Prosecutor says defendants attacked Arbery because he was ‘a Black man running down the street’

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The three white men charged with murder in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery made the decision to “attack” because Arbery “was a Black man running down the street,” not because he was a threat, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said Monday during closing arguments.  

“Mr. Arbery was under attack,” Dunikoski told jurors, adding that the defendants were not justified in chasing and killing Arbery.

Travis McMichael; his father, Gregory McMichael; and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan are accused of pursuing Arbery in separate pickup trucks on Feb. 23, 2020, through the Satilla Shores neighborhood where they lived in Brunswick, Georgia. Travis McMichael shot Arbery, 25, with a shotgun at close range. Bryan filmed the fatal encounter on his cellphone. 

The three defendants were arrested months later after the video leaked and brought the world’s attention to the case.

All are charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony. They face up to life in prison if convicted.

Closing arguments in the case began Monday.

Defense lawyers have said that the defendants suspected that Arbery was a burglar and that they were attempting to carry out a citizen’s arrest, which was legal at the time. They also contend that Travis McMichael shot Arbery in self-defense. 

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Dunikoski said Monday that the three defendants committed four felonies against Arbery and then “they shot and killed him. Not because he’s a threat to them, but because he wouldn’t stop and talk to them.”

She said the defense was going to try to convince jurors that Arbery was the attacker and somehow a threat to the men.

“Three-on-one, two pickup trucks, two guns,” she said of the defendants. “Mr. Arbery, nothing in his pockets. Not a cellphone, not a gun. Not even an ID,” she said.

“If you are the initial unjustified aggressor, you don’t get to claim self defense,” she said.  

Dunikoski also said the defendants were not conducting a “citizen’s arrest” because they did not see Arbery commit a crime in their presence that day and they had no immediate knowledge that Arbery had committed a crime.

“The suggestion that Ahmaud committed a crime is based on what? Not immediate knowledge, but speculation,” she said.

Defense attorneys have said the men were protecting a neighborhood that had seen a rise in crime.

“A good neighborhood is always policing itself,” Laura Hogue, an attorney for Gregory McMichael told jurors during closing arguments. Each defendant has his own defense team.

Jason Sheffield, who represents Travis McMichael, said Monday that his client had “the right to perform a citizen’s arrest” and believed Arbery committed the crime of burglary. 

Arbery had been spotted several times on security camera video at a nearby home under construction. The videos never showed Arbery taking anything from the property.

“You do have the right to have a firearm when you make an arrest,” Sheffield said. “You do have the right to stop a person and to hold them and detain them for the police. And there is risk with that and there are tragic consequences that can come from that.”

Sheffield said Travis McMichael had his own “horrifying” experience about two weeks before the fatal shooting when he saw a man in his neighborhood “run across the street and then duck into the shadows.” Travis McMichael has said the man, who was described to police as a Black male, lifted his shirt and acted as if he was reaching for his pocket.

Sheffield said McMichael had also seen videos of a man at the home that was under construction and spoken with the man who owned the house about having property stolen from a boat.

“He’s seen everything other than the hand on the equipment that was stolen,” the attorney said.

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