LIVE UPDATES: State, defense present closing arguments in Arbery murder trial

Travis McMichael sits with his attorneys before the start of closing arguments to the jury during the trial of he, and his father Greg McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan, at the Glynn County Courthouse, Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. The three men charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool)
Caption
Travis McMichael sits with his attorneys before the start of closing arguments to the jury during the trial of he, and his father Greg McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan, at the Glynn County Courthouse, Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. The three men charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

State prosecutors and defense attorneys are delivering their closing arguments Monday in the trial of the three men charged in the death of Ahmaud Arbery. The closing arguments come after two weeks of testimony from 30 witnesses — seven from the defense, and 23 from the state.

Arbery was shot and killed on Feb. 23, 2020 after being chased through the Satilla Shores neighborhood outside coastal Brunswick in Glynn County. Travis McMichael, who shot Arbery twice with a shotgun, his father Greg McMichael, who initiated the chase, and their neighbor Roddie Bryan all face murder charges in the death.

The attorneys for the McMichaels and Bryan contend the three men were attempting to make a lawful citizen’s arrest because they suspected Arbery of entering a vacant home under construction. The state has pushed back against those claims, saying Arbery never took anything from the house.

Here is the latest from the courtroom:

[4:56 p.m.]: Court is in recess until 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Linda Dunikoski will give her final word at that time.

[4:40 p.m.]: Gough has completed his closing argument. The court is entering a 15-minute recess to discuss scheduling issues.

[4:15 p.m.]: Gough argues that his client fired no shots, was not the direct cause of Arbery’s death, and cannot be convicted of murder.

[3:21 p.m.]: Kevin Gough took a moment to express thanks to Bryan, the court and his opposing counsel.

“As I walk through the front doors of the courthouse every day, I am reminded what an honor and a privilege it has been,” he says.

He then begins recounting what the world looked like on Feb. 23, 2020.

[3:05 p.m.]: Gough opens with the question: “When did Roddie Bryan know the McMichael’s brought guns?”

He questions how Byran could have known that Travis McMichael would shoot and kill Ahmaud Arbery. He says there was nothing his client could have done to prevent “this tragedy.”

“It is in good time that we send Roddie Bryan home,” he says.

Gough says his client is quiet and keeps to himself. He says Bryan is just a “guy.”

“He is not loud or boisterous,” Gough says. “He is not an attention seeker.”

[3:02 p.m.]: The jury is reentering the courtroom following a recess. Attorney Kevin Gough will give his closing argument.

[2:36 p.m.]: Hogue has completed her closing argument. The jury is leaving the courtroom.

Kevin Gough has raised a motion for a mistrial. The basis of the motion concerns the presence of the New Black Panther Party outside of the courthouse. The judge has denied the motion for a mistrial.

The court is entering a 15-minute recess.

[2:25 p.m.]: During her closing, Hogue says she’s going to raise another concern to the jury. She says she noted that during testimony, Dunikoski introduced several photos showing McMichael with different people at the scene. She says she has a suspicion the state will use them to suggest that McMichael manipulated the facts and witnesses while at the scene.

She says so many of the interactions were captured on video that there is enough evidence to suggest that none of the interactions McMichael had with others were efforts by him to manipulate anything.

[2:20 p.m.]: Hogue says she’s worried the state will cherry-pick their argument.

“Context determines meaning,” she says.

[2:09 p.m.]: Hogue says there was no “legitimate reason” for Arbery to have been in Larry English’s house on four occasions.

“He was a recurring nighttime intruder,” she says. “And that was frightening.”

[1:58 p.m.]: “The truth of life is it’s very complicated,” Hogue says. “A beautiful teenager with a broad smile and a tipped baseball cap can go astray.”

She adds: “And years later, he can be creeping into a home that is not his own and running away instead of facing the consequences.”

The defense attorney says Arbery was not an “innocent victim.” She says turning Arbery into a victim “after the choices that he made does not reflect” what brought him into Satilla Shores.

[1:50 p.m.]: Hogue says the painful beauty of this case is that “almost all of it is reported.”

“Security videos from outside people’s homes, difficult to listen to 911 tapes,” and the video of Arbery’s death are all available to us, she says.

