The first full week of the murder trial in Brunswick in which 3 white men are being prosecuted for killing an unarmed Black jogger ended Friday.
Here are 5 things we’ve learned from prosecutors, defense lawyers and witnesses so far:
The prosecuting team from Cobb County, led by senior assistant district attorney Linda Dunikoski, has been calling witnesses to build her case that Greg McMichael, his adult son Travis and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan are guilty of murder through “bad assumptions” and horrible “driveway decisions” when they decided to chase, trap and shoot Ahmaud Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020.
This week, Dunikoski and her team have called to the stand residents of Satilla Shores, the neighborhood where the killing took place, as well as Glynn County police officers who took the defendants’ original statements. Included in the original statement Greg McMichael gave to the police was this sentence in which he referred to Arbery: “He was trapped like a rat. I think he was wanting to flee and he realized that he was not going to get away.”
In our promise to provide in-depth reporting and context, we’ve set up a special coverage page where you can follow the trial through live feeds, video outtakes, and photos, national and international press reports. You can also follow the testimony through timeline of events from Arbery’s death until the trial began.
Defense attorneys for the three men say their clients reasonably suspected Arbery was a burglar and were trying to hold him for police. They say Travis McMichael, 35, fired his gun in self defense when Arbery attacked with his fists.
In fact, a Glynn County investigator who originally informed Arbery’s mother that her son had been killed told Wanda Cooper Jones that her 25-year-old son had been in involved in a burglary and in a subsequent altercation with a homeowner he was killed when a weapon was discharged.
That former investigator who has since left the force, Stephan Lowrey, never mentioned a robbery when on the stand this week. Instead, he testified as to how Bryan, the McMichaels’ neighbor, tried to trap Arbery in a ditch with his pickup truck during the five-minute chase in which the McMichaels, also in a pickup truck, tried to run down Arbery.
The homeowner, Larry English, had some equipment stolen from his boat months before Arbery’s death, but he did not suspect Arbery. Instead, he told police he suspected a white couple who had also been recorded by surveillance video on his property.
Prosecutors also brought to the stand several witnesses as part of their strategy to undercut any defense arguments that the defendants were lawfully attempting to detain Arbery under Georgia’s former citizen’s arrest law. That statute allowed for a private person to detain someone they had credible reason to believe had committed a felony in their presence. Arbery had been seen on surveillance cameras wandering through an abandoned, unfinished home in Satilla Shores multiple times before he was shot and killed.
Witnesses for the prosecution, including the homeowner, repeatedly said that Arbery had not committed any crimes there.
The attorney representing Bryan, the only local Glynn County-based criminal defense lawyer in this case, has made national headlines by his multiple objections to Judge Timothy Walmsley about the small group of community activists who gather each morning outside the Glynn County Courthouse in support of Arbery’s parents.
Lawyer Kevin Gough has repeatedly asked the judge to bar them from demonstrating, saying their presence was an attempt to influence and intimidate the jurors — requests Judge Walmsley has continuously denied.
On Thursday, Gough ratcheted up his complaints after Arbery’s parents sat in court with the Rev. Al Sharpton in attendance with them. “We want to keep politics out of this case.” Gough told the judge. “We don’t want any more Black pastors in here.”
In a case that already has made Glynn County a synonym for America’s racial reckoning, these inflammatory words sparked a rebuke from Judge Walmsley. “Enough of that,” the judge said.
Walmsley quickly confirmed that he would not bar anyone from coming into the court gallery if they abided by the strict social distancing rules in place.
There is no evidence that the jurors, 11 whites and 1 Black, have ever seen the demonstration in the public square in front of the courthouse — they have a separate entrance to the courthouse — or noticed Rev. Sharpton in the back corner of the courtroom.
Arbery’s parents as well as Leigh McMichael, Greg’s wife and Travis’s mother, have attended court each day since the opening arguments. They are seated on the same side of the courtroom, with Leigh and McMichael’s relatives nearest to the defense attorney’s table, followed by a row of media and then a row for the Arberys and their relatives and legal aides.
Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney who is representing the Arbery family in a civil case that will start after the criminal proceedings are finished, told the assembled television cameras and demonstrators outside the courthouse Thursday that he was hopeful for a guilty verdict. “What happens here in Brunswick, Georgia, is going to be a proclamation not only to Brunswick, not only to Georgia but to the world that how far we have come to get equal justice for marginalized Black people in America,” Crump said.
The case will resume Monday morning, with more prosecution witnesses. The three defense lawyers have yet to start calling their own witnesses. Follow the trial with updates, live feed and reporting from across the nation.