A nearly all-white jury began hearing opening statements Friday in the murder trial of three white men charged in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was jogging in their neighborhood in February 2020.
Father and son Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael armed themselves and pursued Arbery after spotting him running in Brunswick, Georgia. Their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase and took cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery three times with a shotgun.
They weren’t charged until more than two months later after the cellphone video of the shooting leaked online. Each faces up to life in prison for his role in Arbery’s death.
The McMichaels have said they acted in self-defense, believing Arbery to be a burglar. The three men have separate legal teams, but are standing trial together, charged with murder and other felony counts.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski spent part of her opening statement explaining where each of the men was before the shooting to emphasize that they had no contact with Arbery, or knowledge of his whereabouts before they began chasing him, and could not have believed he was a burglar.
“We are here because of assumptions and driveway decisions,” she said. “A very wise person once said, ‘Don’t assume the worst of another person’s intentions until you actually know what’s going on with them.’ But in this case, all three defendants did everything they did based on assumptions.”
“And they made decisions in their driveways based on their assumptions that took a young man’s life and that’s why we are here,” said Dunikoski, the senior assistant district attorney for the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case.
The defense will begin its opening statements Friday afternoon, with attorneys for each defendant expected to give separate remarks.
Before the opening statements began, Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley ruled on multiple motions.
He denied the defense team’s motion to prevent jurors from knowing that Travis McMichaels’s pickup truck had a vanity license plate with the old Georgia state flag on it. Attorneys for the McMichaels said they believed prosecutors would use the license plate, which features the Confederate battle flag, to suggest that Arbery would have had reason to fear for his safety when he saw it and that is why he ran from them.
Walmsley also ruled that the defense cannot admit evidence that Arbery had been on probation or that he had a small amount of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, in his blood at the time of his slaying.
The makeup of the jury, which includes 11 white people and one Black person, sparked backlash this week. About 27 percent of the population in Glynn County, where the jurors are from, are Black.
“It’s outrageous that Black jurors were intentionally excluded to create such an imbalanced jury,” civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery Sr., said in a statement Thursday.
Walmsley said Wednesday there “appears to be intentional discrimination” after defense lawyers unseated eight Black potential jurors. But he denied prosecutors’ request to reinstate those jurors because he said the defense lawyers had presented legitimate reasons unrelated to race.
The trial is expected to last at least a month.