Watch Live: Arbery Killing Trial Closing Arguments

The prosecutor, Linda Dunikoski, says Gregory McMichael, a former police officer and investigator with the local district attorney’s office, tried to control the narrative at the crime scene. While first responders were on the scene, for instance, he spoke with his son, who pulled the trigger and killed Ahmaud Arbery, telling him, “You had no choice.”

Rick Rojas

Credit…Pool photo by Octavio Jones

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — In their final arguments on Tuesday, prosecutors sought to portray the three men on trial in the death of Ahmaud Arbery as aggressors who chased and cornered Mr. Arbery because he would not stop and talk to them.

“You can’t start something and claim self-defense,” Linda Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor, told the jury as she laid out the prosecution’s case one final time before the panel begins its deliberations. “And they started this.”

During a rebuttal that was expected to last roughly two hours, Ms. Dunikoski sought to demolish the defense’s claims that the three men were attempting to make a justified citizen’s arrest and acted in self-defense.

She argued that the state law in effect at the time said that people could perform such an arrest only after witnessing a crime in their presence or when they had immediate knowledge that a crime was committed. It was knowledge, she added, that the three men — Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William Bryan — did not have.

Instead, she said, they were basing their impression of Mr. Arbery on gossip and chatter on a community Facebook page, and the situation escalated because of their own sense of entitlement in believing that Mr. Arbery had to stop for them.

“There’s no fear, only anger,” Ms. Dunikoski said, referring to the fatal confrontation between Travis McMichael, who was armed with a shotgun, and Mr. Arbery, who was not armed. Referring to Mr. McMichael, she said, “Do you really believe he had no other choice than to use his shotgun?”

She also challenged the defense’s depiction of Mr. Bryan, who was described by his lawyer as “absolutely superfluous and irrelevant to the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery.”

“Mr. Bryan played a substantial and necessary part,” Ms. Dunikoski said in her rebuttal. “He is responsible for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.”

Credit…Pool photo by Octavio Jones

In her rebuttal on Tuesday, Linda Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor, tried to demolish a core contention of the defense: that the defendants were justified in their actions because they were attempting to make a citizen’s arrest of Ahmaud Arbery.

If the jury does not find that the men had the right to make such an arrest, “that means they’re guilty on all charges,” Ms. Dunikoski told the jury.

Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law was largely repealed last year in response to widespread outrage over the way it has figured in this case. But it was still on the books in February 2020 when Mr. Arbery was killed. And the two sides have been sparring over how it should be described to the jury.

Judge Timothy Walmsley gave Ms. Dunikoski room to offer her interpretation Tuesday morning, saying the jury would see the law for themselves in his jury instructions. But after numerous objections from the defense over Ms. Dunikoski’s remarks, the judge sent the jury out of the courtroom so the lawyers could hash out the issue before him.

Here is the language of the citizen’s arrest law that the two sides are fighting over:

A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge. If the offense is a felony and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.

The defense claims that one of the defendants, Travis McMichael, had seen Mr. Arbery in a house under construction in the defendants’ neighborhood 12 days before they confronted him, and that seeing him then was enough to constitute “immediate knowledge” of a felony — in this case, burglary.

The prosecution has repeatedly brushed aside that claim as far too tenuous and distant in time. Ms. Dunikoski has argued that none of the men had any knowledge that Mr. Arbery had committed any crime on the day they confronted him, let alone a felony —  and that for all the men knew, Mr. Arbery had done nothing more than perhaps trespass in the partly built house.

The defense requested a mistrial on Tuesday, claiming that Ms. Dunikoski had misstated the law in her rebuttal argument. But the judge did not grant it, and he brought the jury back and allowed Ms. Dunikoski to continue her rebuttal.

To explain what the lawyers were arguing about, she offered the jury the example of a shoplifter. A store owner could execute a citizen’s arrest if he saw the person steal that day, she said, but not for stealing on some earlier day.

