Prosecution rests in US trial over Ahmaud Arbery’s killing

Prosecutor says defendants assumed the worst of Arbery before chasing and fatally shooting him.

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski shows evidence to members of the defence during the murder trial over the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia, the US November 16 [Stephen B. Morton/Pool via Reuters]

The prosecution has rested its case against the three men charged with murdering Ahmaud Arbery after presenting evidence it said shows that the defendants wrongly assumed that Arbery, a Black man, was the suspect of a crime in a mostly white southern Georgia neighbourhood.

Several witnesses testified on Tuesday, including Dr Edmund Donoghue, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner, who said Arbery was hit by two of the three shotgun rounds fired at him.

“Is there anything law enforcement or EMS could have done to save his life at the scene?” prosecutor Linda Dunikoski asked the medical examiner.

“I don’t think so. No,” Donoghue replied.

Arbery, who was 25, was running through a neighbourhood in Brunswick, a coastal community 480km (300 miles) southeast of Atlanta, on February 23, 2020.

Lawyers for the defendants – Gregory McMichael, 65, his son Travis McMichael, 35, and neighbour William “Roddie” Bryan, 52 – have argued that their clients were justified in chasing Arbery, who was Black, to enforce a citizens’ arrest.

A video showing the killing of Arbery leaked in early May of last year, sparking outrage and calls for justice that led to the arrests of the McMichaels and Bryan, who are white.

Arbery’s name was invoked during racial justice protests that rocked the country after the murder of George Floyd in late May of 2020 by a Minnesota police officer, whose killing was also recorded on video.

The video of Arbery’s final moments was played several times during court proceedings. It shows Travis McMichael shooting Arbery during a struggle. It was filmed by Bryan who had joined the McMichaels in their pursuit of Arbery and later told investigators he tried to use the truck to block Arbery’s path.

During the trial, prosecutors relied on the defendants’ statements to investigators, having witnesses read them out loud.

“He was trapped like a rat,” the elder McMichael told a detective hours after the deadly chase of Arbery. “I think he was wanting to flee and he realized that, you know, he was not going to get away.”

Local prosecutors had initially declined to charge the suspects in the Arbery case. Months later, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the probe after the video became public.  The defendants were arrested and charged with murder.

Arbery had been seen entering a house under construction in the neighbourhood. The owner of the house says Arbery did not steal anything.

But the defendants said they followed him to stop him until the police arrived. At the time, Georgia had a law enabling citizens’ arrest; it was repealed after the killing of Arbery.

Defence lawyers say that the younger McMichael acted in self-defence when he shot Arbery, whom they say reached for McMichael’s drawn shotgun.

Prosecutor Dunikoski has repeatedly said that the defendants acted based on assumptions when they went after Arbery without reasonable suspicion that he committed a crime.

“They assumed that he must have committed some crime that day,” Dunikoski said in her opening statement earlier this month.

“He tried to run around their truck and get away from these strangers, total strangers, who had already told him that they would kill him. And then they killed him.”

The trial is seen as the most high-profile test of racial justice since Derek Chauvin was convicted in June for the murder of Floyd. Eleven of the 12 jurors are white, though the judge has said potential Black jurors were dismissed for legitimate reasons unrelated to race.

Kevin Gough, a lawyer for Bryan, caused an outcry last week when he complained about the presence of civil rights leaders in the courtroom, saying “we don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here”.

Gough argued that the presence of pastors who are not related to the family may improperly influence the jury.

On Monday, Judge Timothy Walmsley denounced Gough’s remarks as “reprehensible”. He also rejected a request to have Reverend Jesse Jackson leave the courtroom.

Defence lawyers will continue to present their case to the jury in the coming days before closing arguments.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies