Prosecutor: Defendants in Arbery case can’t use self-defense

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BRUNSWICK, Ga. | The three white men charged in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery had no right to claim self-defense because they were the ones who provoked a confrontation with the 25-year-old Black man while he was running in his neighborhood, a prosecutor told jurors in her final closing arguments Tuesday.

“You can’t claim self-defense if you are the unjustified aggressor,” Linda Dunikoski said. “Who started this? It wasn’t Ahmaud Arbery.”

The prosecution gets the final word because it carries the burden of proving its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutors and defense attorneys spent hours on Monday delivering closing arguments that spilled into a second day.

After the prosecution wraps up, Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley will give instructions to the disproportionately white jury on how to apply the law before it begins deliberations at the Glynn County courthouse in the port city of Brunswick.

Arbery’s killing became part of a larger national reckoning on racial injustice after a graphic video of his death leaked online two months later.

Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael grabbed guns and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck after spotting him running through their subdivision on Feb. 23, 2020. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase and recorded the video of Travis McMichael opening fire as Arbery threw punches and grabbed for McMichael’s shotgun.

No one was charged in the killing until Bryan’s video leaked and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case from local police. All three men are charged with murder and other offenses.

Dunikoski said Tuesday that the McMichaels and Bryan threatened Arbery both with their pickup trucks and by pointing a shotgun at him before the final confrontation in which Arbery threw punches and grabbed for the gun.

She also said there was no evidence Arbery had committed crimes in the defendants’ neighborhood. She said Ahmaud was never seen stealing anything the five times he was recorded by security cameras in an unfinished home under construction from which he was seen running.

“You’ve got lumber, you’ve got all this stuff,” Dunikoski said. “Mr. Arbery never shows up with a bag. He doesn’t pull up with a U-haul. … All he does is wander around for a few minutes and then leave.”

The prosecutors told jurors someone can only make a citizen’s arrest in “emergency situations” where a crime is happening “right then and there.”

Defense attorneys objected to Dunikoski’s explanation of citizen’s arrest because they contend the McMichaels had reason to suspect Arbery had stolen items from the home. They said the owner discovered the items missing before he installed security cameras.

“This is a misstatement of the law and the argument is improper,” Franklin Hogue, an attorney for Greg McMichael, told the judge. “There’s no way we can fix it,” before the jury, he said, because defense attorneys finished their closings Monday.

Defense attorneys used their closing arguments Monday to argue that the McMichaels were attempting a legal citizen’s arrest when they set off after Arbery, seeking to detain and question him.

Attorney Jason Sheffield said his client, Travis McMichael, fired his shotgun in self-defense after Arbery charged at him, threw punches and tried to grab the weapon. Sheffield called Arbery’s death a tragedy, but one that was his own fault.

Attorneys for the other two defendants blamed Arbery as well. Laura Hogue, an attorney for Greg McMichael, said Arbery “chose to fight.” Kevin Gough, who represents Bryan, questioned why Arbery didn’t call for help if he was in danger.

“Maybe that’s because Mr. Arbery doesn’t want help,” Gough said.

Arbery had enrolled at a technical college and was preparing at the time to study to become an electrician like his uncles.

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