Tariro Mzezewa

Linda Dunikoski, the prosecutor, reminds the jury that Matt Albenze, the neighbor who contacted authorities on the day that Ahmaud Arbery was killed, did not call 911. He called a non-emergency phone line because he did not think Arbery’s presence at the house under construction in his neighborhood was an urgent matter. She makes the point, again, that the defendants Travis and Gregory McMichael assumed the worst of Arbery.

Richard Fausset

By rehashing a blizzard of details about activity at a partially constructed house that Ahmaud Arbery liked to visit in the defendants’ neighborhood, the prosecutor is trying to make the point that they over-reacted in a big way about some minor issues on a property that wasn’t even theirs.

Richard Fausset

Arbery’s “intent,” or lack thereof, when he was inside the house is important to the concept of whether, as the defense argues, he had committed a burglary, regardless of whether he ever took anything. But it is also a huge mystery in this case: Why was Arbery so drawn to that house? Why did he visit it, again and again? We will probably never know.

Richard Fausset

The jury is back in the courtroom, and the prosecutor, Linda Dunikoski, is continuing her rebuttal. The defense’s last-minute move for a mistrial over interpretations of the citizen’s arrest law is looking like a Hail Mary that didn’t connect.

Richard Fausset

“You can’t do a citizen’s arrest four days” after a crime has been committed, Dunikoski says. More objections from the defense. The judge appears to be once again letting the prosecutor interpret the law in her closing arguments, on grounds that the jurors will see the law in their jury instructions and can decide for themselves.

Richard Fausset

The lawyers take a five-minute bathroom break. Here is the language of the citizen’s arrest law that they are fighting over: “A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge. If the offense is a felony and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, a private person may arrest him upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.”

Richard Fausset

The defense claims that Travis McMichael had seen Ahmaud Arbery in a house under construction in the defendants’ neighborhood 12 days before they confronted him, and that was enough to constitute “immediate knowledge” of a felony — in this case, burglary.

Credit…Pool photo by Stephen B. Morton

The Georgia Superior Court judge presiding over the trial of the men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery, one of the most high-profile cases of the year, usually oversees a court nearly 80 miles away.

Judge Timothy R. Walmsley of Savannah was tapped to preside over the Arbery case in 2020 after all five judges in Glynn County, Ga., where the shooting occurred, recused themselves.

He has appeared largely calm and patient throughout the trial, though twice he has rebuked the lawyers arguing before him.

The judge described statements by a defense lawyer, Kevin Gough, as “reprehensible” after Mr. Gough urged him to keep high-profile Black pastors out of the courtroom because Mr. Gough claimed their presence was intimidating to the jury. Specifically, Judge Walmsley cited Mr. Gough’s comparison of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s appearance in court with a scenario in which “a bunch of folks came in here dressed like Colonel Sanders with white masks.”

Judge Walmsley repeatedly rejected Mr. Gough’s requests to bar Black pastors, as well as calls from the defense lawyers for a mistrial.

The judge also chastised a prosecutor for asking a witness if she believed that someone who stole something deserved the death penalty. He called the question inflammatory, prejudicial and unnecessary, and instructed the jury to disregard the question.

The killing of Mr. Arbery, one of several cases that prompted racial-justice protests across the country in 2020, has brought significant national attention to Judge Walmsley’s courtroom. Even before the trial began, protesters had gathered, demanding justice for Mr. Arbery. And after Mr. Gough complained about the presence of Black pastors, scores of ministers convened outside the courthouse in protest.

Judge Walmsley himself drew attention by approving the seating of a nearly all-white jury, drawing criticism from some in the community who were already concerned about the fairness of the proceedings. Mr. Arbery was Black; the men accused in his death are white.

Judge Walmsley was appointed to the state’s Eastern Judicial Circuit Superior Court in 2012 by Gov. Nathan Deal. He previously worked as Chatham County magistrate and was a partner at a Savannah law firm, specializing in commercial and real estate litigation.

