GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. - Attorneys are giving their closing arguments in the murder trial of three Georgia men charged in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, whose death became part of a broader reckoning on racial injustice in the criminal legal system.
After more than 20 witnesses and investigators have taken the stand in Glynn County, prosecutors and defense attorneys were expected to spend hours making their final cases to the disproportionately white jury.
The jurors heard 10 days of trial testimony that concluded last week, not long after the man who shot Arbery testified he pulled the trigger in self-defense.
Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael grabbed guns and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck after spotting the 25-year-old Black man running in their neighborhood on Feb. 23, 2020. A neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, joined the chase and recorded video of Travis McMichael opening fire as Arbery threw punches and grabbed for his shotgun.
In the state's closing argument, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said the defendants don't have proof that Arbery was behind recent crimes in their neighborhood. Dunikoski's statement attempted to poke holes in the idea that the defendants were executing a citizen's arrest.
"This was not a citizen's arrest," Dunikoski said. "Not present when any crime was committed. The suggestion Ahmaud committed a crime was based on what? Not immediate knowledge. Speculation."
The defense attorney for Travis McMichael, Jason Sheffield, told the jury the actions his client took were not racially motivated and that a series of incidents in the Brunswick, Georgia, neighborhood led up to McMichael mobilizing.
"Reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion; facts and circumstances to warrant a prudent person, one taking care to understand the truth in believing the suspect has committed the offense of burglary," Sheffield said. "Travis believes he's committed the offense of burglary. The facts necessary to establish probable cause for arrest and less than those required to prove guilt, beyond a reasonable doubt."
Attorneys for Greg McMichael said there was no reason for Arbery to be in the neighborhood in the first place.
The attorney for Bryan said his client was trying to help and never intended to hurt Arbery.
Judge Walmsley instructed jurors to deliberate in an internal room in the courthouse after protests sparked outside the courthouse. Walmsley stated for the record that was not for the jury's safety but to shield the jury from hearing the noise of protestors outside.
"What I heard was apparently right as I went in the room a group was on the side of the building," Walmsley said. "I understand the concern and understanding where we are in the case thaught I would put in on the record this is what we're doing."
No one was charged in the killing until Bryan’s video leaked online two months later and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police. All three men face counts of murder, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment.
If convicted, each man could face life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Friday, one of the three defense attorneys moved for a mistrial, due to what he called "intimidation" from Black faith leaders sitting in the courtroom and demonstrators outside the courthouse.
"This is what a public lynching looks like in the 21st century, will all due respect," Attorney Kevin Gough said.
But prosecutors argue that there is no evidence that the jury has been influenced in any way.
The state will go first in their closing arguments, arguing in part that Arbery was chased, trapped, and killed while going out for a run on a public street. Afterward, the three different defense attorneys will each make their own arguments.
"there's absolutely no evidence here that the jurors have been influenced in any way.
What's known about Ahmaud Arbery's death
A police report from the Glynn County Police Department says a man and his son, frustrated by a string of burglaries and break-ins in their neighborhood, decided to take matters in their own hands.
The men saw Arbery running through the Satilla Shores subdivision and considered him suspicious, a report says. They armed themselves and pursued him. Gregory McMichael, who it was later discovered has ties to the Glynn County District Attorney's Office, told police that Arbery and Travis fought over his son’s shotgun and his son fired two shots, killing Arbery.
Information that unfolded after the incident revealed Arbery was unarmed.
It was later discovered a man named William "Roddie" Bryan allegedly joined the chase and eventually cut off Arbery's route in a vehicle before he was shot and killed.
No one was arrested or charged for months after the shooting occurred.
Suspects: Gregory and Travis McMichael, William "Roddie" Bryan
Greg McMichael is a retired investigator for former Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson. He retired in 2019. Phone records introduced in court show he called Johnson and left her a voicemail after the shooting. Johnson said she recused her office from the case immediately because of its relationship with Greg McMichael.
The McMichaels’ attorneys' offered the explanation that their clients pursued Arbery because they suspected he was a burglar.
Security cameras had previously recorded Arbery entering a home under construction.
Attorneys for Travis McMichael shot Arbery while fearing for his life as they grappled over a shotgun.
Greg and Travis McMichael were arrested in May 2020, several months after the shooting took place after a GBI investigation concluded there was evidence for charges against them.
William "Roddie" Bryan followed the chase and recorded a video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery. Bryan was arrested weeks after the McMichaels.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.