one of the commanders, said.
Kevin Gough, representing Bryan, launched his fifth failed bid for a mistrial for his client – citing the Black Panthers outside the court. He said: ‘There was a truck carrying a coffin with the names of the defendants on it. The Black Panther group… specific objective to influence the proceedings in this case. ‘I don’t know whether they intended to scare the defendants but I have co-counsel with a small child who is scared to death
‘That comes from his nature. His nature would not allow justice and equality and fairness.’
National official Bobby Worthy said: ‘We’ve got maybe 100 people here. We bring weapons because of our constitutional right. Some of the guys like to tote, some of the guys don’t.
‘We are just here to support the family, for justice for Ahmaud. We are real close to the mother Wanda Cooper-Jones and the aunts.’
Last week, Arbery’s mother said: ‘It was 74 days before we got an arrest and now we’re here. I’m confident we will get a guilty verdict.’