Home Top Stories Ahmaud Arbery trial: With an almost all-White jury now in place, homicide trial within the killing of Ahmaud Arbery begins

Ahmaud Arbery trial: With an almost all-White jury now in place, homicide trial within the killing of Ahmaud Arbery begins

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Ahmaud Arbery trial: With an almost all-White jury now in place, homicide trial within the killing of Ahmaud Arbery begins

In her opening statement, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski told the jurors, “We are here because of assumptions and driveway decisions.”

“In this case, all three of these defendants did everything they did based on assumptions,” she said. “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 are here.”

The McMichaels said they were conducting a citizen’s arrest on Arbery, whom they suspected of burglary, and that Travis McMichael shot him with a shotgun in self-defense. Bryan, who recorded a video of the shooting, allegedly hit Arbery with his truck after he joined the McMichaels in chasing Arbery.

The three men were allowed to leave the scene and weren’t arrested until after the video of the shooting became public.

About 1,000 people were summoned for jury duty in recent weeks in majority-White Glynn County, where the trial will take place, but less than half turned up.
Among those who did show during two and a half weeks of questioning by attorneys, many said they knew the defendants, had already formed strong opinions about the case or were scared to serve as part of the panel, pointing to the potential consequences specific verdicts may have on the community.

Prosecutors detail shooting and events leading up to it

Dunikoski laid out for the jury the months leading up to the shooting, when the owner of a home under construction in the Satilla Shores neighborhood grew concerned about people wandering onto the “open” and “unsecured” construction site.

Prosecutors showed the jury videos of Arbery entering the site, each time wandering around and leaving without incident, noting that other individuals had also been present on the property. The homeowner had contacted police about the issue several times, Dunikoski said, but told them Arbery — who was unidentified at the time — had never taken anything.

The day of the shooting, Arbery entered the construction site again and was seen by a neighbor who called authorities on a nonemergency line, Dunikoski said. Arbery left the site and ran further into the neighborhood, at which point he was seen by Greg McMichael, who was in his driveway.

“This is driveway decision number one,” Dunikoski said. McMichael went into his house, got his son Travis and both armed themselves — the younger McMichael with a Remington 12 gauge shotgun. They got in Travis McMichael’s truck and pursued Arbery — the next “driveway decision,” the prosecutor said.

At this time, Dunikoski said, neither had any knowledge Arbery had done something wrong, nor that he had been on the construction site.

Soon after, Bryan, who was on his porch, saw an exchange between the McMichaels and Arbery, during which Dunikoski said Travis McMichael asked Arbery where he was coming from and what he was doing. Per video shown in court, Arbery ran off and was followed by the McMichaels.

Bryan got in his own truck and joined the pursuit — his own “driveway decision” — though he also did not know what was going on, Dunikoski said.

Dunikoski characterized the next few minutes as an attack on Arbery, who turned away from the McMichaels, back down the road toward Bryan. Bryan tried to hit Arbery, who got so close to the truck that he left a palm print and T-shirt fibers on the truck, Duniksoki said. Bryan redirected Arbery up the road, back toward the McMichaels.

Prosecutors then played footage that included the widely seen video taken by Bryan depicting the fatal shooting, which occurred as Travis McMichael and Arbery wrestled over the shotgun. Arbery’s father left the courtroom before it started, according to a pool reporter in the courtroom, and his mother sobbed as the video played.

The “truly, truly tragic” part of the shooting, was that an officer dispatched in response to the initial call by the neighbor was in the neighborhood and heard the gunshots, Dunikoski said.

Despite their defense, Dunikoski said that at no point during subsequent interviews with police did the defendants state they had seen Arbery commit a crime or that they were trying to conduct a citizen’s arrest.

“The defendants assumed the worst about Mr. Arbery and made their driveway decisions,” Dunikoski said.

‘Appears to be intentional discrimination’ in jury selection, judge says

Prosecutors on Wednesday accused defense attorneys of disproportionately striking qualified Black jurors from the jury pool and basing some of their strikes on race.

Judge Timothy Walmsley said the defense appeared to be discriminatory but that the case could go forward.
Judge finds 'intentional discrimination' in Arbery jury selection but allows trial to move forward with 1 Black member

“This court has found that there appears to be intentional discrimination,” the judge said, but ruled there were valid reasons, beyond race, for why Black jurors were dismissed.

In Georgia, the judge said, “all the defense needs to do is provide that legitimate, nondiscriminatory, clear, reasonably specific and related reason,” for why they struck a juror and he said the defense met that burden.

“That was devastating,” Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother, said of the jury selection as she left the courthouse Wednesday evening, adding she was “shocked” there was only one Black juror.

An attorney for Travis McMichael, Jason Sheffield, called the jury selection process “exhaustive” but said he was pleased with the outcome and felt the selected jurors would be fair.

Earlier in the week, Sheffield had echoed another defense attorney’s concerns about the low turnout of jurors, saying they didn’t “fairly reflect the accused in this case.”

That followed earlier comments from defense attorney Kevin Gough, who represents Bryan. Gough told the court Friday that “White males born in the South, over 40 years of age, without four-year college degrees, sometimes euphemistically known as ‘Bubba’ or ‘Joe Six Pack,’ seem to be significantly underrepresented.”

The day Arbery was killed

Arbery was on a jog in the neighborhood of Satilla Shores, outside the city of Brunswick, when the McMichaels grabbed their guns and pursued him. Gregory McMichael told police they pursued Arbery because they suspected he was responsible for a string of nearby purported burglaries. A local police spokesperson later said there had only been one burglary reported in more than seven weeks before the shooting.

Ahmaud Arbery's father says he is praying for the 'right jury' as selection continues

Gregory McMichael, a former police officer and investigator in the local District Attorney’s office, told police that Arbery and his son struggled over his son’s shotgun before Travis McMichael shot Arbery after the latter attacked him, according to a police report. Bryan joined the pursuit and recorded the shooting on his phone.

Following the deadly shooting, the case lay dormant for more than two months, and two prosecutors recused themselves due to conflicts of interest. But video footage of Arbery’s killing surfaced on May 5, 2020, prompting protests and calls for the arrests of the men involved.

Attorneys for the McMichaels said Travis acted in self-defense. But the opposite was true, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Assistant Special Agent in Charge Richard Dial testified during a preliminary hearing last June.

“I believe Mr. Arbery was being pursued, and he ran till he couldn’t run anymore, and it was turn his back to a man with a shotgun or fight with his bare hands against the man with the shotgun. He chose to fight,” Dial said.

“I believe Mr. Arbery’s decision was to just try to get away, and when he felt like he could not escape, he chose to fight,” he added.

CNN’s Eric Levenson, Dakin Andone, Angela Barajas and Devon M. Sayers contributed to this report.

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