- Jurors heard opening statements in the murder trial of three men charged with shooting Ahmaud Arbery.
- As graphic footage of the shooting was played for the jurors by prosecutors, Arbery’s mom cried in the courtroom.
- The defense called the shooting “justified” while the prosecution called the killing an “attack.”
The man who fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery with a shotgun believes he was “justified” in pulling the trigger, his attorney said Friday, during opening statements in the Georgia murder trial for the three men accused of killing the 25-year-old Black man.
“The evidence shows overwhelmingly that Travis McMichael” – one of the three white men on trial – “honestly and lawfully attempted to detain Ahmaud Arbery according to the law and shot and killed him in self-defense,” McMichael’s lawyer, Bob Rubin, told the nearly all-white jury in Glynn County Superior Court in Brunswick.
McMichael, a 35-year-old former member of the US Coast Guard, along with his dad, ex-police officer Gregory McMichael, age 65, and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, face felony charges of murder, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment for the February 23, 2020, shooting death of Arbery in the Georgia neighborhood of Satilla Shores.
All three defendants have pleaded not guilty in the case. They have claimed that they believed Arbery was a burglar and that they were attempting to make a citizen’s arrest – a Georgia law that was later repealed in the wake of the shooting.
If convicted they could face life in prison.
“At the time the shots are fired, Travis McMichael reasonably believes because Ahmaud Arbery is on him aggressively, swinging wildly, grabbing hold of him, grabbing hold of the gun, reasonably believes, he is justified in firing his weapon knowing it’s gonna’ kill him, it’s going to at least hurt him, he knows that,” Rubin said.
Rubin added that Travis McMichael had “no choice” to shoot “because if this guy gets his gun, he’s dead or his dad’s dead.”
During opening statements by both the defense and the prosecution, jurors heard how the McMichaels – armed with a shotgun and a handgun – went after Arbery in a pickup truck when Gregory McMichael saw Arbery running through their neighborhood that February afternoon.
Bryan joined the pursuit in his own pickup truck and later captured a cellphone video showing Travis McMichael shooting Arbery dead on a residential street.
As the graphic footage was played for the jurors by prosecutors, Arbery’s mom cried out loud in the courtroom.
“In this case, all three of these defendants did everything they did based on assumptions – not on facts, not on evidence – assumptions,” lead prosecutor Senior District Attorney Linda Dunikoski told the jurors.
The prosecutor said the defendants “made decisions in their driveways based on those assumptions that took a young man’s life.”
Dunikoski said Arbery was “under attack” as the three defendants – who she said were “complete strangers” to Arbery – chased after the young man and used their pickup trucks as “lethal weapons” in an attempt to hit Arbery several times and force him off the road.
“How do you know this was an attack?” Dunikoski rhetorically asked the court. “Greg McMichael said it perfect – ‘Mr. Arbery was trapped like a rat,’ that’s what he told the police.”
“All three trapped him like a rat between their two pickup trucks,” Dunikoski said, adding, “They worsened the entire situation by threatening to kill him.”
She continued, “These three defendants committed four felonies against Mr. Arbery and it all started when Greg McMichael saw him running down the street.”