The highly anticipated trial of three men charged with murder for the vigilante-style killing of Ahmaud Arbery opened Friday with a prosecutor saying a series of false assumptions led to the death of the 25-year-old unarmed Black man, who was chased and gunned down in a suburban Georgia neighborhood last year.
The father-and-son pair of Gregory and Travis McMichael, along with a neighbor, William Roddie Bryan, are accused of chasing down and killing Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia, on the afternoon of February 23, 2020.
Lead prosecutor Linda Danikovsky claimed in her opening statement that it was a series of what she called “driveway decisions” that led to Arbery’s death, starting when Gregory McMichael saw Arbery quickly running down the street, which led him to falsely assume that Arbery—an avid jogger—was running because he had possibly committed a crime.
McMichael, who was in his driveway working on boat cushions, then rushed inside his house and alerted his son that he saw a man running, at which point the two grabbed guns and took off in Travis McMichael’s pickup truck in pursuit of Arbery.
Danikovsky said the two then chased Arbery past Bryan’s house, who then got in his own pickup truck to join in the pursuit of Arbery, at times trying to ram the truck into him.
After a five-minute chase, Travis McMichael exited the truck and fatally shot Arbery with a shotgun.
The three men have all pleaded not guilty to murder charges in the case, along with other charges like aggravated assault and false imprisonment.
“Mr. Arbery couldn’t have even called for help if he wanted to because he had no cell phone on him,” Danikovsky said, adding that Arbery didn’t have a bag, a wallet or any weapons on his person.
What To Watch For
Attorneys for the defense will begin delivering opening statements later on Friday afternoon. It’s expected they will try to argue the defendants were trying to make a citizen’s arrest of Arbery, who the McMichaels claim they mistakenly identified as a suspect in local thefts. Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law was repealed earlier this year. The trial is expected to last 7-10 days, according to Danikovsky.
Arbery’s killing and the slow response from authorities to arrest anyone in the case brought national outrage just weeks before George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer led to nationwide protests by Black Lives Matter and other activist groups. The nation was largely unaware of Arbery’s death and the circumstances behind it until a video was posted online on May 5, 2020. The McMichaels were arrested two days later, on May 7, while Bryan was arrested on May 21. Floyd was murdered on May 25.
11. Of the 12 jurors seated in the case, that’s how many are white. The racial makeup of the jury in such a racially charged case has led to concerns about the selection due to a notorious history of racially biased white juries in the South.