“So you know, that the very first words out of Greg McMichael’s mouth were that there was ‘no doubt’ in his mind of who this was,” she says.

[1:47 p.m.]: Hogue says the state has to prove to the jury that Arbery’s death was not the result of a citizen’s arrest and that Travis McMichael was not justified in defending himself.

“You have to have no hesitation, no ambivalence, absolute certainty,” she says. “Because the stakes are as high as they come. It’s the highest level of proof we ever asked for.”

[1:36 p.m.]: Hogue says Larry English was a contractor who had worked to provide his family with a safe, secure home. When he and his wife retired, they began “working on their dream home” in Satilla Shores.

“We work hard for our stuff. It’s ours and no one has the right to take it. And we should never ever have to fear,” she says.

She says police can be counted on to respond, but they can’t be everywhere. Therefore, a good neighborhood is always policing itself.

She says there are two questions the jurors must answer to reach a verdict in the charges against her client, Greg McMichael: Did he have reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion that Ahmaud Arbery had committed burglary, and did he have reasonable and probable grounds that Arbery was trying to escape.

“It’s a nine-count indictment. So why only two questions?” she says.

She suggests to the jurors that they start at the beginning, with the charge of malice murder.

“What’s so different about count one is that it’s malice murder. It requires the desire and intention to take the life of another human being,” she says.

She says the state will have the jurors believe that Greg McMichael had the desire to have Arbery die for no other reason than to see that and to see him die at the hands of his own son and to do it right there in front of his eyes.”

[1:35 p.m.]: The court has returned from its lunch recess. The jury is seated and defense attorney Laura Hogue has begun presenting her closing argument.

[12:30 p.m.]: Sheffield reference’s McMichael’s experience as a law enforcement officer in the U.S. Coast Guard. He says during that time, McMichael worked on search and rescue missions.

Now, he says, his client is the one that needs help. He says his role is to dive into the “icy waters” and bring the truth to the surface.

The court has entered a recess.

[12:19 p.m.] Sheffield says after the fatal shooting, his client was terrified. He notes other witnesses who took the stand said he seemed “discombobulated.”

“If this was a case about wanting to murder a Black jogger, if this was really about that, Travis would not have looked the way he looked,” Sheffield says.

During his presentation, Sheffield shows still photos of the shooting that left Arbery dead. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, left the room when they were displayed.

[12:11 p.m.]: Sheffield says when McMichael got out of the car, armed with his shotgun, and saw Arbery running through Satilla Shores during the chase, he had one thought in his mind: “Please turn.”

The attorney says his client hoped that Arbery would turn down a street and continue running away. He says McMichael hope that he would not have to have direct contact with Arbery, and kept thinking to himself: “Please turn. Please turn.”

“And then Ahmaud takes that turns,” he says. But, Sheffield says, it is not the turn his client wanted Arbery to take. When Arbery turns, he is running right toward McMichael.

At that point, McMichael had a different thought in his mind. He thought of his 3-year-old son.

When Arbery charged at him, Sheffield says, the two men began struggling over the gun. Sheffield says McMichael shot Arbery during the struggling, believing it was necessary to protect his own life.

[11:46 a.m.]: Sheffield says the state has contended that McMichael acted on the unsupported statements of his mother when he grew concerned about crime and ultimately chased Arbery down in Satilla Shores.

“Are you kidding?” he says. “After all that he has seen?”

He adds that his client had had several personal experiences with crime in the neighborhood and had had a frightening interaction with Arbery, which left him with the belief that Arbery could be involved in the crimes.

“This is what he carried with him when he left his driveway that day,” he says.

[11:42 a.m.]: Sheffield says there is “no evidence” that Ahmaud Arbery exercised in the Satilla Shores neighborhood. He says no one testified to Arbery ever jogging in the neighborhood.

[11:37 a.m.]: “Travis is thinking about Ahmaud Arbery,” Sheffield says. “He is thinking about what must be in Ahmaud’s mind to try to figure some things out.”

[11:30 a.m.]: Sheffield tells the jury about an interaction McMichael had with Arbery on Feb. 11, 2020 at English’s home under construction. During the interaction, Arbery reached into his pocket as if he had a gun, Sheffield says.