Richard Fausset

The lawyers are sparring, as they often have, about the way the citizen’s arrest law that is central to the case should be described. Judge Walmsley has been giving Linda Dunikoski, the prosecutor, room to offer her interpretation this morning, saying that the jury will get to see the law in the jury instructions. But after numerous objections from the defense, he has finally had to send the jury out of the courtroom and let the lawyers hash this out before him.

Richard Fausset

The defense is asking for a mistrial on what they believe is Dunikoski’s “misstatement of the law” on citizen’s arrests.

Richard Fausset

Linda Dunikoski is now straying beyond the technical legal arguments that have been so central to this trial and appealing to the jurors’ common sense. One good rule in life, the prosecutor says: “Don’t go looking for trouble.”

Tariro Mzezewa

Linda Dunikoski, the prosecutor, reiterates a crucial element of her closing argument, telling jurors that if they don’t think the defendants had the right to make a citizen’s arrest, “that means they’re guilty on all charges.” It’s another reminder that Georgia citizen’s arrest law is central to this trial, even though it was largely repealed as a result of widespread revulsion in Georgia over this very case.

Richard Fausset

The prosecution, in arguing that the McMichaels together, shows a photo of the father and son outside of the truck, in the street, both of them with their weapons in their hands. A powerful visual to buttress Ms. Dunikoski’s speech.

Richard Fausset

Linda Dunikoski, the prosecutor, reiterates a crucial element of her closing argument, telling jurors that if they don’t think the defendants had the right to make a citizen’s arrest, “that means they’re guilty on all charges.” It’s another reminder that Georgia citizen’s arrest law is central to this trial, even though it was largely repealed as a result of widespread revulsion in Georgia over this very case.

Tariro Mzezewa

Court is back in session in Brunswick, Ga., in the case of three white men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, in February 2020. Linda Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor, is returning to rebut the defense’s closing statements from Monday. The laywers for Travis and Gregory McMichael accused Arbery of being up to no good and said their clients were protecting their neighborhood from him.

Tariro Mzezewa

In her initial statements yesterday, Dunikoski said the defendants had accosted Arbery “because he was a Black man running down the street.”

Tariro Mzezewa

Credit…Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via Associated Press

Regardless of the jury verdict in the state of Georgia’s prosecution of the men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, all three will face hate-crime charges in federal court in February.

The suspects — Travis McMichael; his father, Gregory McMichael; and William Bryan, known as Roddie — were each charged by the Justice Department last spring with interfering with Mr. Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race, and with attempted kidnapping.

Travis and Gregory McMichael were also charged with using, carrying and brandishing a firearm. Travis McMichael is accused of shooting Mr. Arbery.

The men intimidated Mr. Arbery “because of Arbery’s race and color,” the eight-page federal indictment said. The McMichaels and Mr. Bryan are white; Mr. Arbery was Black.

Mr. Bryan told investigators that he heard Travis McMichael use a racial slur after shooting Mr. Arbery, fueling the notion that the killing was motivated by race. Mr. McMichael’s defense team has denied the claim.

The men did not face hate-crime charges at the state level because Georgia had no such law at the time of Mr. Arbery’s death. The state Supreme Court struck down a hate-crime statute in 2004 for being too vague, making Georgia one of the few states without such a statute.

But Mr. Arbery’s killing united Republican and Democratic lawmakers, leading them to pass a new hate-crime law months afterward.

Georgia’s new statute allows for extra penalties for people who commit crimes against others based on their race, gender, sexual orientation and other identities. Law enforcement officials are required to file reports of these kinds of crimes so the state can track them.

Hate-crime cases can be difficult to prosecute because of the need to prove that the motive is directly tied to a victim’s identity. Still, the application of the laws often provides reassurance to victims and their families because it acknowledges the distinct nature of those crimes.

“There’s a feeling it wasn’t just an ordinary crime, there was something particularly egregious about this offense, and hate-crime laws offer us a way of recognizing that and offer sort of an official way for our society to say these behaviors are particularly awful,” said Phyllis B. Gerstenfeld, a criminal justice professor at California State University, Stanislaus, with expertise in hate crimes.

