Loud gasps reverberated across the courtroom as the jury was shown graphic photographs depicting the death of Ahmaud Arbery. The high-profile and racially charged murder trial being broadcast live nation- wide focuses on the three white defendants, Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, and William Roddie Bryan, who are charged with hunting down and killing Arbery as he jogged through the Satilla Shores neighborhood Feb. 23, 2020.
In the back of the courtroom Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper- Jones, could be heard crying, her attorney Lee Merritt clutching her close for comfort. It took almost two weeks to select the jury, comprised of 11 white people and one African American, for the trial set in Glynn County Superior Court.
Crime scene investigator Glynn County police Sgt. Sheila Ramos showed the jury photos she took of the crime scene. Arbery’s bloody and lifeless body in the middle of the road. Photos showing the wounds to his chest, wrist and back. Arbery’s eye fixed and opened. The jury was shown the now infamous video that went viral and sparked enough outrage to get the Georgia Bureau of Investigations involved. Their involvement led to the arrest of the three men, nearly three months after the killing.
“I avoided the video for the last 18 months,” Cooper- Jones said during a court break to the media outside. “And I thought it was time to get familiar with what happened to Ahmaud on his last minutes of his life. So, I’m glad I was able to stay strong and stay in there.”
The first officer to arrive on scene, Ricky Minshew took the stand and said he heard gunshots as he approached the area of his call. He said within a minute he was on scene and saw Arbery on the road, bleeding profusely. Minshew, who has since left the police force, said Arbery’s injuries were beyond his scope of training in rendering aide. He testified his priority was to secure the scene and called for EMS and backup. Minshew said he spoke with Bryan, who told him he “cornered,” “blocked,” and “cut-off” Arbery as he pursued him in his truck.
Minshew also testified that Bryan never mentioned that he was attempting to make a citizen’s arrest, which is the base of the argument for all three defendants.
Attorneys for the defendants informed the jury that they would produce evidence to show that the three men were attempting to stop Arbery and detain him for police. Attorney Bob Rubin said the neighborhood where the men live had a recent rash of burglaries. The defense also showed the jury video tape of Arbery entering the construction site of a home in the neighborhood that belonged to Larry English. The attorneys for Travis McMichael said their client shot Arbery in self-defense after Arbery attempted to take away his shotgun.
“It is a citizen’s job to help the police, and the law authorizes that,” Rubin said in his opening statement. “When seconds count, the police are often minutes away. The police are not going to catch this guy at the speed he’s running.”
At the time the crime was committed Georgia’s Citizen arrest law was still in place. One year after Arbery’s death Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill that repealed the Civil-War era citizen’s arrest law, citing Arbery’s case as a prime example of its abuse.
Prosecutors argued that none of the defendants mentioned they were attempting to arrest Arbery for loitering, burglary, attempted burglary, aggravated assault or any other crime the day they chased him down. Minshew testified that Bryan never told him he saw Arbery with a weapon. Minshew said Bryan did not tell him he had ever told Arbery that he was “under arrest” for anything as he pursued him.
Ramos testified that Arbery had nothing in his pockets or on his person. Via transcript from a previously recorded deposition, English said other people besides Arbery had entered and left his home. He added Arbery was never seen taking any property from his construction site. Prosecutors added English thought it was a man and a woman also caught entering his property who were responsible for items stolen from his boat.
“We are here because of assumptions and driveway decisions,” prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said in her opening statements. Dunikoski told the jurors that evidence will show that Gregory McMichael told the police that Arbery “was trapped like a rat.”
Minshew testified Gregory McMichael told him that Travis “had no choice.”