The jury gets the case of white men accused of Ahmaud Arbery’s death

By RUSS BYNUM

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) – The case of three white men accused of murdering the murderer of Ahmaud Arbery went before the jury on Tuesday after a trial in which the prosecutors claimed that the defendants provoked the fatal confrontation and defense lawyers insisted that their clients act in self-defense.

“You can not invoke self-defense if you are the unwarranted aggressor,” Linda Dunikoski told jurors in her final statement. “Who started this? It was not Ahmaud Arbery.”

After more than two weeks of testimony and concluding arguments, the prosecution was given the final say because it bears the burden of proof for its case beyond any reasonable doubt.

Dunikoski spent two hours Tuesday morning hammering at defense attorneys’ attempts to blame the 25-year-old black man for his own death. Defense attorneys said Arbery slammed his fists violently to resist a lawful citizen’s arrest of the defendants.

Dunikoski said Arbery’s pursuers had “no badge, no uniform, no authority” and were “just some weird guys in a white pickup truck.” And she quoted their own words to police immediately after the shooting when they said they saw Arbery run but were unsure if he had committed a crime.

“You can not make a citizen’s arrest because someone is running down the street and you have no idea what they were doing wrong,” Dunikoski said.

When the prosecution was closed, Supreme Court Justice Timothy Walmsley gave instructions to the disproportionate white jury on how to apply the law before the panel began hearings at the Glynn County Courthouse in the port city of Brunswick.

Arbery’s killings became part of a larger national showdown over racial injustice after a graphic video of his death leaked online two months later.

Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael seized weapons and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck after seeing him drive through their subdivision on February 23, 2020. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, participated in the hunt and recorded the video of Travis McMichael’s opening fire as Arbery threw blows and grabbed McMichael’s shotgun.

No one was charged with the murder until Bryan’s video was leaked and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police. All three men are charged with murder and other offenses.

Dunikoski said Tuesday that McMichaels and Bryan threatened Arbery both with their pickup trucks and by pointing a shotgun at him before the final confrontation, in which Arbery threw blows and grabbed the gun.

She noted that Bryan told police he used his truck to drive Arbery down a ditch and cut off his route, while Greg McMichael told officers they had “caught him like a rat.” Both men’s actions, she said, contributed directly to Arbery’s death.

“It doesn’t matter who actually hit the trigger,” Dunikoski said. “By law, they are all guilty.”

She also said there was no evidence that Arbery had committed crimes in the neighborhood of the accused. She said he was never seen stealing anything the five times he was filmed by security cameras in an unfinished home under construction from which he was seen running.

“You have timber, you have all this,” Dunikoski said. “Mr. Arbery never shows up with a bag. He does not pull up with a U-pull. … All he does is walk around for a few minutes and then walk.”

The prosecutor told jurors that someone can only arrest a citizen in “emergencies” where a crime takes place “right there and then.”

Defense attorneys objected to Dunikoski’s explanation of the citizen’s arrest because they claim McMichaels had reason to suspect that Arbery had stolen items from the home. They said the owner discovered the deficiencies before installing security cameras.

“This is a misrepresentation of the law and the argument is inappropriate,” Franklin Hogue, a lawyer for Greg McMichael, told the judge. “There’s no way we can fix that” before the jury, he said, as defense attorneys finalized their closing arguments Monday.

Attorney Jason Sheffield said his client, Travis McMichael, fired his shotgun in self-defense after Arbery attacked him, throwing punches and trying to grab the weapon. Sheffield called Arbery’s death a tragedy, but one that was his own fault.

Lawyers for the other two defendants also blamed Arbery. Laura Hogue, a lawyer for Greg McMichael, said Arbery “chose to fight.” Kevin Gough, who represents Bryan, questioned why Arbery did not call for help if he was in danger.

“Maybe it’s because Mr. Arbery does not want help,” Gough said.

Arbery had enrolled in a technical school and was preparing at the time to study to be an electrician just like his uncles.

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