The first test of Georgia’s law may be the trial of Robert Aaron Long, the man facing the death penalty for a shooting rampage at three spas in the Atlanta area in March. The use of the law in a case that has drawn national attention, however, does not mean its use will become widespread.

“Just because the law is seen as valid and has been used in a high-profile case or two, it still doesn’t mean that it’s going to necessarily have a lot of practical use,” Ms. Gerstenfeld said.

Rick Rojas

Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Prosecutors are expected to spend two hours on Tuesday reiterating their case one last time against the three men charged with murdering Ahmaud Arbery before a jury begins its deliberations.

Their rebuttal will come after a day of closing arguments offered conflicting accounts of the fatal encounter in which Mr. Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was confronted by three white men in a suburb on the Georgia coast.

The three men face charges that include false imprisonment, aggravated assault, felony murder and malice murder. Prosecutors said the men had no justification to go after Mr. Arbery or to make a citizen’s arrest, which is what their lawyers argue they were attempting to perform.

“All three of these defendants made assumptions about what was going on that day,” Linda Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor, told the jury on Monday. “And they made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways, because he was a Black man running down the street.”

The issue of race has hung over the case but had previously been largely absent from the trial.

Lawyers for the defendants argued that they had the legal justification to try to make a citizen’s arrest, saying that Travis McMichael, who fatally shot Mr. Arbery, and his father, Gregory McMichael, had suspected that he was involved in burglaries in their neighborhood of Satilla Shores. They challenged the depiction of Mr. Arbery as a jogger who was pursued because of his race and described him instead as a troubled young man who had no business skulking around homes in the neighborhood.

After prosecutors conclude their rebuttal, the judge will instruct the jurors before sending them to start deliberating.

Rick Rojas

Credit…Branden Camp/EPA, via Shutterstock

Prosecutors in Georgia have spent weeks trying to persuade a jury that three men should be convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. But a different prosecutor who was assigned the case soon after Mr. Arbery was killed wrote that the shooting did not constitute a crime at all.

“We do not see grounds for an arrest of any of the three parties,” George E. Barnhill, the district attorney for the Waycross Judicial Circuit, wrote in a letter to the state attorney general.

The case now reaches a jury after twists and turns through the legal system that inspired protests and outrage, with activists and some in the community fearing that Mr. Arbery’s killing had been mishandled and neglected by the authorities.

Mr. Arbery, a 25-year-old unarmed Black man, was shot and killed on Feb. 23, 2020, after he was chased by three white men on the outskirts of Brunswick, Ga. Though the case initially drew little notice outside the community, it soon attracted national attention, especially after a video emerged that showed the fatal encounter.

The first authorities to handle the case were the Glynn County Police Department and the Brunswick District Attorney’s office. But the day after the shooting, the district attorney, Jackie L. Johnson, recused herself because one of the men involved, Gregory McMichael, had been a longtime investigator in her department. Ms. Johnson later lost her bid for re-election and was indicted in September 2021 over her initial handling of the case; she has denied any wrongdoing.

After Ms. Johnson’s recusal, the case was handed to Mr. Barnhill, who also recused himself, but not before sending the letter to the Georgia attorney general. Mr. Barnhill argued in the letter that the three men were justified in trailing Mr. Arbery because they believed he was a suspect in a burglary.

“It appears their intent was to stop and hold this criminal suspect until law enforcement arrived,” Mr. Barnhill wrote. “Under Georgia Law this is perfectly legal.”

When Mr. Barnhill bowed out in April 2020 because his son had worked for Ms. Johnson alongside Mr. McMichael, the case went to a third prosecutor, Tom Durden. Mr. Durden responded to growing anger and criticism by announcing that a grand jury would consider whether to charge the men and that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation would take over the investigation.

