BRUNSWICK, Georgia – Jurors in the trial of the three men charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery began deliberating just before noon on Tuesdayafter the lawyers have made their pleadings.
How the almost all-white panel decides a verdict may ultimately depend on how it views Travis McMichael, who shot Arbery and was the only defendant to testify.
“If the jury thinks that (Travis) McMichael was justified in using lethal force, then I also don’t think they will convict his father, nor for that matter the other accused,” Timothy Floyd, law professor at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, told USA TODAY. Floyd followed the trial.
Twelve jurors will decide whether McMichael, his father, Gregory and William “Roddie” Bryan are guilty of murder and other crimes in the death of the 25-year-old black man on February 23, 2020.
Lawyers for the McMichaels said the father and son were trying to detain Arbery for the police because they believed he was responsible for the robbery of a neighbor’s house and that Travis shot him in self-defense during the ‘a fight over his shotgun. Bryan’s lawyer maintains that he was only a witness to the homicide that filmed the shooting.
What there is to know:Lawyers plead Monday
Who is on the jury? 12 people will decide the fate of 3 men accused of the murder of Arbery
The prosecution, meanwhile, argued that the men saw a black man running around their neighborhood and pursued him with weapons without “immediate knowledge” that he had committed a crime – a condition for proceeding. to an arrest by a citizen. While the arrest was not lawful, prosecutors said they could not claim self-defense.
Although Arbery’s death fueled nationwide protests of racial justiceLast year, race was not a key part of the prosecution or defense arguments. But race was at the center of the lawsuit: The judge recognized “intentional discrimination” in the jury selection process, and more than 100 black pastors converged on the courthouse after Bryan’s lawyer argued that the presence of civil rights figures in the courtroom was intimidating for the jury. .
In her final plea on Tuesday morning, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski told jurors the defendants cannot claim self-defense because they initiated the confrontation.
“Who started this? It wasn’t Ahmaud Arbery,” she said.
Here are the key moments of the trial:
Prosecutions: the defense “completely invented” the request for the arrest of a citizen with a view to a trial
The McMichaels and Bryans were charged with malicious murder and felony, two counts of aggravated assault and one count of forcible confinement and felony attempt to commit forcible confinement. Both murder charges could carry a life sentence and the defendants would be sentenced on the more serious charge.
For eight days, the prosecution showed surveillance video, made 911 calls and called 23 witnesses, including neighbors and several law enforcement officials, to support their argument that the men had no evidence. that Arbery had committed a crime and had no intention of stopping Arbery when they jumped. in trucks to pursue him.
Argument that the McMichaels were attempting to place Arbery under citizen arrest was “completely fabricated for trial” as they never told police it was their intention, Dunikoski said .
“They cannot claim self-defense under the law because they were the first wrongful aggressors,” she said Monday.
Ron Carlson, a University of Georgia law professor who followed the trial, said Dunikoski had done an effective job of illustrating this point with “damaging” statements the defendants made to police.
Several investigators testified that Gregory McMichael said he did not know if Arbery was armed, where he was fleeing or if he had taken something from a neighbor’s construction site. Witnesses, including this neighbor, told the court they were unaware Arbery had ever taken anything from the house under construction where he was seen on surveillance video.
Meanwhile, Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney, argued on Monday that his client had not “tricked” or wrongly jailed Arbery, there was no evidence to show he attempted to assault Arbery with his truck, and Bryan might have even tried to abandon the chase at some point.
But investigators said Bryan told police he blocked, cornered and cut Arbery during the chase, supporting the state’s false imprisonment charge. Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents testified that an Arbery palm print and white cotton fibers consistent with Arbery’s T-shirt were found on Bryan’s truck, proof state of aggravated assault with motor vehicle charge.
“Part of the defense team’s conviction came from the defendants’ own mouths,” Carlson said.
