Nov 5, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Opening arguments begin in trial of Ahmaud Arbery's accused killers

Lawyer with pointer gesturing to map on screen in courtroom

District attorney Linda Dunikoski makes her opening statement in the trial of three men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery. Photo: Octavio Jones-Pool/Getty Images

The opening arguments and first presentations of evidence began Friday in the trial of the three white men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, on a coastal Georgia street.

Details: Travis McMichael, who shot Arbery, his father, Gregory McMichael, who was also pursuing Arbery with a gun, and their neighbor William Bryan, who joined in the chase and took the video of Arbery’s death, face nine criminal counts individually and together, including malice and felony murder charges.

  • All three have pleaded not guilty.
  • The 12-person jury includes 11 white people and 1 Black person, a makeup that Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said might have been “intentional discrimination” on the part of defense attorneys but that he could not change due to limitations under state law.
  • Glynn County, Georgia, where the crime took place, is 27% Black and 69% white.

Senior assistant district attorney Linda Dunikoski told jurors on Friday that the defendants “assumed the worst about Ahmaud Arbery” and “trapped him like a rat between two pickup trucks.”

  • “The evidence the state expects to show at trial is that this was an attack on Mr. Arbery … and the only thing that Mr. Arbery did was to run away,” Dunikoski said.
“In this case, all three defendants did what they did based on assumptions. Not on facts, not on evidence, but assumptions."
— Linda Dunikoski, senior assistant district attorney, Cobb County DA's office

The defense argued that the McMichaels' believed they had “probable cause” to conduct a “citizen’s arrest” of Arbery for a suspected burglary in a nearby house.

  • Arbery’s death was a result of “self-defense” on the part of Travis McMichael, according to his lawyer:
"This case is about duty and responsibility," the defense attorney said. "It's about Travis McMichael's duty and responsibility to himself, to his family, and to his neighborhood."
— Robert Rubin, defense attorney for Travis McMichael

A former Georgia law allowed one citizen to arrest another if a crime was committed “in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.”

  • The law was repealed in Arbery’s name earlier this year, but it was on the books at the time of Arbery’s death.

Of note: Arbery’s parents, Marcus Arbery and Wanda Cooper-Jones, attended Friday's proceedings. When the state showed jurors the video of their son’s death, Marcus Arbery left the courtroom, saying, “I don’t want to see this.” Cooper-Jones sobbed while remaining seated, according to pool reports.

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