Soon after, the authorities said that Mr. McMichael and his son, Travis, had been arrested. (The third defendant, William Bryan, was charged later.)

Referring to the police and local prosecutors who did not initially arrest or charge anyone in Mr. Arbery’s death, Vic Reynolds, the director of the G.B.I., told reporters after arrests of the McMichaels, “I can’t answer what another agency did or didn’t see.”

But he added that once the case was in his bureau’s hands, “within 36 hours we had secured warrants for two individuals for felony murder — I think that speaks volumes.”

After that, the case changed prosecutors yet again. Mr. Durden stepped aside and the Georgia attorney general, Christopher M. Carr, appointed the district attorney’s office in Cobb County, in the Atlanta metropolitan area, to take over.

Tariro Mzezewa

Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

Ahmaud Arbery’s large extended family and circle of friends have been both grief-stricken and galvanized to action since his death in February 2020. Over the past month, as the case against the three men charged with murdering him has been tried in the Glynn County Courthouse, they have watched with anguish as the gruesome details of the final moments of Mr. Arbery’s life — but nearly none of his humanity — were described to the jury.

Part of the family’s role, said Theawanza Brooks, one of Mr. Arbery’s aunts, is helping the public understand who her nephew was.

Ms. Brooks has attended the trial regularly, taking detailed notes and checking them for accuracy, and then going live on Facebook to relay what happened in court to people around the world.

Diane Arbery, another of Mr. Arbery’s aunts, has been outside the courthouse talking to supporters all day, every day. So has Carla Arbery, an aunt whose children were especially close to Mr. Arbery. Ruby Arbery, still another of Mr. Arbery’s aunts, has brought home-cooked meals for family members and supporters.

Mr. Arbery’s parents, Marcus Arbery and Wanda Cooper Jones, have attended every day of the trial, sometimes sitting with high-profile civil rights activists like the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Those who knew Ahmaud Arbery as a loving relative, devoted friend and star athlete have found the picture of Mr. Arbery painted by the defense difficult to hear. One lawyer, building an argument that the assailants had reason to believe Mr. Arbery was responsible for a string of neighborhood break-ins, described him as “an intruder” who was caught four times on video “plundering around” a house under construction in the neighborhood.

Mr. Arbery’s aunts and grandmother said that the day the medical examiner spoke was the hardest. The testimony left no doubt in their minds that Mr. Arbery died afraid and alone.

“Travis McMichael got up there and talked about fearing for his son,” Ms. Brooks said, referring to one of the defendants. “Maud was someone’s son. What about the son he took away from Wanda and Marcus? The son that we love that we will never see again, who will never go home again?”

Credit…Pool photo by Octavio Jones

The overview

Three white Georgia men stand accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man after they suspected him of committing a series of break-ins in their neighborhood outside of the coastal city of Brunswick in South Georgia in February 2020.

The trial of Gregory McMichael, 65; his 35-year-old son, Travis McMichael; and their neighbor William Bryan, 52, began in early November, and lawyers are expected to make their closing statements on Monday. All three men face possible life sentences.

The slaying of Mr. Arbery was captured on video that was widely viewed by the public, helping to make it among the most high-profile cases with civil rights overtones in the United States. The trial has played out at the same time as the case in Kenosha, Wis., involving Kyle Rittenhouse, who last week was found not guilty of homicide and other charges after fatally shooting two men and wounding another amid protests and rioting.

Who was Ahmaud Arbery?

Mr. Arbery was a former high school football standout who was living with his mother outside the small city of Brunswick. He had spent a little time in college but seemed to be in a period of drift in his 20s, testing out various careers and working on his rapping skills. He also suffered from a mental illness that caused him to have auditory hallucinations.

Friends and family said he liked to stay in shape. He was an avid jogger who was often seen running in and around his neighborhood.

The issues

The defense has argued that the accused men — who spotted Mr. Arbery running through their community, pursued him in two trucks and then cornered him — were making a lawful citizen’s arrest. They have argued that Travis McMichael shot Mr. Arbery because Mr. Arbery attacked him.

