Dramatic moments as testimony begins in Ahmaud Arbery slaying case

Opening statements, graphic body cam video and an unusual move by the defense

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Glynn County Police Officer William Duggan was the first to take the stand for the state during the trial of the three men accused of chasing and killing Ahmaud Arbery.

Images from Duggan’s body cam video were shown to the jury on Friday. The images showed Duggan walk toward Travis McMichael, asking if he was OK. Graphic images showed Travis McMichael with blood on him, and Arbery’s body on the ground covered in blood. McMichael says to Officer Duggan, “No, I’m not OK. I just f****** killed somebody.”

Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, was in the courtroom during the showing of the body cam video and put her head in her hands, weeping. “I avoided the video for the last 18 months, and I thought it was time to get familiar with what happened to Ahmaud in the last few moments of his life,” said Jones.

Prior to the first witness being called, in an unusual move, Kevin Gough, attorney for William “Roddie” Bryan, deferred his opening statement until after the state rests its case.

Franklin Hogue, attorney for Gregory McMichael, and Robert Rubin, attorney for Travis McMichael, did make their opening statements. Hogue said his client knew he was absolutely sure about suspecting Arbery as a burglar. “He wasn’t out for no Sunday jog,” Hogue told the jurors.

Rubin played a 911 call from resident Larry English about break-ins in the Satilla Shores neighborhood. Rubin said crime had increased in the neighborhood and several thefts had taken place. Rubin also showed surveillance images of a man who appears to be Arbery walking in front of English’s home as it was under construction. Another image appeared to show Arbery running. Rubin said Arbery was in the house four times and that it was a burglary.

Rubin said in opening arguments the case is “about Travis McMichael’s duty and responsibility to himself, to his family and to his neighborhood.” He argued that Travis McMichael fired the gun in a struggle with Arbery in self-defense.

Friday morning, the state showed the video of Arbery being chased during opening statements. Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said the men began chasing Arbery off of assumptions. She explained that Ahmaud ran from the men for five minutes before he was shot and killed. The state said there was even a police officer in the area when it was happening.

“Gregory McMichael had no idea where Mr. Arbery is coming from,” said Dunikoski. “He only sees him running down the street and what does he decide to do? He runs inside to get his gun. Travis McMichael is inside the house, he’s inside when Mr. Arbery was running down the street. Gregory McMichael assumes the worst.”

FULL OPENING STATEMENTS: Prosecution | Travis McMichael’s lawyer | Gregory McMichael’s lawyer

Outside the courthouse, supporters of Arbery’s family set up tents. Arbery’s grandmother said the rain wasn’t going to keep them from coming out. Earlier Friday morning, a group of pastors from several churches in the area gathered. Many expressed disbelief of the racial make-up of the jury selected in the trial, with one Black juror.

“I said wow. It was eye-opening that we have systems in our political process that has the ability to alienate citizens from being participants in the process of justice,” said Rev. John Perry of Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church. “I believe it’s been an educational moment for many of our citizens and it gives us cause to rally together to try and see even further changes without our justice system.”

After this day in court, Arbery’s parents shared their emotions.

“I just want justice,” said Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery Sr.

Cooper-Jones said: “Today I decided it was time to see the video and I took care of my curiosities. It’s very heartbreaking, but I’ve gotten past from that part.”

Three white men are on trial in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man whose killing was largely ignored until a leaked cellphone video stirred outrage that deepened a national reckoning over racial injustice.

FULL COVERAGE: The Ahmaud Arbery Case

Greg McMichael and his adult son, Travis McMichael, armed themselves and pursued Ahmaud Arbery in a pickup truck as he ran through their neighborhood just outside the Georgia port city of Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020. A neighbor, Bryan, joined the chase and recorded graphic video of Travis McMichael shooting Ahmaud Arbery three times with a shotgun.

Ahmaud Arbery had been dead for more than two months before the McMichaels and Bryan were charged and jailed last year. Greg McMichael, a retired investigator for the local district attorney, told police the men were trying to stop Ahmaud Arbery because they suspected he was a burglar. Security cameras had recorded him entering a nearby house under construction.

Greg McMichael said his son killed Ahmaud Arbery in self-defense after Arbery attacked with his fists and tried to take Travis McMichael’s gun.

Prosecutors say Ahmaud Arbery was out jogging, was unarmed and had committed no crimes in the neighborhood. When Bryan’s video of the killing leaked online in May 2020, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police. GBI agents arrested the McMichaels the next day and charged Bryan two weeks later.

The killing of Ahmaud Arbery has dominated news stories and social media feeds in Brunswick and surrounding Glynn County, a coastal community of about 85,000 people.

It took the judge and attorneys 2½ weeks to select a jury. Nearly 200 people summoned to jury duty were questioned extensively about what they knew about the case, how many times they had seen the video and if they had any personal connection to Ahmaud Arbery or the defendants.

Controversy erupted on Wednesday, the final day of jury selection, when prosecutors objected to a final jury consisting of 11 whites and one Black juror. They argued that defense attorneys had cut eight potential jurors from the final panel because they are Black, which the U.S. Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional.

The judge agreed there appeared to be “intentional discrimination,” but said Georgia law limited his authority to intervene because defense attorneys stated non-racial reasons for excluding Black panelists from the jury.

One juror, a white woman, was dismissed Thursday for medical reasons. Fifteen total panelists will hear the trial — 12 jurors plus three alternates. The judge has not given the races of the alternate jurors, and they were not asked to state their race in open court.

Court officials have said the trial could last two weeks or more.

If the defendants are acquitted, their legal troubles won’t be over. They have also been indicted on federal hate crime charges. A U.S. District Court judge has scheduled that trial to begin Feb. 7.

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