By Jonathan Allen and Rich McKay
BRUNSWICK, Ga. (Reuters) -Ahmaud Arbery was “under attack” when three white men in pickup trucks chased the Black jogger through a mostly white neighborhood in southern Georgia before killing him with a shotgun, a prosecutor told the jury in the men’s murder trial on Friday.
Gregory McMichael, 65, his son Travis McMichael, 35, and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment for shooting Arbery dead on Feb. 23, 2020.
They later said they thought Arbery might have been fleeing a crime and were trying to detain him under the state’s now-repealed citizen’s arrest statute in a neighborhood their lawyers say was “on edge” over reports of thefts.
“It is a citizen’s job to help the police, and the law authorizes that,” Robert Rubin, a lawyer representing the younger McMichael, said in his opening statement. “When seconds count, the police are often minutes away. The police are not going to catch this guy at the speed he’s running.”
The defendants’ own words undermine their defense, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said in her opening statement. The men had “assumed the worst” upon seeing a Black man running down their street on a warm Sunday afternoon in Satilla Shores, a residential area near the small coastal city of Brunswick.
The McMichaels grabbed a handgun and a 12-gauge shotgun and jumped in the son’s pickup truck after Arbery ran by their driveway.
“I assumed something was up,” Travis McMichael later told police when explaining why he and his father chased Arbery, Dunikoski told the jury, composed of 11 white people and one Black person, in Glynn County Superior Court in Brunswick.
Bryan saw the pursuit as it came near his home and jumped in his own pickup truck. Dunikoski called the truck a “5,000-pound lethal weapon” that Bryan swerved toward Arbery four times to angle him off the road into a ditch.
“Ladies and gentleman, at this point in time, Mr. Arbery is under attack by all three of these men,” she said. Bryan got so close that they found Arbery’s handprint and fibers from his white T-shirt on the truck, she told the jury.
“All three of these defendants did everything they did based on assumptions,” Dunikoski said as she showed videos of Arbery’s final minutes, including cellphone video of the shooting recorded by Bryan.
“They made decisions in their driveways based on those assumptions that took a young man’s life, and that is why we are here.”
‘LIKE A RAT’
Dunikoski said the defendants had deadly intent, pointing to something the elder McMichael told police he shouted at Arbery: “Stop or I’ll blow your fucking head off!” She said he also told police they had trapped Arbery “like a rat.”
Arbery’s father left the courtroom before Bryan’s cellphone video of the shooting was played, which shows the younger McMichael pointing his shotgun at Arbery, who runs towards it before the fatal shots are fired. Arbery’s mother sobbed into a man’s shoulder in the courtroom gallery.
Rubin said in his opening statement that Travis McMichael had been frightened that Arbery might have been armed, though it would turn out the jogger did not even have his cellphone on him.
The man opened fire in self-defense as Arbery tried to grab his shotgun, Rubin said, and was left distraught and covered in Arbery’s blood.
In the months before the shooting, reports went around Satilla Shores of property crimes, unsettling residents of a once-idyllic place in which to raise a family, Rubin told the jury.
Arbery had been seen in security-camera video roaming around an unoccupied half-built house near the McMichaels’ on several occasions in the months leading up to the shooting.
The property owner, Larry English, shared some of the video with the neighbors, and Travis McMichael was among those who saw the older videos, according to prosecutors and defense counsel.
The prosecution told the jury they would see a deposition by English, who has said nothing was taken from his property on the days Arbery was there, and that he believes Arbery would use a water source on the site to quench his thirst.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in Brunswick and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Ross Colvin, Howard Goller and Jonathan Oatis)
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