Defenses begin today in trial in the case of Ahmed Arbery’s murder

Defenses begin today in trial in the case of Ahmed Arbery’s murder

Brunswick, J.A.; Defense attorneys now have their turn in the murder trial of three white men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery, a black man seen jogging in their southeastern Georgia neighborhood last year.

The plaintiffs rested their case on Tuesday afternoon, eight days after the testimony of 23 witnesses.

Supreme Court Justice Timothy Walmsley told a disproportionately white jury that defense attorneys for the three men would begin presenting their cases Wednesday morning in Glen County Courthouse in the coastal city of Brunswick, where prominent civil rights leaders joined Arbery’s parents on the show.

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Arbery’s mother spoke after the state rested her case yesterday.

“Now is the time to hear what the defence has,” said Wanda Cooper-Jones. “And I am very excited, very eager to see what they have as a defense. Because it is clear that Ahmad was killed for no apparent reason.”

On Wednesday, lawyers began making motions of direct acquittal for several of the charges brought against their clients. The judge rejected those suggestions.

Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves and jumped in a pickup truck to chase Arbery after he drove past their home from a nearby home under construction on February 23, 2020. A neighbor, William “Rudi” Bryan, joined the chase in his own van, telling police he had tried to get Arbery out. From the road he then recorded a video on a mobile phone of Travis McMichael firing three blasts with guns before Arbery fell in the face in the street.

Brian’s attorney, Kevin Gough, delayed making an opening statement at the start of the trial so he could address the jury after the prosecution’s rest.

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Gough made headlines several times during the murder trial. It was Gough who said he didn’t want “more black priests to come here,” saying their presence might affect the jury. He later apologized for those comments.

After the statement drew widespread attention, civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson came to town and was seen sitting with Arbery’s parents inside the courtroom.

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Gough filed a motion to ban, in his words, “any other conduct that might affect jurors that might interfere with a fair trial,” and demanded that the trial be called off shortly after 11 a.m. Wednesday, citing again the presence of priests in the courtroom, and referring directly to Jackson who was present. This time, defense attorney Jason Sheffield said he believed they should be moved to the general overflow room because their presence was part of a larger national conversation. The judge denied the trial error.

Walmsley said several times that he would not prevent any particular group from being in the courtroom.

In his opening statement on Wednesday, Gough said his client was minding his own business on the day Arbery died and was working on the front porch when Arbery passed near his house with a pickup truck following him. Gough shared photos from Brian’s front porch security camera showing what happened in the seconds after seeing Arbery pass his house, along with the truck trying to catch him. He said that this video is one piece of evidence that separates his client from the McMichaels.

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“Mr. Bryan walks into his garage. He doesn’t run. He does so without a gun. He has a hammer on the front porch. He leaves behind the hammer. He walks into his house quietly and gets his keys back. Actions are louder than words. Evidence shows that Mr. Brian was carrying a gun.” At his home on the day of the shooting, Mr. Brian did not get his gun back. “He didn’t get his gun,” Gough said.

During Wednesday morning, the judge took all the defendants an oath, then asked them brief questions to make sure they understood their rights if any of them chose to testify in their own defense. None of them directly indicated whether they were planning to take the stand.

Arbery, 25, had attended a technical college and was preparing to study to become an electrician like his uncles when he was murdered.

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The McMichael family told police they suspected Arbery was a thief because security cameras recorded him multiple times in an unfinished house on their street. Defense attorneys said Travis McMichael opened fire in self-defense after Arbery attacked him with punches and an attempt to seize his rifle.

Their defense largely focuses on the then Georgia Citizens Detention Act. This law has since been repealed, but the defense is able to cite it because it was in effect at the time of the shooting.

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