Attorneys make closing statements in trial of Ahmaud Arbery's killing
3 white men charged in death of 25-year-old Black man in Georgia in Feb. 2020
Attorneys on Monday offered their final words to the jury in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, with the prosecution saying that three white men chased him solely "because he was a Black man running down the street," while the defence repeatedly blamed Arbery for his own death.
In closing arguments, a defence attorney for the man who fired the fatal gunshots said Arbery, 25, was killed as he violently resisted a legal effort to detain him to answer questions about burglaries in the neighbourhood.
"It is absolutely, horrifically tragic that this has happened," said Jason Sheffield, the lawyer representing one of the accused, Travis McMichael. "This is where the law is intertwined with heartache and tragedy. You are allowed to defend yourself."
The arguments unfolded before a disproportionately white jury after 10 days of testimony that concluded last week, not long after the man who shot Arbery testified that he pulled the trigger in self-defence. Closing arguments were to resume Tuesday morning.
Arbery's killing became part of a larger national reckoning on racial injustice after a graphic video of his death leaked online two months later. Although prosecutors did not argue that racism motivated the killing, federal authorities have charged all three men with hate crimes, alleging that they chased and killed Arbery because he was Black.
Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael grabbed guns and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck after spotting him running in their neighbourhood on Feb. 23, 2020. A neighbour, William "Roddie" Bryan, joined the chase and recorded the video of Travis McMichael opening fire as Arbery threw punches and grabbed for his shotgun.
No one was charged in the killing until Bryan's video leaked and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police. All three men face counts of murder and other charges.
Arbery attacked because he was Black, prosecutor says
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski told the jury the defendants had no evidence Arbery had committed crimes in their neighbourhood, but instead acted on assumptions based on neighbourhood gossip and speculative social media posts.
"They made the decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways because he was a Black man running down the street," she said. "They shot and killed him. Not because he was a threat to them. But because he wouldn't stop and talk to them."
Defence attorneys say the men suspected Arbery had burglarized a house under construction and intended to hold him until police arrived. Security cameras recorded Arbery inside the house five times, but none of the videos showed him stealing or damaging anything.
Dunikoski said the McMichaels and Bryan chased Arbery for five minutes, using their trucks to cut him off, run him off the road and otherwise prevent him from fleeing. And she repeated Greg McMichael's words to local police after the shooting that Arbery was "trapped like a rat."
"He chose to fight," said Laura Hogue, an attorney for Greg McMichael. She said Arbery decided "without any sense of reason to run at a man wielding a shotgun, leaving him with no other alternative but to be placed in a position to kill him."
Referring to a smiling photo of Arbery the jury had been show at the trial, Hogue told the jury: "A beautiful teenager with a broad smile in a crooked baseball cap can go astray … And years later he can end up creeping into a home that's not his own, and run away instead of facing the consequences."
Defence asks why Arbery didn't call for help
Bryan's attorney, Kevin Gough, suggested Arbery should have cried for help if he was being chased unjustly.
"Why isn't he calling out, 'Hey, somebody call 911! There's crazy people after me,' " Gough said. "Maybe that's because Mr. Arbery doesn't want help."
Sheffield, who represents Travis McMichael, said his client never wanted to shoot Arbery but was forced to make a life-or-death decision when Arbery charged at him in front of the truck.
He said residents of Satilla Shores were already nervous amid reports of thefts and suspicious people in the neighbourhood. He said Arbery's frequent visits to the unfinished home made it reasonable to suspect he had stolen items from a boat the home's owner kept in the doorless garage a short time before he installed the cameras.
- White men who chased and shot Ahmaud Arbery acted on 'assumptions,' prosecutor tells Georgia murder trial
Then Travis McMichael had his own "horrifying experience," Sheffield said, "when he encountered Arbery in the yard at night 12 days before the shooting. He breathlessly told a 911 dispatcher that Arbery had reached for his pocket as if he had a gun when confronted.
Prosecutor notes Arbery was unarmed
Dunikoski noted that Arbery never threatened the McMichaels during the chase, and he carried no weapons.
"You can't bring a gun to a fistfight. It's unfair, right?" the prosecutor said.
She said it was Travis McMichael who attacked Arbery — first with his truck, then by pointing a shotgun at him as Arbery ran toward him.
"They can't claim self-defence under the law because they were the initial, unjustified aggressors, and they started this," Dunikoski said.
Arbery had enrolled at a technical college and was preparing to study to become an electrician like his uncles when he was killed.