BRUNSWICK, Ga., Nov. 5 (Reuters) – When three white men saw a black man walk through their predominantly white neighborhood in southern Georgia one afternoon last year, they “assumed the worst,” said a prosecutor on the jury Friday at the men’s conference. trial for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
When they started chasing Arbery in their vans, they did so with violent intent, according to the prosecution’s opening statement: one man tried to get Arbery off the road with his truck, another yelled a death threat.
Minutes later, Arbery would be gunned down by Travis McMichael, the youngest of his pursuers on the streets of Satilla Shores, a cluster of quiet, leafy homes outside the small coastal town of Brunswick.
Jurors watched a graphic video freeze on an image of Arbery’s body on the street, a gunshot wound gaping in his chest, an image left on screen as technicians attempted to resolve technical issues that hampered the first day of testimony.
Gregory McMichael, 65; her son Travis McMichael, 35; and his neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, pleaded not guilty to murder, aggravated assault and forcible confinement to their murderous pursuit of Arbery on February 23, 2020.
Travis McMichael’s cell phone video of Bryan shooting Arbery sparked outrage when it emerged more than two months after the meeting. He was seen by many as yet another example of a black person being the subject of dangerous suspicion while engaging in mundane activity.
The men later said they believed Arbery may have been fleeing a crime and were trying to detain him under the state’s now repealed Citizen Arrest statute in a neighborhood that their lawyers said was “on edge” because of the reports of thefts.
“It’s a citizen’s job to help the police, and the law allows it,” said Robert Rubin, lawyer for Travis McMichael, in his opening statement in Glynn County Superior Court. “When seconds count, the police are often minutes away. The police aren’t going to catch this guy at the speed he’s running.”
Gregory McMichael was in his driveway fixing the seat cushions on his boat when Arbery ran past. He and his son grabbed a handgun and a 12-gauge shotgun and jumped into the son’s van in pursuit.
The defendants’ own words undermine their defense, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said in her opening statement to the predominantly white jury, which has only one black member.
“I assumed something was going on,” Travis McMichael later told police when explaining why they chased Arbery, Dunikoski said.
Bryan saw the chase as she approached his house and jumped into his own truck. Dunikoski called the truck a “deadly 5,000 pound weapon” as Bryan swerved towards Arbery four times to tip him out of the road into a ditch.
“At this point, Mr. Arbery is attacked by these three men,” she told the jury. Bryan got so close that they found Arbery’s handprint and the fibers of his white T-shirt on the truck.
“These three defendants did everything they did on the basis of assumptions,” Dunikoski said. “They made decisions in their aisles based on these assumptions that claimed the life of a young man, and that is why we are here.”
Dunikoski said the defendants had deadly intent, pointing to something Elder McMichael told police he shouted at Arbery: “Stop or I’ll blow your head off!” She said he also told police that they tricked Arbery “like a rat”.
She said Arbery was just an avid fitness enthusiast and told the jury that they would soon be shown his sneakers, their tread worn down from his avid jogging.
COVERED IN BLOOD
Rubin said in his opening statement that Travis McMichael was worried Arbery might have been armed. Turns out the jogger didn’t even have his cell phone with him.
McMichael opened fire in self-defense as Arbery attempted to grab his shotgun, Rubin said.
In the months leading up to the shooting, reports of several property crimes pissed off residents of Satilla Shores, Rubin said.
Arbery had been seen in security camera video wandering around an unoccupied half-built house near the McMichaels on several occasions in the months leading up to filming.
Owner Larry English shared the videos with neighbors, and Travis McMichael was among those who saw them, Rubin said.
The prosecution told the jury they would see a statement from English, who said nothing was taken from his property on the days Arbery was there, and that he believed Arbery was using a source of water on the site to quench his thirst.
Officer William Duggan, who was the second officer at the scene, recalls seeing Travis McMichael covered in blood and asking him if he was okay.
“It was a quick response of ‘No I’m not fine, I just killed someone,’” Duggan said.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen in Brunswick and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Ross Colvin, Jonathan Oatis and Aurora Ellis
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