In Trial’s Opening Statement, Prosecutor Says Ahmaud Arbery Was ‘Under Attack’

The prosecution detailed how three defendants chased Mr. Arbery in two pickup trucks and the confrontation that ended with his death.,


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In her opening statement, the lead prosecutor says Ahmaud Arbery was ‘under attack.’

“All three of these defendants did everything they did based on assumptions,” a prosecutor, Linda Dunikoski, said during opening arguments on Friday. “Not on facts, not on evidence — on assumptions.”Credit…Octavio Jones/Reuters

Nov. 5, 2021, 1:23 p.m. ET

The lead prosecutor in the trial of the three white men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery said in her opening statement on Friday that Mr. Arbery was plainly “under attack” by the defendants when they chased him in trucks through their neighborhood — a chase that ended with one of the defendants, Travis McMichael, fatally shooting Mr. Arbery with his pump-action shotgun.

The prosecutor, Linda Dunikoski, said that the men had “assumed the worst” about Mr. Arbery but had no “immediate knowledge” of him committing a crime when they decided to the chase him in their trucks through their neighborhood.

“A very wise person once said, ‘Don’t assume the worst of another person’s intentions until you actually know what’s going on with them,’ ” Ms. Dunikoski told the 12-person jury, of which 11 are white and one is Black. But, she said, “all three of these defendants did everything they did based on assumptions. Not on facts, not on evidence — on assumptions. And they made decisions in their driveways based on those assumptions that took a young man’s life. And that is why we’re here.”

Ms. Dunikoski walked the jurors through the details of the afternoon of Feb. 23, 2020.

She said that Mr. Arbery, an avid runner, had gone into a house under construction in the Satilla Shores subdivision, outside of Brunswick, Ga., and noted that he had been recorded on video cameras inside the house numerous times before. But there was no evidence that he ever took anything.

The owner of the house, Larry English, had had some belongings stolen out of his boat, which was sometimes on the property. But Ms. Dunikoski said that Mr. English ended up suspecting a different man and woman — who were also captured on video — of those thefts.

The three defendants had been concerned about neighborhood break-ins. On Jan. 1, she noted, Travis McMichael’s handgun was stolen from his truck.

Ms. Dunikoski argued to the jury that Gregory McMichael, Travis’s father and a fellow defendant, had merely seen Mr. Arbery running down the street after leaving Mr. English’s house. When asked by police later if Mr. Arbery had broken into the house, Mr. McMichael said, “I don’t know.” He added, “My intention was to stop this guy so that he could be arrested or be identified at the very least.”

The prosecution’s assertion that none of the men had immediate knowledge that a crime was committed appears to be in anticipation of the likelihood that the defense will argue that the men were making a legal arrest under Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law, which was largely repealed by the state legislature after widespread outcry over Mr. Arbery’s killing. That law previously stated that a private person may arrest someone “if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.”

Ms. Dunikoski also described in detail how the two McMichaels and the third defendant, their neighbor William Bryan, chased Mr. Arbery for five minutes as he ran through their neighborhood, trying to evade them — the McMichaels in one pickup truck and Mr. Bryan in another. She said that in the midst of the chase, Travis McMichael stopped and asked Mr. Arbery, “Where you running from? What are you doing?” Mr. Arbery ignored him.

At some point during the pursuit, she said, Gregory McMichael, who was armed with a handgun, said to Mr. Arbery, “Stop or I’ll blow your fucking head off,” language, she said, that indicated an intent to harm Mr. Arbery, not simply talk to him.

Understand the Killing of Ahmaud Arbery

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The shooting. On Feb. 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot and killed after being chased by three white men while jogging near his home on the outskirts of Brunswick, Ga. The slaying of Mr. Arbery was captured in a graphic video that was widely viewed by the public.

The victim. Mr. Arbery was a former high school football standout and an avid jogger. At the time of his death, he was living with his mother outside the small coastal city in Southern Georgia.

The suspects. Three white men — Gregory McMichael, 67, his 35-year-old son, Travis McMichael, and their neighbor William Bryan, 52 — stand accused of murdering Mr. Arbery. They have also been indicted on federal hate crime charges. The men told authorities they suspected Mr. Arbery of committing a series of break-ins.

The fallout. The release of the video of the shooting sparked nationwide protests and prompted Georgia lawmakers to make significant changes to the state’s criminal law, including passage of the state’s first hate crimes statute.

The trial. The unsettling video of Mr. Arbery’s killing is likely to play a starring role in the trial of the accused killers, which could bear similarities to that of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty of murder in the death of George Floyd.

The jury. After an extraordinarily long process, a jury was selected in the trial. The jury, which is made up of residents from Glynn County, where more than a quarter of the population is Black, includes 11 white people and one Black person.

She said that Mr. Bryan tried to hit Mr. Arbery four times with his pickup truck, at one point forcing him into a ditch.

And Ms. Dunikoski played the video that Mr. Bryan recorded on his cellphone, showing the moments when the two trucks had pinned Mr. Arbery in. She said that Gregory McMichael later claimed that Mr. Arbery had been “trapped like a rat.”

Ms. Dunikoski said the video showed Travis McMichael pointing the shotgun at Mr. Arbery as he ran toward the McMichaels’ truck. She noted that Travis McMichael had stepped out of the truck in one lane of the two-lane street, by the driver’s side door, with truck was blocking the second lane. The video shows Mr. Arbery running to the passenger side of the truck in attempt to evade him. The two men appear to meet head on in front of the truck.

“What did McMichael do with that shotgun?” Ms. Dunikoski said. “He stepped around that open door and moved toward Mr. Arbery. He’s got a shotgun and he’s moving toward him to intercept him.”

Several shots are fired as the men struggle. Mr. Arbery falls to the ground after the last.

Ms. Dunikoski said that in interviews with police, Travis McMichael said that Mr. Arbery attacked him and that he was acting in self-defense. But she also said that when police asked him if Mr. Arbery grabbed his shotgun, he said, “I want to say he did, but I honestly cannot remember.”

The prosecutor asked the jury to find the men guilty on all of the counts on which they were indicted — including malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment.

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