Deliberations began shortly before noon Tuesday following 10 days of testimony and seven hours of contentious closing arguments. After deliberating about six hours into the early evening, the jury broke for the day without reaching a verdict. Jurors resume their work Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.
In her closing argument, addressing jurors one last time, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said Travis McMichael acted out of anger, not fear, when he shot the 25-year-old from close range with his shotgun.
She repeatedly sought to poke holes in the defendants’ statements to police, arguing McMichael and his father, Greg McMichael, had no knowledge any crime had been committed when they grabbed their guns, got in a truck and chased Arbery through their neighborhood.
Arbery’s Feb. 23, 2020, killing galvanized this community of about 85,000 and beyond. It also prompted widespread protests last year and sparked numerous demonstrations outside the Glynn County courthouse.
Arbery, who was Black, was killed after being chased through the Satilla Shores neighborhood. Travis McMichael, who fired the fatal shots; Greg McMichael, a former investigator for the local district attorney’s office; and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, stand charged with murder.
The defendants — all of whom are white — contend they were justified in carrying out a citizen’s arrest when they chased Arbery, who they suspected of a prior burglary in their neighborhood.
But Dunikoski said none of them used that term during interviews with police that day. Instead, she has argued the defendants chased Arbery “because he was a Black man running down the street.”
She also accused Travis McMichael of telling “a bunch of lies” on the stand last week and asked jurors if they could believe anything else he said.
McMichael had testified he was standing at the corner of his driveway when he saw a neighbor pointing down the road where Arbery was running.
But Dunikoski played a surveillance video that showed Travis’ Ford pickup was pulling out of his driveway in pursuit of Arbery when the neighbor pointed down the street.
The McMichaels’ attorneys contend they had every right to detain Arbery for police under Georgia’s old citizen’s arrest law. The law, largely repealed because of Arbery’s death, gave private citizens the right to detain someone if they had “reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion” the person was escaping a felony.
Arbery entered a nearby home under construction on at least five occasions, including the afternoon he was killed. Surveillance footage never showed him taking anything, as Dunikoski noted in her closing remarks.
“They didn’t see him commit any crime that day,” she told the jury. “We all know he went in there and then wandered around and then came out and then ran off down the street. ... They didn’t know that.”
Credit: Surveillance photo
Credit: Surveillance photo
The prosecutor also repeated what the elder McMichael told police when he was asked what crime Arbery had committed.
“That’s just it, I don’t know,” Greg McMichael replied before recommending that officers investigate to see if Arbery had committed an offense.
That is not enough to justify a citizen’s arrest, Dunikoski said.
She also accused the defense of victim-blaming during their closing arguments the previous day. The McMichaels’ attorneys referred to Arbery as a “nighttime intruder” and a burglar, insinuating he wouldn’t have been killed if he hadn’t charged at the shotgun-wielding Travis.
“It’s the victim’s fault. I know you’re not going to buy into that,” Dunikoski said. “It’s offensive.”
Bryan, who recorded the video of Arbery’s shooting, played a “substantial and necessary part” in causing Arbery’s death, Dunikoski said. By repeatedly cutting Arbery off, forcing him into a ditch and preventing him from escaping the neighborhood, he directed him back into the path of the McMichaels’ truck, she argued.
Arbery, who was unarmed and without a cellphone, was under no obligation to stop for strangers, she said.
“He ignores them, basically telling them, ‘I’m not doing it.’ And It starts escalating. They start getting mad,” Dunikoski said. “What right did they have to go ahead and demand a fellow citizen stop and talk to them, and then use pickup trucks to try and cut him off and force him to be detained? ... None whatsoever.”
Arbery, she said, didn’t have to do anything but walk away. “In this case he ran away,” Dunikoski said. “And then they chased him.”
Each defendant faces nine charges, including malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment, and one count of criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Dunikoski told the jury to hold the men “accountable and responsible for their actions.”
She showed the panel side-by-side photos of Arbery, one of him smiling and another of him lying dead in the street.
“When you come back with your guilty verdict, all you’re doing is telling them, ‘we know what you did,’” Dunikoski said. “You turned this young man into that young man ... for no good reason at all.”
Outside the courthouse, Arbery’s mother praised the case put together by prosecutors and said she’s hopeful the jury will convict all three defendants.
“God has brought us this far and he’s not going to fail us now,” said Wanda Cooper-Jones. “We will get justice for Ahmaud.”