The state has argued that the defendants chased Mr. Arbery based on flimsy assumptions about his presence in their suburban neighborhood of Satilla Shores. Travis McMichael testified last week that he shot Mr. Arbery after Mr. Arbery grabbed his gun; a prosecutor pointed out that in Mr. McMichael’s initial statement to the police he had said he could not remember if that had happened.

Before the trial began, prosecutors signaled that they intended to tell the jury that the defendants’ decisions were based on racial animus; but the jury ultimately heard no talk of race.

Crime in the neighborhood

The defendants and other neighbors have described Satilla Shores as a community on edge after a series of burglaries and property crime. Gregory McMichael said that when he saw Mr. Arbery running through the neighborhood, he thought he looked like a man suspected in several break-ins in the area.

Mr. Arbery had been spotted on security camera footage several times at a house under construction. No evidence was produced that he had ever taken any property from the site.

One law dismantled, another enacted

Mr. Arbery’s death led lawmakers in Atlanta to change the state law in two significant ways. First, they gutted a Civil War-era citizen’s arrest statute that allowed citizens to arrest one another under certain circumstances and when the police were not present. Second, lawmakers passed a hate crimes law, allowing for extra penalties for people who commit crimes against others based on their race, gender, sexual orientation or other identities. Law enforcement officials are required to file reports of these kinds of crimes so the state can track them.

The defendants have claimed they are not guilty based in part on the former citizen’s arrest law. They were not charged under the new hate crimes law, but all three were indicted under the federal hate crimes statute earlier this year. Their trial in that case is set for February.

Credit…Pool photo by Elijah Nouvelage

The indictment handed up by the grand jury in Glynn County lists nine criminal counts against each of the three defendants in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. For each count, they are charged individually and as “parties concerned in the commission of a crime.”

Taken together, the charges provide a number of different ways that the defendants, Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William Bryan, could wind up facing life in prison if they are convicted. All have pleaded not guilty.

Here are the charges in the order listed in the indictment:

Count 1

Malice murder

This crime is defined in Georgia law as causing a person’s death with deliberate intention, without considerable provocation, and “where all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.” It is punishable by death, or by life imprisonment with or without possibility of parole.

Counts 2, 3, 4 AND 5

Felony murder

This charge applies when a death is caused in the course of committing another felony, “irrespective of malice” — in other words, whether or not the killing was intentional and unprovoked.

The other felonies in this case are listed in Counts 6 through 9 of the indictment; one count of felony murder is linked to each. If prosecutors prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants committed one or more of those crimes and also caused Mr. Arbery’s death in the process, the basis would be laid for a conviction for felony murder.

Like malice murder, felony murder is punishable by death, or by life imprisonment with or without possibility of parole.

Count 6

Aggravated assault

One way Georgia law defines this crime is as an assault using a deadly weapon. This count charges the three men with attacking Mr. Arbery with a 12-gauge shotgun. It is punishable by imprisonment of one to 20 years.

Count 7

Aggravated assault

Another way Georgia law defines this crime is as an assault using “any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury.” This count charges the defendants with using two pickup trucks to assault Mr. Arbery. It is punishable by imprisonment of one to 20 years.

Count 8

False imprisonment

This charge applies when a person without legal authority “arrests, confines, or detains” another person “in violation of the personal liberty” of that person. Specifically, the defendants are charged with using their pickup trucks to chase, confine and detain Mr. Arbery “without legal authority.”

False imprisonment is punishable by one to 10 years in prison.

Count 9

Criminal attempt to commit a felony

Georgia law defines criminal attempt as performing “any act which constitutes a substantial step” toward the intentional commission of a crime — in this case, the false imprisonment charged in Count 8. A defendant can be convicted either of completing a particular crime or of attempting it, but not both.

Because false imprisonment is a felony, attempting it is also a felony, punishable by half the attempted crime’s maximum sentence: in this case, one to five years in prison.

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