BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Prosecutors rested their case in the trial of three white men charged with chasing and killing Ahmaud Arbery after graphic photos from his autopsy were shown to jurors on Tuesday.
Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan are charged with murder and other crimes in the death of Arbery.
Editor’s Note: The story below contains graphic details some might find disturbing.
The shotgun blasts that hit Arbery punched a gaping hole in his chest and unleashed massive bleeding, a medical examiner testified Tuesday as jurors saw the autopsy photos that showed Arbery’s white T-shirt stained entirely red.
Dr. Edmund Donoghue, who examined Arbery’s body on Feb. 24, 2020 — the day after he was slain — at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab in coastal Georgia, said Arbery was hit by two of the three shotgun rounds fired at him. He said both gunshots caused such severe bleeding that either blast alone would have killed the 25-year-old Black man.
According to the medical examiner Arbery was 3 to 20 inches away from the muzzle of the gun when the bullets went into his body. The defense said that’s because he was trying to take Travis McMichael’s shotgun.
Donoghue testified that he could not provide the sequence of the gunshots during his initial autopsy, but after seeing the cellphone video, taken by William “Roddie” Bryan, of the shooting, he was able to determine that Arbery’s wrist wound and the chest wound occurred at the same time. He said he thinks the second shot heard on the video was “a complete miss” and that the third wound under Arbery’s armpit occurred with the third shot.
The first shot at close range tore through an artery in Arbery’s right wrist and punched a big hole in the center of his chest, breaking several ribs and causing heavy internal bleeding, Donoghue said. The third shot fired at point-blank range ripped through a major artery and vein near his left armpit and fractured bones in his shoulder and upper arm.
The photos also included Arbery’s blood-soaked clothes and X-ray images of Arbery’s body showing multiple pellets from the shotgun lodged inside his chest and shoulder.
“Is there anything law enforcement or EMS could have done to save his life at the scene?” prosecutor Linda Dunikoski asked the medical examiner.
“I don’t think so. No,” Donoghue replied.
Donoghue testified that watching the video he was able to determine that one of the shots paralyzed Arbery’s arm before he fell to the ground. The jury saw close-up photos of Arbery’s injuries, which included several large abrasions to Arbery’s face from when he fell facedown in the street following the third gunshot.
Asked by Dunikoski how Arbery was able to fight back after sustaining such a severe chest wound from the first gunshot, the medical examiner called it a “fight or flight reaction” that raised his heart rate and blood pressure while sending adrenaline coursing through his body. He said ultimately Arbery would have bled to death from the initial chest wound alone.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, listened in the courtroom with her head down as Donoghue detailed for the jury what each of the autopsy photos showed but excused herself partway through his testimony and left the room. She returned later in the day after he was finished testifying.
The rest of the day was spent showing the path Arbery, the McMichaels and Bryan traveled leading up to the shooting in the Satilla Shores neighborhood.
The testimony came a day after the judge refused to declare a mistrial over defense claims that jurors were tainted when Arbery’s mother wept over an evidence photo, which called attention to the presence of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was sitting beside her in the courtroom’s public gallery.
Defense attorney Kevin Gough on Monday asked the judge to make the civil rights leader leave to avoid unfairly influencing the jury. Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley refused and described as “reprehensible” Gough’s complaints last week that the defense attorney did not “want any more Black pastors coming in here.”
Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves and pursued the 25-year-old in a pickup truck after spotting him running in their neighborhood on Feb. 23, 2020. Their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan joined the chase and took cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery. All three men are charged with murder and other crimes.
The McMichaels told police they chased Arbery suspecting he was a burglar after security cameras recorded him several times inside a home under construction, five houses away. Defense attorneys say the younger McMichael fired his gun in self-defense after Arbery tried to take it from him.
Prosecutors say they chased Arbery for five minutes to keep him from leaving the Satilla Shores subdivision outside the port city of Brunswick. The chase ended when Arbery, trailed by Bryan’s truck, tried to run around the McMichaels’ truck as it idled in the road ahead. The video shows Travis McMichael confronting Arbery and then shooting him as he throws punches and grapples for the gun.
Robert Rubin, one of Travis McMichael’s attorneys, noted that the medical examiner wrote in his report that Arbery died from wounds “sustained during a struggle for a shotgun.”
“Were you aware that Mr. Arbery had his hand on the gun?” Rubin asked Donoghue, who answered that he was.
Despite the gunshot to his right wrist, Rubin said, “nothing prevented Mr. Arbery from holding the gun with one hand and swinging and punching with the other hand.”