Ahmaud Arbery: Police told McMichaels Black jogger wasn’t a burglar days before shooting, prosecutor says

Opening statements began on Friday morning in the trial of the three white men accused of murdering Black 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery

Rachel Sharp
Friday 05 November 2021 21:51
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The white father and son accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery were told by police that he wasn’t a burglar just days before they chased the Black 25-year-old and shot him dead in the street, according to prosecutors.

Senior assistant district attorney Linda Dunikoski said in the prosecution’s opening statements on Friday morning that Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael knew there was no evidence Mr Arbery had stolen anything from a home under construction in the neighbourhood.

The prosecutor also shared statements from the suspects where they admitted they did not believe he had stolen anything.

“I don’t think the guy has actually stolen anything out of there,” Gregory McMichael told investigators, she said.

The McMichaels and their neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan Jr have claimed they were attempting to carry out a citizen’s arrest of Mr Arbery when he was shot dead, because they believed he was responsible for burglaries in the area.

The court also heard that the three white men were chasing him for five minutes in their pickup trucks with Gregory McMichael telling cops they had him “trapped like a rat”.

Mr Arbery was “under attack by strangers who were intent to kill him”, said the prosecutor.

Mr Arbery was jogging through the Satilla Shores neighbourhood near Brunswick, Georgia, on 23 February 2020 when the McMichaels grabbed guns and jumped in their pickup truck to chase him.

Their neighbour Mr Bryan also joined in the pursuit, following in his pickup truck and filming the incident on his smartphone.

The footage captured Travis McMichael shooting Mr Arbery three times with his shotgun.

Mr Arbery collapsed to the ground where he died.

The three defendants all face nine charges, including malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. They have all pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Opening statements began on Friday morning. Ms Dunikoski described what happened that day as a “assumptions and driveway decisions”.

“Why are we here? We are here because of assumptions and driveway decisions,” she said.

“All three defendants did everything they did on assumptions and they made decisions in their driveways based on those assumptions that took a young man’s life.”

The defense gave their opening statements after the prosecution.

Travis McMichael’s defense attorney Bob Rubin claimed that the Georgia community where Mr Arbery was killed had been “on edge” following a spike in crime and that the Black jogger appeared to be “suspicious”.

Mr Rubin said the 35-year-old was acting out of “duty and responsibility” to his local community when he shot Mr Arbery dead.

He said Travis McMichael had come “face-to-face” with Mr Arbery 12 days earlier on 11 February when he said the Black 25-year-old was breaking into a home under construction in the neighbourhood.

On that occasion, the defense claimed Mr Arbery put his hand into his pocket which Travis McMichael had taken as a sign he could have been armed.

The defense said that this led Travis McMichael to fear that Mr Arbery may be armed on the day of his shooting.

Mr Arbery was unarmed at the time of his death.

The defense also claimed that Travis McMichael armed himself with his gun in order to “deescalate the situation” on 23 February because his years of training in the US Coast Guard taught him that this is how to “get compliance”.

Attorneys for the three defendants delivered separate opening statements in the trial. Mr Bryan has made the unusual request to give his opening statement after the prosecution rests its case at the end of the trial.

Travis McMichael listens to the prosecution’s opening statement on Friday at his murder trial

In the prosecutor’s opening statement, she told the court that Mr Arbery had been captured on surveillance cameras at a home under construction belonging to Larry English in the months leading up to his death.

The homeowner found that items had been stolen from a boat at the property in October 2019 and so installed cameras.

However, both the homeowner and the police did not suspect Mr Arbery of stealing the items, the prosecutor said.

Instead, the homeowner told police he suspected a white homeless couple who had seen on the camera with a bag, she said.

On 11 February – just 12 days before Mr Arbery’s killing – Travis McMichael saw Mr Arbery in the neighbourhood, went home and went to the construction site with his father in his pickup truck and called 911.

At the same time, Mr English spotted Mr Arbery on the cameras and called another neighbour.

The prosecutor said that, when police arrived, an officer “had a conversation with Gregory and Travis McMichael that evening about this person unknown to them walking around the construction site that evening”.

The officer told the McMichaels that “Mr English says this guy has never stolen anything from this property”, she said.

She added: “So the McMichaels are fully informed that Mr English has said law enforcement told him he had never taken anything.”

Smartphone footage captured Ahmaud Arbery being shot by Travis McMichael

She played police bodycam footage from the 11 February encounter where she said there was no mention of a burglary or attempted burglary.

“There is no evidence that Mr Arbery has committed any robbery or theft at this property,” she said.

