The three White men charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery only pursued him through the quiet Georgia neighborhood because "he was a Black man running down the street," a prosecutor said Monday in her closing argument.
"All three of these men made assumptions, made assumptions about what was going on that day and made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveway because he was a Black man running down the street," Linda Dunikoski told jurors in the Glynn County Courthouse as Black militia groups gathered outside.
Travis McMichael, 35; his father Greg McMichael, 65; and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan are charged with murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment for the fatal shooting of Arbery Feb. 23, 2020.
Greg McMichael told investigators that he saw Arbery "hauling a—" by his house on that Sunday afternoon in Satilla Shores. He called his son, and the two men grabbed their guns, hopped in their pickup and pursued the 25-year-old, who they thought was a burglar. Bryan later joined the chase in his own truck.
During the pursuit, Greg McMichael, a retired cop, shouted "Stop or I’ll blow your f—king head off!" Dunikoski told jurors.
The young man didn’t utter a word to the men, threaten them or brandish a weapon, she said.
At the end of the chase, the McMichaels and Bryan boxed in Arbery with their trucks. Travis McMichael, a former mechanic in the U.S. Coast Guard, stepped out of the driver’s side of his idling pickup and raised his shotgun.
Arbery darted right to the other side of the vehicle then turned left toward Travis McMichael. The two tussled over the weapon and Travis McMichael opened fire, as Bryan recorded part of the deadly encounter on his cellphone.
"This was excessive force," Dunikoski said. "They attacked him, they shot and killed him. They can’t claim self defense under the law because they were the initial, unjustified aggressors."
Arbery had been captured on surveillance video on five occasions in an under-construction home in the neighborhood, and the McMichaels recognized him from the footage. There is no evidence he ever stole anything.
Travis McMichael testified last week that he was trying to make a citizen’s arrest and detain Arbery until police arrived. The law, which was largely repealed in the wake of the killing, had allowed anyone to detain a person they knew had committed a felony.
But Dunikoski described Arbery as no more than a "lookie loo" who at most was guilty of misdemeanor trespass.
Jason Sheffield, one of Travis McMichael’s attorneys, argued that Arbery was an intruder who had repeatedly returned to the under-construction home after he had been chased off the property.
The behavior unsettled an already on edge neighborhood that had recently experienced a rash of thefts and break-ins, he said.
Travis McMichael told the nearly all White jury from the witness stand that he only opened fire in self-defense after Arbery attacked him and grabbed his gun.
"It is absolutely, horrifically tragic that this has happened," Sheffield said. "This is where the law is intertwined with heartache and tragedy. You are allowed to defend yourself."
Laura Hogue, one of Greg McMichael's lawyers, said that each time Arbery entered the unoccupied home he committed burglary.
"He was a recurring nighttime intruder and that was frightening," she told jurors.
She described Arbery as the primary author of his own tragedy. He had repeatedly crept into a home that was not his then ran away. He acted erratically when approached and made unexpected and illogical decisions by charging at a man with a shotgun, she said.
Kevin Gough, Bryan's lawyer, argued that his client did not coordinate with the codefendants, was not armed and fully cooperated with investigators.
The attorney denied the prosecution's claim that Bryan had used his truck as a weapon to run Arbery off the road.
"Isn’t it time, isn’t time, ladies and gentlemen, that we send Roddie Bryan home?"
No one was charged in the shooting until Bryan’s video leaked online, sparking national outrage. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation stepped in and took over the case.
The men also face federal hate crime charges.