He says the interaction itself scared his client, but a video of Arbery walking nonchalantly around the house afterward was especially unsettling for him. Sheffield says his client found Arbery bold after the seeing the video and begin to feel that he could be dangerous.

[11:22 a.m.]: Sheffield says burglary is the unlawful entry of “any house or structure which is designed or intended for occupancy for residential use.”

“This ‘unoccupied, unsecured construction site is not the same thing as Larry English’s residence that’s being built,” he says. “That’s a term that the state continues to use.”

[11:18 a.m.]: Sheffield McMichael testified that he noticed changes in his “once-idyllic neighborhood,” Satilla Shores outside coastal Brunswick.

“This neighborhood was being covered in suspicious persons,” he says, adding that there had been an increase in neighborhood watches and police patrols. “It was everywhere.”

Sheffield says several people in the neighborhood had been victimized by crime and were “very scared. And so they took it upon themselves to do something about it.”

[11:14 a.m.]: Sheffield has begun his closing argument. He says: “This case is about three things. It’s about watching. It’s about waiting. It’s about believing.”

Sheffield, an attorney defending Travis McMichael, says his client spent years training in those things as a part of his duty and responsibility to his family and community.

[11:11 a.m.]: Upon reviewing some of the slides in Sheffield’s presentation, the judge has partially sustained Dunikoski’s objection. Walmsley is allowing Sheffield to use much of the presentation. The state has agreed to raise objections as the slides are viewed, rather than viewing the entirety of the defense’s slide show. The jury is being brought back into the courtroom.

[11:00 a.m.]: Court is back in session. Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski has raised concerns over defense attorney Jason Sheffield’s slide show presentation for the jury, which she says contains photos and graphics that were not tendered into evidence and were not included during testimony. Sheffield says the graphics pertain to Travis McMichael’s training, which he testified to on the stand.

The presentation is being discussed.

[10:42 a.m.]: The state has completed its closing argument. The court has entered a 15-minute recess.

[10:38 a.m.]: Dunikoski says while committing a citizen’s arrest, a private person can’t act on the “unsupported statements” of other people.”

“What does that mean? No gossip. No hearsay. Nothing along those lines,” she says.

[10:37 a.m.]: “This is the bottom line,” Dunikoski says. “This was an attack on Ahmaud Arbery. They committed the crimes. They committed the four felonies. They attacked him and they killed him.”

[10:27 a.m.]: Dunikoski says that in order to use force against another person, one must reasonably believe that the force is required. That means Travis McMichael had to believe that it was “absolutely necessary to defend himself,” she says.

“Guess who this stand applies to. Take one guess,” she says. “Everybody. It applies to everybody.”

She says that society sets the standard for what is “reasonable,” therefore the jury must decide if McMichael’s actions were reasonable.

And she adds: “Who brought the shotgun to the party? Who took the shotgun out of the car? Who pointed the shotgun?”

Dunikoski contends that one cannot create a situation where danger exists and then argue that they were defending themself from that same danger.

“Basically, you cannot make the danger to yourself,” she says. “That means you cannot be the initial aggressor. We can’t create the situation and then go ‘I was defending myself.’”

[10:12 a.m.]: Dunikoski says during the chase, the McMichaels and Bryan created a fear in Arbery that he was in danger and would be hurt. She notes the men were in pickup trucks while Arbery was running, and the defendants were armed and the 25-year-old was not.

“Look at what Travis McMichael said,” she tells the jurors. “‘I just pulled up next to him. No, I didn’t startle him. He wasn’t afraid of me.’ Do you believe any of that stuff?”

[10:08 a.m.]: Dunikoski then speaks about the false imprisonment charge the McMichaels and Bryan face. She says the three men had no legal authority to imprison Arbery on Holmes Road during the chase on Feb. 23, 2020.

“Travis McMichael says he was pinned between the two trucks,” she says. “Greg McMichael says he was trapped like a rat between the two trucks. The ultimate false imprisonment. He never left Holmes (Road).”

[9:57 a.m.]: Dunikoski asks the jury to consider the credibility of the McMichaels. She asks them to consider if Travis McMichael, who took the stand in his own defense, can be trusted in his testimony as to what he was thinking and feeling 18 months ago on the day Arbery was killed.

