Jury begins deliberations in trial over Ahmaud Arbery’s murder
Brunswick, J.A.; – Prosecutors appeared before a jury for the last time Tuesday, before the commission began deliberations in the trial of three white men accused of killing Ahmoud Arbery.
The prosecution got the final say in the death of the 25-year-old black man because he bears the burden of proving his case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Prosecutor Linda Donekowski told jurors in her final closing arguments Tuesday that the three men accused of Arbery’s murder had no right to claim self-defense because they were the ones who caused a confrontation with Arbery as he ran in their area.
“You can’t claim self-defense if you’re the unwarranted aggressor,” Denikowski said. “Who started this? It wasn’t Ahmaud Arbery.”
Prosecutors and defense attorneys spent hours on Monday delivering closing arguments that stretched into the second day.
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After the prosecution concluded, Supreme Court Justice Timothy Walmsley instructed a disproportionately white jury on how to apply the law before retiring to the jury room before 11:30 a.m. at Glen County Courthouse in the coastal city of Brunswick. The deliberations began shortly before noon.
The case brought the small coastal Georgia city into the spotlight in the national media, and rows of national media cameras lined up outside the courtroom on Tuesday.
Arbery’s murder became part of a larger national account of racial injustice after a video of his death was leaked online two months later.
Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael grabbed guns and chased Arbery into a pickup truck after seeing him run through the subdivision on February 23, 2020. A neighbor, William “Rudy” Brian, joined the chase and recorded a video of Travis McMichael opening fire while Arbery threw punches and grabbed a rifle McMichael.
All three face criminal charges, including premeditated murder, false imprisonment, and aggravated assault for the murder of Arbery.
No one was charged with murder until Bryan’s video leaked and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from the local police. The three men are charged with murder and other crimes.
Dnekowski said on Tuesday that McMichaels and Brian threatened Arbery with their pickup trucks and pointing a rifle at him before the final showdown in which Arbery threw punches and grabbed the rifle.
She also said there was no evidence that Arbery committed crimes in the defendants’ neighborhood. She said he was never seen stealing anything in the five times it was caught on CCTV in an unfinished house under construction and seen running.
You have wood, you have all these things,” said Denikowski. “Mr. Arbery never shows up with a suitcase. He never pulls with a U-haul. … All he does is walk around for a few minutes and then leave.”
The prosecutor told jurors that someone could arrest a citizen only in “emergency situations” where the crime was occurring “just then and there.”
Donikowski then put two pictures on the screen – one of Arbery alive and the other dead and said the McMichaels and Brian family “turned this guy into that guy”.
Defense attorneys contested Donikowski’s explanation for the citizen’s arrest because they claimed the McMichaels family had reason to suspect Arbery had stolen items from the home. They said the owner discovered the missing items before he installed the surveillance cameras.
“This is an error of law and the argument is incorrect,” Franklin Hogg, Greg McMichael’s attorney, told the judge. “There is no way we can fix it” in front of the jury, he said, because defense attorneys finished their closing arguments on Monday.
The judge denied the wrongful-trial request.
News4Jax met with defense attorney Kevin Gove, who is representing Brian, after jurors went behind closed doors.
“I don’t want to get a feel for the process commenting on it. We’ve got some people working really hard, trying to figure out what justice looks like in this case, so I don’t want to say anything that might interfere with that process,” Goff said.
Defense attorneys used their closing arguments Monday to argue that the McMichael family was trying to arrest a lawful citizen when they set out after Arbery, seeking his detention and questioning on suspicion of being a thief after he was seen running from a nearby home under construction.
Attorney Jason Sheffield said his client, Travis McMichael, fired his shotgun in self-defense after Arbery accused him of throwing punches and trying to seize the gun. Sheffield called Arbery’s death a tragedy, but it was his fault.
Lawyers for the other defendants also blamed Arbery. Laura Hogg, Greg McMichael’s attorney, said Arbery “chose to fight.” Gough wondered why Arbery didn’t ask for help if he was in danger.
“Maybe it’s because Mr. Arbery doesn’t want to help,” Goff said.
Walmsley’s instructions to the jury Tuesday included the explanation that “the arrest of an ordinary citizen without warrant must occur immediately after the commission of the crime, or in the case of felonies, while on the run.”
The jury’s decision depends on their interpretation of that law and whether Travis McMichael shot Arbery in self-defense.
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