“And that’s what they know 12 days before the homicide.”

Ms Dunikoski detailed the events of 23 February, saying the three suspects made “assumptions” and “driveway decisions” to chase down and kill Mr Arbery.

She told the jury that Mr Arbery was seen walking around the construction site that afternoon and that a neighbour called a non-emergency police number.

Mr Arbery then left the property and was running down the street into the neighbourhood

At this moment, Gregory McMichael said he saw Mr Arbery “hauling ass”, running fast past his home, said the prosecutor.

This, she said, was “driveway decision one”.

“He has no idea that Mr Arbery has been inside the construction site or where he’s come from,” she said.

“He only sees him running down the street.”

Gregory McMichael on the first day of his trial for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery where the jurors heard how he told cops the Black man was “trapped like a rat"

Gregory McMichael later told investigators he didn’t know what Mr Arbery had done but “assumed” he “might have hurt somebody”.

“Well he’s running from somebody. He’s just done something - you know he might have hurt somebody or whatever,” he told police, according to the prosecutor.

Gregory McMichael ran inside to Travis and they got their guns, jumping in the pickup truck, she said.

The prosecutor said Travis had not seen Mr Arbery run past but joined his father telling police he “assumed something was up”.

The prosecutor then played surveillance footage from Mr Bryan’s home revealing he was outside on his porch when the McMichaels chased Mr Arbery in their truck along the road.

Mr Bryan then “makes his driveway decision” the prosecutor said, saying he jumped in his truck and joined in the chase.

She said the two trucks parted ways with Mr Bryan following Mr Arbery while the McMichaels went around the neighbourhood to meet Mr Arbery.

Mr Bryan then used a “5,000 pound lethal weapon also known as a pickup truck” to try to hit Mr Arbery four times, the prosecutor said.

The court heard that Mr Bryan’s vehicle came so close to Mr Arbery that his palm print and fibres from his white T-shirt were on the vehicle.

Mr Bryan told police how he “angled” at Mr Arbery and said: “I didn’t hit him… I wish I would have. Might have took him out and not get him shot.”

The prosecutor played a slowed-down version of the viral smartphone footage of the shooting to the jury.

She pointed out that the McMichaels’ pickup was blocking the right hand lane of the road and Travis was blocking the left lane pointing his gun at Mr Arbery as he was running in their direction.

The footage then shows Mr Arbery running to the right of the vehicle away from Travis.

The prosecutor shared a still image showing shadows of the car which is blocking the view of the first shot being fired. She pointed to shadows under the car which she said shows Travis had moved around to the front of the vehicle to where Mr Arbery was pointing the gun at him.

“The shadow shows Travis McMichael did not stay on the driver’s side of the pickup truck, he stepped around the truck toward Mr Arbery to intercept him at the front of the car,” she said.

Travis McMichael later told cops that he was “backing up” away from Mr Arbery who “squares up with me”, the court heard.

“I’m telling him to quit, to stop coming at me,” he said.

Gregory told police after the shooting that “the whole thing started when I saw this guy running down the street”.

William ‘Roddie’ Bryan Jr in court on Friday where the prosecutor said he tried to hit Ahmaud Arbery four times with his truck

The three suspects claim they were carrying out a citizen’s arrest and that Mr Arbery was then shot in self-defence.

The prosecution and Mr Arbery’s family have described his killing as a “modern-day lynching”.

The three suspects walked free for almost three months after Mr Arbery’s death until the footage was leaked online, sparking national outrage.

The racially charged trial has already been mired in controversy after an almost all-white jury was selected on Wednesday in a move the prosecution described as an act of discrimination on the part of the defence.

Out of 12 jurors selected, 11 are white and only one is Black.

Judge Timothy Walmsley said the court had found “intentional discrimination” by the defence but he allowed the case to move forward anyway.

On Thursday afternoon, one of the seated jurors – a white woman – was dismissed for undisclosed medical issues and replaced with another white juror.

Judge Walmsley ruled on a number of motions on Friday morning before the jury was sworn in.

He denied a request from the defence to allow the jury to hear that Mr Arbery was on probation at the time he was killed.

He also denied a second request from the defence to blur out the licence plate on Travis’ pickup truck because it featured the Confederate flag.

Following the prosecution’s opening statement, the judge also said he would not grant the defence a mistrial.

One of the defence lawyers had objected to the prosecutor raising the issue of the time gap between the time of Mr Arbery’s death and the arrest of the suspects – something which he had previously said could not be mentioned in front of the jury.

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