“So then you’ve got to think to yourself, ‘OK, what’s going on in their heads?’ There’s a dead man in the street,” she says.

Dunikoski says the jury has a duty to determine the credibility of witnesses who took the stand. She says they must choose who they believe.

“Let’s talk about some of the defense witnesses,” she says. “Annabelle Beasley. What did she do when she got off the stand? She walked over there and waved at them. I mean, I know you saw that, right?”

She then references other defense witnesses, who she says were familiar with the defendants.

“Team McMicheal,” she says.

“Their interest or lack of interest in the outcome of this case means they have something to gain or lose by coming in here,” she says. “Their personal credibility as you observe it, that’s for you to decide.”

[9:50 a.m.]: Dunikoski says a citizen’s arrest legally must be based on the immediate knowledge that a crime has been committed.

“Wanting to question Ahmaud demonstrates uncertainty,” she says. She adds that the McMichaels did not know whether a crime had been committed at all, let alone if Arbery had committed it.

“They don’t know what he’s done. They don’t know why he’s out there running. They don’t have immediate knowledge,” she says.

[9:46 a.m.]: Dunikoski says in order for a citizen’s arrest to be lawful, the person attempting to execute it has to have witnessed a crime happening.

“‘A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence,’” she says, citing the recently repealed Georgia law. “Right here, right now. I’m seeing you do it. Right here, right now, watching and witnessing it. You’re doing it in my presence. So what’s the problem with that defense?”

According to Dunikoski, the issue with the defense lies in the fact that none of the three defendants had witnessed a crime taking place.

[9:44 a.m.]: The state argues that the defendants were not making a lawful citizen’s arrest when they were pursuing Arbery, therefore they were the initial aggressors. The initial aggressor in an incident cannot argue self-defense, she says.

“The bottom line is, but for their actions, but for their decisions, but for their choices, Ahmaud Arbery would be alive,” she says.

Dunikoski says the defense will try to convince the jury that Arbery was an aggressor in order to justify the actions of the defendants.

“They want you to believe that he is the danger to them,” she says.

[9:39 a.m.]: Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski is presenting the state’s closing argument.

“This case is really about assumptions and driveway decisions,” she says. “Now, you heard the defense talk about ‘probable cause.’ You’re going to have to distinguish between assumptions based on rumor and all this neighborhood talk on Facebook.”

Dunikoski says the defense is going to attempt to build the claim that the McMichaels and Bryan were trying to commit a lawful citizen’s arrest when they were chasing Arbery and that he was shot in self-defense.

“So what’s going on here?” she says. “You know what’s really going on here. Mr. Arbery was under attack. They committed four felonies against him. And then they shot him. Not because he had done anything to them. But because he wouldn’t stop and talk to them.”

[9:36 a.m.]: The jury is being brought into the courtroom. The state will begin its closing argument.

[9:27 a.m.]: After hearing arguments against the motion for severance from state prosecutor Ollivierre and additional arguments for severance from Gough, Walmsley says he will “have to look at it.”

[9:20 a.m.]: Judge Walmsley says he is concerned that the motion to sever is coming after the close of evidence in the case. He says there is very little that “hasn’t been addressed by this court in an evidentiary standpoint. According to the judge, the motion is untimely.

[9:19 a.m.]: Gough says he has formally filed a motion to sever his client. Gough argued it was over the “vigilante social media messaging that came in Thursday afternoon during the cross-examination of Travis McMichael.”

“Under the totality of circumstances, we believe that Mr. Bryan is entitled to a severance.”

The state asks the judge to deny the motion, saying there has not been a clear showing of prejudice against Gough’s client, Bryan. Bryan is the man who filmed the video of Arbery’s death at the hands of Travis McMichael.

[9:10 a.m.]: Judge Timothy Walmsley has taken the bench. State prosecutors Linda Dunikoski, Paul Camarillo and Larissa Ollivierre are present. Travis McMichael is present with his attorneys, Bob Rubin and Jason Sheffield. Greg McMichael is present with his attorneys, Laura and Frank Hogue. Roddie Bryan is present with his attorney, Kevin Gough. Court is in session.