‘I’m not well. I just killed someone ‘:Ahmaud Arbery murder jury hears first words after shooting
Travis McMichael made the ‘very risky’ decision to testify on self-defense
Defense attorneys spent two days interviewing seven witnesses, including the accused Travis McMichael who repeatedly stressed that the “totality of the circumstances” and his training in law enforcement in the US Coast Guard gave him a probable reason to suspect Arbery of having committed a crime, to pursue him and to shoot him. in self-defense.
“The whole defense case rests on Travis’s shoulders,” Carlson said. “Whether the jury believes it or not will be a real key to deciding this case.”
McMichael’s decision to testify was “very risky” because the jury might not find him credible, Floyd told USA TODAY.
“Usually, if an accused testifies, it is because the accused or his lawyers have decided that if the accused does not testify, there is a very good chance of being convicted,” he said.
On the day of the shooting, McMichael said his father saw Arbery running and identified him as “the same guy” Travis saw “hiding” outside the neighbor’s house about two weeks earlier. McMichael said he grabbed his gun and chased Arbery so he could talk to him and tell police his location.
At the time, Georgia allowed individuals to detain someone if a crime was committed in their presence or if they had “immediate knowledge” of a crime. The governor signed a repeal of the law after Arbery’s death.
After facing several hours of questioning from his lawyer, McMichael broke down at the stand when describing the moment he shot Arbery. McMichael said Arbery hit him and was afraid Arbery would shoot him or his father.
“It was obvious he was attacking me, that if he got the shotgun from me it was a life and death situation,” McMichael said. “So I shot.”
Georgian law allows the use of lethal force if a person has reasonable grounds to believe that he or someone else is about to be killed or seriously injured, unless the person using lethal force is not the initial aggressor.
“If you are claiming self-defense, you have to convince the jury that there was no alternative to lethal force,” Floyd said. “A lot of people think the jury’s not really going to believe this.”
The video was the “most important witness”
Jurors repeatedly viewed cell phone video and stills of the shooting as lawyers presented their arguments on what happened in the crucial moments that were being concealed.
Bryan’s cell phone video was “the most important witness in the case,” Carlson said.
Ahmaud Arbery video:Legal experts explain how keyframes can be used in murder trial
“The presence of the video will resolve a lot of the concerns and doubts that jurors have one way or another,” Carlson said, adding that he did not expect long deliberation.
In the short clip taken by Bryan, a white van blocks the view of the start of the fight between Arbery and Travis McMichael. The men come out of the screen and a gunshot is heard. Arbery and Travis McMichael are next seen with their hands on a weapon tilted upward, towards Arbery.
The fight is out of sight again and Gregory McMichael is seen in the back of the truck. A second shot is heard and the camera returns to the fight where Arbery throws punches. A third shot is heard and Arbery falls to the ground.
Racial dynamics were at play inside and outside the Georgia courtroom
Race was at the center of the case from the start, with several public figures calling the murder a “lynching” and potential jurors questioned about Black Lives Matter and the Confederate Flag.
The demographics of the jury drew negative reactions and Judge Timothy Walmsley admitted “intentional discrimination” in the extremely slow jury selection process. The final jury is made up of 12 jurors and three alternates: 11 white women, three white men and one black man.
Although prosecutors have mentioned race on occasion, those jurors did not hear testimony focused on racial issues in the case. Prosecutors have not asked about Travis McMichael who allegedly used a racial slur as he stood over Arbery’s body, a claim denied by his lawyers.
Floyd said Dunikoski may have thought it was “a bit risky” to ask about Travis McMichael allegedly using a racial slur as he stood over Arbery’s body, a claim denied by his lawyers. Prosecutors did not need to prove that the defendants were motivated by racial animosity because they are not the subject of state hate crime charges.
“If you think there is a good chance that the trial judge will declare the trial set aside or that the appellate court will overturn, or if you think you are going to get a conviction anyway, it may be safer not to ask questions about it, ”he said. .