Judge: Ahmaud Arbery’s mental health records can’t be used at trial

Ahmaud Arbery’s mental health records can’t be used as trial evidence by the white men who chased and killed the 25-year-old Black man as he was running in their neighborhood, a Georgia judge ruled Friday.

The decision by Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley further limits defense attorneys’ efforts to portray Arbery as an aggressive young man with a troubled past when the case goes to trial soon, with jury selection scheduled to start Oct. 18.

The judge ruled that Arbery's medical privacy, even in death, trumped the right of the men standing trial to a robust defense. And he concluded that a registered nurse's "highly questionable diagnosis” in 2018 that Arbery suffered from mental illness could unfairly prejudice the jury.

Prosecutors say Arbery was merely jogging on Feb. 23, 2020, when father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael armed themselves and chased Arbery in a pickup truck. A neighbor who joined the chase, William “Roddie” Bryan, took cellphone video that showed Travis McMichael fatally shooting Arbery as he threw punches and grabbed for McMichael's shotgun.

The McMichaels and Bryan were arrested and charged with murder after the video was leaked online more than two months later, on May 5. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case the next day and swiftly arrested all three men.

Defense attorneys argue the McMichaels and Bryan committed no crimes. They say the McMichaels suspected Arbery was a burglar after he was recorded by video cameras inside a home under construction. Travis McMichael’s lawyers say he shot Arbery in self-defense.

A month ago, the judge dealt another setback to the defendants when he ruled off-limits evidence of Arbery’s past run-ins with law enforcement, including two arrests. Defense attorneys hoped to use that evidence to cast doubt on prosecutors’ contention that Arbery was an innocent jogger and to bolster their argument that the white men reasonably suspected Arbery had committed a crime when they chased him.