Trial closing arguments begin in murder case

November 22, 2021
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BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Closing arguments began Monday in the murder trial of three white men accused in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, who was Black, early last year.

A panel of 12 jurors and three alternates were hearing from the prosecution and were set to hear from lawyers for each of the three defendants. After closings, the jurors are expected to begin deliberations on a verdict.

Father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan are charged with murder and other crimes in the February 2020 fatal shooting in Brunswick, a small coastal town about 80 miles south of Savannah. They were arrested two months after the shooting, when Bryan’s cellphone video of the incident was released.

Video: Legal experts break down how key frames may be used in trial over Ahmaud Arbery’s death

Here’s what to know:

What charges do the McMichaels and Bryan face?

Gregory, 65, and Travis McMichael, 35, and Bryan, 52, are charged with felony murder and malice murder, two counts of aggravated assault, and one count of false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.

Both murder charges could result in a life sentence. Aggravated assault has a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. False imprisonment is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. If the defendants are convicted on multiple counts, they will be sentenced on the most serious charge.

What prosecution, defense are expected to argue

Defense attorneys have argued the men were attempting to detain Arbery, 25, because they had reason to suspect Arbery had burglarized a house under construction. The attorneys say residents had been increasingly on edge about crime in the neighborhood and that a man matching Arbery’s description had been spotted on camera multiple times inside site.

Attorneys for Travis McMichael say he shot Arbery in self-defense. And attorneys for Bryan say he did not intend to hurt Arbery and was not attempting to assault Arbery with his truck.

Meanwhile, prosecutors argue the defendants saw a Black man running through their largely white neighborhood and made fatal assumptions about what he was doing there. The prosecution said the men had no knowledge of any crimes committed by Arbery and had no intention of making a citizen’s arrest. They also argued that Bryan attempted to hit Arbery with his truck multiple times as Arbery tried to run away.

Jury makeup draws scrutiny after lengthy selection process

From an initial pool of 1,000 people, the court ultimately selected 12 jurors and three alternates: 11 white women, three white men and one Black man.

The jury’s makeup, with just one person of color, has drawn criticism for not mirroring the demographic makeup of Glynn County, where more than 26% of residents are Black, or Brunswick, where more than 55% of residents are Black, according to Census Bureau data.

Race was a major theme in questioning. Attorneys questioned prospective jurors about their views of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Confederate flag, the criminal justice system and more. 

Judge Timothy Walmsley even acknowledged “the racial overtones in the case” but said while there “appears to be intentional discrimination” in the jury selection process, he could not take action because defense attorneys were able to give nonracial reasons for their decisions to strike the potential Black jurors from the panel.

Jury selection in the case was further complicated by many would-be jurors’ familiarity with Arbery’s killing, privacy concerns and personal connections to people involved in the incident and the trial.

Black clergy leaders march with Arbery’s family 

Last week, more than 100 Black pastors and other spiritual leaders held a prayer vigil and march outside the courthouse after Bryan’s defense attorney, Kevin Gough, repeatedly tried to have “high-profile members of the African American community” removed from the courtroom. Gough told the judge that the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson were “intimidating” the jury.

The judge denied the requests, and Gough’s words became a clarion call for Black clergy across the country to converge on Brunswick in a show of spiritual solidarity

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