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Lawyers clash over whether Arbery’s pursuit was justified

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Lawyers clash over whether Arbery’s pursuit was justified

Brunswick, Ga. – Prosecutors and defense lawyers on Monday gave their final arguments in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, raising the question, barely voiced during the trial, whether race was an issue.

The chief prosecutor, Linda Dunnikowski, told 12 jurors who will decide the fate of three white men charged with murder that the men attacked Mr. Arbery “because he was a black man walking down the street.”

“What’s Mr. Arbery doing?” Ms. Danikowski said. “He runs away from them. And runs away from them. And runs away from them.”

Defense said the men were making a legal citizen’s arrest in an area that had been plagued by crime concerns in the months leading up to February 2020, when they chased Mr Arbery through his neighbourhood. Laura D. Hogg, attorney for one of the defendants, said Mr Arbery, who was seen several times in security camera footage at a partially constructed home in the neighborhood, “became a recurring night intruder – and it was horrifying.” , and disturbing.”

After a two-week trial of Travis McMichael, 35, Gregory McMichael, 65, and William Bryan, 52, jurors are expected to begin their deliberations on Tuesday, each on murder and murder in Mr Arbery’s death. He has been charged with other offences. An essential question they must tackle from Brunswick, Ga. is whether the men had any legal justification for their attempt to detain Mr. Arbery.

The men, who all lived in the Satilla Shores neighbourhood, attempted to stop Mr Arbery when the elder Mr McMichael saw them running to the opposite side of a partially built house on the afternoon of February 23, 2020. Moments earlier, another neighbor had seen Mr Arbery in the house and called the police. Mr. McMichael ran to his house, grabbed a handcuff and called his son, who had taken a shotgun. They jumped into a pickup truck and gave chase. Soon Mr. Brian was also following Mr. Arbery in his pickup truck.

The argument that the men were not justified in their pursuit, and therefore are guilty of other crimes, including aggravated assault and false imprisonment, was a pillar of Ms Danikoski’s closing statement on Monday. In fact, it was a far more developed argument than the idea that men had a racial motive, which Ms. Dunnikowski mentioned only in the passage.

This largely reflects the fact that prosecutors produced no evidence of racist language at the trial, which is believed to have been used by the men. While prosecutors have declined to discuss their strategy publicly, some legal experts believe they chose not to focus too heavily on racial issues because 11 of the jury members are white and one is black.

Central to both defense and prosecution cases is Georgia’s citizen arrest statute, even though it was largely destroyed this year by lawmakers who were prompted by widespread revolt over the details of Mr Arbery’s murder.

The law at the time stated that people could make an arrest if a crime was committed in their presence, or if they had “immediate knowledge” of the crime. If the crime was a felony and the suspect was trying to escape, a private person was also authorized to arrest the suspect “on reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion”.

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Ms Dunnikowski told the jury the law did not apply to the men because she had no idea Mr Arbery had committed the crime that day – he only assumed he had. If he was guilty of a crime, he said, it was trespass, which is not a felony but a misdemeanor, meaning they had no right to arrest him. Although video footage shows Mr Arbery at home on several occasions, including the day he was killed, he is never seen taking or breaking anything.

“Is he such a big thief that never showed up with any means to steal a bag, or anything, well, or is he a look-loo?” he said.

Jason Sheffield, lawyer for Travis McMichael, who fatally shot Mr Arbery, said his client had seen Mr Arbery 12 days earlier in a partially built home, where, Mr McMichael argues, Mr Arbery had Extended his hands towards him. Waist as if he had a gun.

Mr Sheffield suggested that Mr Arbery’s presence in the home was a felony. Under Georgia law, he said, theft does not require that anything actually be stolen. “You just have to enter with the intention of stealing something,” he said.

All this, Mr Sheffield argued, gave Travis McMichael probable cause to believe Mr Arbery stole, therefore giving justification for attempting to detain him.

Mr Sheffield, in an apparent attempt to drop the allegation of a racist motive, noted that Mr McMichael had, on a separate occasion, called police about a suspected white man under a nearby bridge in his attempt to keep the neighborhood safe. did.

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And, as expected, Mr Sheffield argued that Mr McMichael had acted in self-defense when he shot Mr Arbery from close range while the two men violently engaged at the end of the chase. Mr Sheffield noted that Mr Arbery used his fist during his conflict with Mr McMichael, and added that there was “no question” that Mr Arbery had put his hand on Mr McMichael’s gun. In a statement to police shortly after the shooting, Mr. McMichael said he was not sure that Mr. Arbery had held the firearm.

Ms Danikoski said Mr Arbery was on foot and unarmed on the day he was killed, and posed no threat to the defendants.

Ms. Hogg, Gregory McMichael’s attorney, had some harsh words for Mr. Arbery. She portrayed him as someone who probably had sinister intentions, describing him as walking around a “house drenched in complete darkness”.

Ms Hogg said Mr Arbery may have shown promise as a teenager, but he had turned in the “wrong direction” and had no valid reason to stay at Satilla Shores the day he was shot. . She specifically sought to challenge her client’s motivations for the prosecution and the portrayal of Mr Arbery.

“Ahmoud Arbery was not an innocent victim,” Ms Hogg said.

In his closing argument, Mr. Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, distances his client from the McMichaels, pointing out that Mr. Bryan, who goes by Roddy, did not even know Travis McMichael and was only negotiating with Gregory McMichael. Were were

“Roddy Bryan’s presence is absolutely unnecessary and irrelevant to the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery,” he said.

Mr Bryan did not know and could not know whether the other two men were armed or that Mr Arbery would be shot, Mr Gough said. “As long as he knew there was nothing he could do,” said the lawyer. And although the McMichaels had guns, Mr. Bryan was “equipped only with his cellphone,” Mr. Gough said.

At various points in the trial, Mr. Gough had raised the possibility of separating his client’s case from the other two defendants. He made a motion for separation Monday morning that was rejected by Judge Timothy R. Walmsley.

It was Mr. Bryan who recorded the video in which Travis McMichael shot and killed Mr. Arbery. The public release of the video in May 2020 sparked widespread outrage and greatly increased national interest in the matter. The McMichaels were arrested shortly thereafter, followed by Mr. Bryan.

Mr Gough asked the jury to note that Mr Bryan had acted in good faith when he cooperated with the authorities by giving them, among other things, access to the phone he used. Had to record footage.

He attributed the recording of that video to “seriousness, luck, coincidence or the hand of God” by Mr. Bryan.

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