As reported several times before, Arbery was jogging through Glynn County when he elected to stop and observe an unfinished home in the area. As Arbery seemingly admired the architecture, nearby residents appeared to be under the impression that he may be stealing from or damaging the unfinished home. In response, the McMichaels and Bryan tracked down Arbery, confronted him and killed him.
Arbery's death didn't immediately spark protests, but it garnered national attention months later when a video recording of his death was shared with the public. Not only did the video spark protests, but it also led to the arrests of the McMichaels and Bryan.
Prosecution's Opening Statement
Months after the initial arrest, the trial of George McMichael, Travis McMichael and William Bryan is underway. During the first day of trial, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski asked a rhetorical question.
"Why are we here?" she asked, according to CNN.
"We are here because of assumptions and driveway decisions," she answered.
The prosecution argues that if the three defendants hadn't confronted Arbery that he'd still be alive today. To drive her point home, Dunikoski shared several videos of Arbery examining unfinished homes in the area dating back to October 2019. In each video, Arbery reportedly left the home without damaging or stealing anything. Furthermore, ABC News reports that one of the homeowners had seen a video of Arbery in his unfinished home in February 2020, but noted that he had not stolen taken anything.
Closing out her visual display, Dunikoski shared a video of the three defendants confronting Arbery and killing him. The video of Arbery's death was punctuated by police body camera footage that showed the defendants speaking to an officer.
"At no time on this video do you hear the words burglary or attempted burglary," Dunikoski said, according to ABC News.
If correct, the video would thwart the defense's argument that they were attempting a citizen's arrest because they were under the impression that Arbery was committing a crime. Moreover, Dunikoski played a piece of George McMichael's call to 911. As reported by CNN, the emergency that the defendant was attempting to report was a "Black man running down the street."
As all of this was unfolding, Arbery's parents watched for as long as they could. Arbery's father, Marcus Arbery Sr., reportedly left as the video of his son's death appeared on a screen inside of the courthouse.
"I don't want to see this," Arbery's father said, according to pool reporters.
Meanwhile, Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, let out an "emotional cry" as the video was played. However, she did make the decision to stay in the courtroom.
"I decided to remain in so I could get familiar with what happened to Ahmaud — the last minutes of his life," Cooper-Jones told reporters.
Defense Pushes For A Mistrial
After an emotional video presentation from the prosecution, Judge Timothy Walmsley elected to have the court break for lunch before returning for the defense's opening statement. Before that break went into full effect, the defense raised an issue with the prosecution's opening argument. The defense pushed for a mistrial because Dunikoski allegedly violated a pre-trial agreement by mentioning that there was a two-month gap between Arbery's death and the arrest of the defendants. Walmsley had ruled that the prosecution should refrain from mentioning that detail, but he did not feel it was grounds for a mistrial. Instead, the judge warned the prosecution from referring to it moving forward.
Also, defense attorney Laura Hogue asked the judge to reconsider a ruling that limited closing arguments to roughly 90 minutes instead of three hours. Walmsley also shot down this request, questioning why either side would need to speak for that long of a period.
Defense's Opening Statement
After a lunch break, the trial resumed with the start of the defense's opening argument. Instead of opening things with a question, attorney Bob Rubin opened his defense of Travis McMichael with a statement.
"This case is about duty and responsibility," Rubin said, according to ABC News.
"It's about Travis McMichael's duty and responsibility to himself, his family and his neighborhood."
Rubin argued that the neighborhood was "on edge" in the days leading up to Arbery's death due to a series of burglaries nearby. The attorney attempted to strengthen his argument by sharing screenshots of social media posts from concerned residents.
"People were on alert to suspicious behavior," Rubin adds.
Moving from the concerns of local residents, Rubin turned his attention to an encounter Travis McMichael says he had with Arbery on February 11, 2020. Rubin says his client saw Arbery near a home that was under construction and he confronted him. In response, Rubin claims his client saw Arbery reach near his waistband, implying that he had a gun. From there, Rubin says Travis McMichael went home and called 911. Not long thereafter, McMichael claims Arbery was nowhere to be found.
Wrapping up his opening statement, Rubin shifted his remarks toward the day Arbery was killed. Rubin claims that a neighbor had seen Arbery at the construction site earlier that day and made eye contact with him, but Arbery allegedly ran away. Shortly thereafter, the defense attorney claims George McMichael saw Arbery and recognized him as the man that had allegedly been breaking into the construction site previously. After spotting Arbery, George and Travis McMichael got in their truck with a shotgun and followed Arbery. At first, the defense says they had caught up to Arbery in their truck and attempted to speak with him, but allegedly ran away. As Arbery ran away, the defendants say Arbery spotted William Bryan's car and started running back toward the McMichael's car. At this point, Travis McMichael admits to getting out of the car and attempting to call 911. While Arbery allegedly turned around and ran back toward the McMichaels, Rubin says Travis McMichael handed the cellphone he used to call 911 off to his father, George, and pointed his shotgun at Arbery. Rubin says Travis McMichael raised his gun at Arbery because "that is how you de-escalate violence."
"Before the first shot is fired they called the police. That is not intent to commit murder," Rubin said, according to ABC News.
"If he wanted to kill him this is an open shot," he added as he showed a picture of Arbery moments before he was killed.
After Travis McMichael raised his gun, Rubin alleges that Arbery charged toward his client and George McMichael in an attempt to take the gun. In response, the attorney says his client was justified in shooting Arbery three times because he was acting in "self-defense."
"It's tragic that Ahmaud Arbery lost his life, but at that point, Travis McMichael is acting in self-defense," Rubin said about his client's interaction with the unarmed jogger.
"He did not want to encounter Ahmaud Arbery physically. He was only trying to stop him for the police."
Reading about Black trauma can have an impact on your mental health. If you or someone you know need immediate mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor. These additional resources are also available:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
The National Alliance on Mental Illness 1-800-950-6264
The Association of Black Psychologists 1-301-449-3082
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America 1-240-485-1001
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