SOURCE: REUTERS- A judge instructed jurors on Tuesday ahead of deliberations in the Georgia murder trial of three white men who chased and shot Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who prosecutors say was out for a Sunday afternoon run in a mostly white neighborhood, after the prosecution made a final pitch for conviction.
Since being sworn in more than two weeks ago, the 12-member jury has heard from more than two dozen witnesses. These included Travis McMichael, the only defendant to take the witness stand, who said he fired his shotgun into Arbery in self defense.
McMichael, 35, his father, Gregory McMichael, 65, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, have pleaded not guilty to charges including murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment for the killing in the coastal suburb of Satilla Shores on Feb. 23, 2020.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley began instructing the jury of 11 white men and women and one Black man in the law governing the case after lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski delivered a final two-hour rebuttal to defense lawyers’ closing arguments.
Dunikoski asked the jurors to find all three defendants guilty of all the charges.
“This isn’t about whether these three men are good people or bad people,” Dunikoski said. “It’s about holding people accountable and responsible for their actions. … Nobody gets a free pass.”
Dunikoski said the defense was seeking to blame Arbery for his death.
“Standard stuff: malign the victim, it’s the victim’s fault,” Dunikoski told the jury. “I know you’re not going to buy into that. It’s offensive.”
The defense had argued fiercely over how the judge would explain the citizen’s-arrest law at the heart of the defense. They objected repeatedly on Tuesday to what they said was an incorrect explanation of the law by the prosecution.
The defense has said the three men had a right and a neighborly obligation to jump in their pickup trucks and chase Arbery to detain him under the law because they had reason to believe he may have been connected to recent property crimes that had left the neighborhood on edge.
The law was repealed after Bryan’s cellphone video of the shooting caused outrage. No evidence ever emerged that Arbery ever stole anything on his frequent runs through Satilla Shores, leafy cluster of homes outside the small coastal city of Brunswick. He was killed with nothing on him besides his jogging clothes and sneakers.
Dunikoski said the men simply did not have the reasonable suspicion of a crime necessary to detain Arbery, and that Arbery had a constitutional right to not answer any of the questions the men shouted from their trucks.
“You can’t hold somebody so the police can show up, and go ‘Well he must have done something,'” Dunikoski said.
Dunikoski read from Gregory McMichael’s interviews with police in which he said he had no idea what Arbery had been doing before running past the McMichaels’ driveway.
In closing arguments, Laura Hogue, the elder McMichael’s lawyer, sought to paint Arbery as a frightening, disgusting criminal with “long dirty toenails.” The comments upset Arbery’s parents, who said they were gratuitously rude, and angered scores of Arbery supporters who have rallied beneath the grand oak trees outside the courthouse.
The trial has underscored divisions among Americans over guns, shown in stark relief after a jury’s acquittal in a separate case last week of a teenager who fatally shot two men during 2020 racial-justice protests in Wisconsin. In both trials, defendants claimed self-defense in fatal shootings.
Travis McMichael testified last week that Arbery tried to fight him by grabbing his pump-action shotgun, and said he was in fear of his life.
Prosecutors noted that he told the police on the afternoon of the shooting he could not say for sure whether Arbery actually grabbed his gun. Dunikoski told the jury that inconsistencies in his accounts and with video evidence showed he lied to them from the stand.
She said McMichael’s pointing a shotgun at Arbery in the first place amounted to aggravated assault, and someone cannot claim self defense if they are committing a felony, nor can anyone use excessive force in their own defense.
Bryan’s lawyer argued that Bryan was a simple-minded man who did not know the McMichaels had grabbed their guns when he jumped in his own pickup truck to join the chase. He said the “hand of God” or a similar divine force appeared to lead Bryan to make the most important evidence the jury saw: Bryan’s cellphone video.