After a grueling 13-day trial for the case of three White men charged with the the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, the case has gone to jury. Prosecutors argued that the defendants provoked a confrontation with the 25-year-old Black man while defense attorneys said their clients acted in self-defense. The prosecution gets to present last because it carries the burden of proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutors and defense attorneys spent hours Monday delivering their closing arguments which took two days.
Dunikoski spent two hours Tuesday morning chipping away at defense attorneys’ attempts to blame Arbery for his own death. The defense attorneys said Arbery struck violently with his fists in resistance to a lawful citizen’s arrest by the defendants.
Dunikoski said Arbery’s pursuers had “no badge, no uniform, no authority” and were “just some strange guys in a white pickup truck.” And she reminded them of their own words to police immediately after the shooting: that they saw Arbery running but were unsure if he had committed a crime.
“You can’t make a citizen’s arrest because someone’s running down the street and you have no idea what they did wrong,” Dunikoski said.
Once the prosecution wrapped up, Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley gave instructions to the jury on how to apply the law before it can start deliberations at the Glynn County courthouse in the port city of Brunswick.
Arbery’s killing sparked a larger national reckoning on racial injustice when a graphic video of his death was leaked online two months later.
The McMichaels grabbed guns and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck after spotting him running through their subdivision on Feb. 23, 2020. Bryan joined the chase and recorded the video of Travis McMichael opening fire as Arbery threw punches and grabbed McMichael’s shotgun.
No one had been charged for the murder until Bryan’s video was leaked and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation got involved. All three men are charged with murder and other offenses.
Dunikoski said Tuesday that the McMichaels and Bryan threatened Arbery by chasing him in their pickup trucks and by pointing a shotgun at him before the ultimate struggle in which Arbery threw punches and grabbed for the gun. She noted that Bryan told police he used his truck to run Arbery into a ditch and cut off his route, while Greg McMichael told officers they had him “trapped like a rat.” The actions of both men directly contributed to Arbery’s death, she said.
“It doesn’t matter who actually pulled the trigger,” Dunikoski said. “Under the law, they’re all guilty.”
She also said there was no evidence Arbery had committed any crimes in the defendants’ neighborhood. She said he had never been seen stealing anything the five times he was recorded by security cameras in an unfinished home under construction from which he was seen running.
Attorney Jason Sheffield said his client, Travis McMichael, fired his shotgun in self-defense after Arbery charged at him, threw punches and tried to grab the weapon. Sheffield called Arbery’s death a tragedy, but one that was his own fault.
Attorneys for the other two defendants blamed Arbery as well. Laura Hogue, an attorney for Greg McMichael, said Arbery “chose to fight.” Kevin Gough, who represents Bryan, questioned why Arbery didn’t call for help if he was in danger.
“Maybe that’s because Mr. Arbery doesn’t want help,” Gough said.
Arbery had enrolled at a technical college and was studying to become an electrician.