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Attorney on Arbery verdict: Without video, ‘I’m not sure we’d be here at all’

Jacksonville attorneys, not affiliated with the trial, agree video was key in the verdict

ADDS BAILIFF - Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley is handed the jury's verdict from a bailiff during the trial of Greg McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan in the Glynn County Courthouse, Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. The three men were convicted of murder Wednesday in the fatal shooting that became part of a larger national reckoning on racial injustice.(AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool) (Stephen B. Morton, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Both the prosecution and the defense in the trial over the death of Ahmaud Arbery used video of the 25-year-old man’s killing as a way to try and prove their case to the jury.

Ultimately, jurors convicted Greg McMichael, son Travis McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan of murder. Each faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison, and the judge will decide whether those sentences can be served with or without the possibility of parole.

Jacksonville-area attorneys agree that the video was key. Attorney Gene Nichols, who is not affiliated with the case, was asked what the outcome might have been without it.

“I’m not sure we’d be here at all,” Nichols said. “If there had been no video and we have the combination of a prosecutor who is now subsequently under indictment for trying to keep this quiet, I’m not sure that we would be where we are today.”

FULL COVERAGE: Trial of men accused in death of Ahmaud Arbery

Notably, the confrontation was recorded by Bryan, who was in a vehicle behind the McMichaels.

“In Georgia, if you participate in a crime with a felony with other individuals, you can be held as culpable as the others and this is the perfect example,” Nichols said.

Nichols continued, “The similar example is when a bank is robbed and somebody is shot inside of the bank. The driver -- the getaway driver who never came in is going to be held as responsible as the folks who are inside that bank.”

Nichols added that while Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney, argued that the video helped make the case that led to the trial, he doesn’t believe Gough argued his point well enough or push it as hard as he could have.

“He [Gough] should have been from the very beginning not trying to be anti-people coming into the courtroom, but it should have been embracing people coming into the courtroom, almost making his client part of the team against the McMichaels,” Nichols said. “This was a defense where he should have run the bus over the McMichaels from the very beginning and tried to separate himself.”

Federal charges are still pending in the case. A federal grand jury in April indicted the three men on hate crime charges. Notably, it’s a separate case not affected by the trial’s outcome.

EXPLAINER: Trio guilty of killing Ahmaud Arbery. What now?

Comments made by defense attorneys in the case have taken the national spotlight on more than one occasion in the trial. Gough told the judge during the trial that he felt that the presence of Rev. Al Sharpton and other political pastors sitting with Arbery’s family intimidated the jury.

“Obviously there’s only so many pastors they can have,” Gough said. “And if their pastor’s Al Sharpton right now that’s fine, but then that’s it. We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here ... sitting with the victim’s family, trying to influence the jurors in this case.”

On Wednesday, comments made during closing statements by defense attorney Laura Houge, who is representing Gregory McMichael, also sparked backlash.

“Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after the choices that he made does not reflect the reality of what brought Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in his khaki shorts with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails,” Hogue told jurors.

Latoya Williams Shelton is a Jacksonville attorney, not affiliated with the Arbery case.

“The comment that she made, Laura Hogue, about ‘Ahmaud and his dirty toenails’ -- it was insulting. It was ridiculous,” Williams Shelton said. “I believe that she lost the jury when she made that comment.”

While attorneys for the McMichaels and Bryan say they plan to appeal, Nichols said that can’t happen until a sentence is delivered in the case. The judge said he would set a date for sentencing soon, but allow lawyers time to prepare.

“There’s absolutely going to be an appeal,” said attorney Randy Reep, not affiliated with the case. “Part of the appeal is an ineffective representation from counsel. Part of the decision to include not trying to move it (the trial), having them testify -- every decision that these attorneys made is going to be part of the appeal.”

A jury found three Georgia men guilty of murder in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man whom the trio pursued and confronted after seeing Arbery running in their neighborhood in 2020. (AP Graphic)

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident, journalist and experienced broadcast news producer with a passion for classic and exotic cars.

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.