January 18, 2022

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Ahmaud Arbery killing trial: Here’s what we know as defense presents its case

5 min read

Before witnesses were called, a defense attorney for defendant William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. made his opening statements Wednesday morning, having chosen to wait to do this until the prosecution rested their case. Attorneys for the other defendants gave opening statements at the start of trial.

Attorneys for the three defendants — Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael and their neighbor Bryan — say the men acted in self-defense in the shooting of Arbery in February 2020 outside Brunswick, Georgia.
Prosecutors contend the men believed Arbery had committed a crime, and video taken by Bryan of the shooting shows the men chasing Arbery in vehicles before a scuffle led to Travis McMichael firing the fatal shots.

Defense attorneys have said their clients were trying to conduct a lawful citizen’s arrest of Arbery, whom they suspected of burglary, while Arbery’s family say he had been jogging in the area before the shooting.

Late last week, attorney Jason Sheffield said he expected the defense to call 30 witnesses, with testimony stretching into early next week.

Also Wednesday, Gough — before he started his opening statement — again objected to the presence in the gallery of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, asking the judge to declare a mistrial. The judge denied the motion.

Jackson attended court during parts of this week after defense attorney Kevin Gough objected last week to the presence in court of civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton. Gough said last week “we don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here” to potentially influence the jury, and then apologized.

The judge also denied Wednesday defense motions to issue a directed verdict of acquittal on at least some of the charges against the defendants, based on their arguments that a jury couldn’t find them guilty based on presented evidence.

Race has played a role both inside and outside the courtroom, not only regarding those on trial — the three defendants are White while Arbery is Black — but in the proceedings surrounding the trial, with defense attorneys objecting to Black pastors sitting in the gallery.

And following a long and contentious jury selection process, Judge Timothy Walmsley said the defense had appeared to be discriminatory in selecting the jurors but allowed the case to go forward — with only one Black member on the 12-person panel.
In addition to malice and felony murder, the defendants also face charges of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony. All have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, each man could face life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Forensic pathologist on Tuesday: Nothing could have been done to save Arbery on scene

Prosecutors rested their case following eight days of testimony and 23 witnesses.

GBI investigator confirms Ahmaud Arbery was shot at close range based on the size of the holes in his shirt
Jurors heard Tuesday from Georgia Bureau of Investigation forensic pathologist Dr. Edmund Donoghue, who performed Arbery’s autopsy last year.

Though three shots were fired, only the first and third struck Arbery, Donoghue testified. The first not only grazed his right wrist — hitting an artery and causing severe bleeding — but also struck his center chest, breaking ribs and filling his chest cavity with blood, he said.

The third shot struck his left chest and armpit, hitting his axillary vein and axillary artery and paralyzing his left arm, Donoghue testified.

While a tourniquet could have remedied the wrist injury, nothing could have been done on the scene to save Arbery’s life after either of the torso wounds, Donoghue said.

Thirteen shotgun pellets exited Arbery’s back, and 11 more were recovered from his wounds, the report says.

Without the jury present on Tuesday, Bryan testified about the conditions of where he has been held since he was arrested last year, as part of his defense’s reconsideration motion regarding a speedy trial. Bryan said he was being held at a protective unit at the jail with limited access to showers and outside recreation and that he has been living in fear due to the pandemic.

The judge denied the motion.

Contentious objections from defense over Black pastors’ attendance

Attention at times during the trial has focused on an area distinctly out of the ordinary from many murder trials: the public gallery.

Ahmaud Arbery's mother wept as body cam video played
Gough, the attorney for Bryan who apologized last week for arguing that the presence of Black pastors like Sharpton could influence the jury, again raised concern Tuesday about who is allowed in the courtroom’s public gallery during trial.
Gough’s string of complaints began last week after Sharpton joined Arbery’s parents and held their hands to pray together during a break in court proceedings. Gough objected again Monday, when Jackson made his first appearance in the gallery of the courtroom in support of the Arbery family.

Gough on Tuesday filed a motion asking the court to keep a record of who appears in the courtroom, in case any of the three defendants are convicted and an appeal is filed. Gough also asked the court to “take proactive measures” to make sure the presence of people in the gallery do not violate his client’s rights.

An attorney's attempt to ban Black pastors isn't keeping the Rev. Jesse Jackson away from the Arbery killing trial

The judge denied the motion, saying the court is not going to single out any particular individual or group of people, or restrict members of the public from attending court, as long as no one presents a distraction.

Prominent Black pastor and social activist the Rev. William J. Barber II, who was in Brunswick last week, said he left a member of his organization there to be with Arbery’s family and called Sharpton to have more ministers come down in the coming days.

Jackson has said he plans to attend court proceedings throughout the week in support of Arbery’s family, and Sharpton has called for a march and rally outside the courthouse Thursday.

Previous testimony

The McMichaels, according to their attorneys, were trying to conduct a citizens arrest on Arbery, whom they suspected of burglary after neighbors became concerned about people entering an under-construction home.
The confrontation came minutes after a neighbor called police to say a man later identified as Arbery was at the construction site alone that afternoon. Gregory McMichael, investigators testified, said he initiated the pursuit after seeing Arbery run speedily by McMichael’s home, and he believed Arbery matched the description of someone who’d been recorded at the construction site before.
The prosecution has said videos do show Arbery at the site multiple times, including the day he was killed, but always without breaking in and without incident.
However, prosecution witnesses have testified McMichael did not know at the time of the chase that Arbery was at the site that day, or whether the man in the surveillance videos had ever taken anything from the construction site.
The owner of the under-construction home, Larry English Jr., testified in a September deposition — played for jurors last week — that he “probably” had told the McMichaels about incidents on his property. But English said he never authorized the McMichaels to confront anybody on the construction site.
Bryan, who joined the McMichaels’ chase in his own vehicle, recorded cell phone video of the pursuit and shooting. Prosecutors contend he struck Arbery with his vehicle during the pursuit.

CNN’s Travis Caldwell, Jason Hanna, Jason Morris, Pamela Kirkland, Christina Maxouris and Delano Massey contributed to this report.

2021-11-17 12:14:21

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