Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

The three white men charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery pursued him only “because he was a black man running down their street,” a U.S. prosecutor said while closing arguments in the politically charged trial were delivered Monday.

Gregory McMichael (65), his son Travis McMichael (35) and their neighbor William Bryan (52) pleaded not guilty on charges including murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment.

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski told the court the accused wrongly “the worst adopted” about the 25-year-old Arbery.

“They made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways because he was a black man running down the street,” she said Monday.

That of Arbery killed last year in the US state of Georgia became part of a larger settlement of racial injustice in the country after a graphic video of his death leaked online two months later.

An avid jogger, he was running through a suburb in Brunswick, a coastal community 480 km (300 miles) southeast of Atlanta, on February 23, 2020, when he was chased by the accused and shot dead.

Arbery did not even have his cell phone with him, Dunikoski said. The accused killed him “not because he was a threat to them, but because he did not want to stop and talk to them”, she said.

Defense attorneys argued the three men suspected Arbery had broken into a house under construction and intended to detain him until police arrived.

Security cameras recorded Arbery in the home five times between October 2019 and when he was killed. None of the videos showed Arbery stealing or damaging anything.

Prosecutors did not allege that racism motivated the murder. However, federal U.S. authorities have charged all three defendants with hate crimes, alleging that they chased and killed Arbery because he was Black.

Travis McMichael was the only defendant to take a stand. He testified that in self-defense he fired his shotgun at close range to Arbery. He called the shooting the most traumatic event of his life.

Travis McMichael also said Arbery grabbed his rifle after a five-minute chase through the accused’s mostly white neighborhood of Satilla Shores, Georgia, on February 23, 2020.

In his closing argument, Jason Sheffield, one of McMichael’s attorneys, pointed to the law enforcement training McMichael received during his nine years in the U.S. Coast Guard, where he worked as a mechanic.

Sheffield showed jurors parts of the widely-watched cellphone video that Bryan – the neighbor – made of the shooting, and it froze the moment Arbery ran to Travis McMichael, who had just aimed his shotgun at Arbery.

“There is no doubt that Ahmaud’s hands are on this gun,” said Sheffield, who argued that McMichael feared for his life at the time.

Citizen’s arrest

Sheffield said its client has no intention from the murder of Arbery until he was forced to make a life-or-death decision to defend himself.

He said residents of Satilla Shores were already nervous amid reports of thefts and suspicious people in the neighborhood when Arbery was repeatedly caught by cameras in the unfinished house.

The defense attorney Arbery called “a repeat offender who comes at a time when he has absolutely no legal reason to be there”. The act of attempting a citizen’s arrest is completely legal in Georgia, Sheffield added.

Sheffield said Arbery’s regular visits to the site made it reasonable to suspect he had stolen items from a boat that the homeowner kept in the doorless garage shortly before he installed the cameras.

Then Travis McMichael had his own “horrific experience”, Sheffield said, “when he encountered Arbery in the garden 12 days before the shooting. He out of breath told a 911 dispatcher that Arbery grabbed his pocket as if he had a gun when confronted.

“An offense has been committed, and he knows about it,” Sheffield said. “He saw everything except the hand on the equipment that was stolen.”

Prosecutor Dunikoski said the McMichaels were the initial attackers.

They and Bryan chased Arbery for five minutes, using their trucks to cut him off, run off the road and otherwise prevent him from fleeing after seeing him in their neighborhood, she said.

She repeated Gregory McMichael’s words to the local police after the shooting that Arbery had been “caught like a rat”.

Dunikoski noted that Arbery never threatened the McMichaels during the chase; he carried no weapons. “You can not bring a gun to a fist fight. That’s unfair, right? ” said the prosecutor.

She said it was Travis McMichael who attacked Arbery – first with his truck, then by aiming a shotgun at him while Arbery ran towards him. “They can not claim self-defense under the law because they were the initial, unjustified aggressors,” Dunikoski said, “and they started it.”

Closing arguments in the trial come just days after the Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal in another careful case.

Rittenhouse, 18, shot dead two men during protests and riots against police brutality in Wisconsin last year. He self-defense claimed and was acquitted on all charges Friday.

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