In Trial’s Opening Statement, Prosecutor Says Ahmaud Arbery Was ‘Under Attack’

The prosecution detailed how three defendants chased Mr. Arbery in two pickup trucks and the confrontation that ended with his death.


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In her opening statement, the lead prosecutor says Ahmaud Arbery was ‘under attack.’

“All three of these defendants did everything they did based on assumptions,” a prosecutor, Linda Dunikoski, said during opening arguments on Friday. “Not on facts, not on evidence — on assumptions.”Credit…Octavio Jones/Reuters

Nov. 5, 2021Updated 2:13 p.m. ET

The lead prosecutor in the trial of the three white men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery said in her opening statement on Friday that Mr. Arbery was plainly “under attack” by the defendants when they chased him in trucks through their neighborhood — a chase that ended with one of the defendants, Travis McMichael, fatally shooting Mr. Arbery with his pump-action shotgun.

The prosecutor, Linda Dunikoski, said that the men had “assumed the worst” about Mr. Arbery but had no “immediate knowledge” of him committing a crime when they decided to chase him in their trucks through their neighborhood.

“A very wise person once said, ‘Don’t assume the worst of another person’s intentions until you actually know what’s going on with them,’ ” Ms. Dunikoski told the 12-person jury, of which 11 are white and one is Black. But, she said, “all three of these defendants did everything they did based on assumptions. Not on facts, not on evidence — on assumptions. And they made decisions in their driveways based on those assumptions that took a young man’s life. And that is why we’re here.”

Ms. Dunikoski walked the jurors through the details of the afternoon of Feb. 23, 2020.

She said that Mr. Arbery, an avid runner, had gone into a house under construction in the Satilla Shores subdivision, outside of Brunswick, Ga., and noted that he had been recorded on video cameras inside the house numerous times before. But there was no evidence that he ever took anything.

The owner of the house, Larry English, had had some belongings stolen out of his boat, which was sometimes on the property. But Ms. Dunikoski said that Mr. English ended up suspecting a different man and woman — who were also captured on video — of those thefts.

The three defendants had been concerned about neighborhood break-ins. On Jan. 1, she noted, Travis McMichael’s handgun was stolen from his truck.

Ms. Dunikoski argued to the jury that Gregory McMichael, Travis’s father and a fellow defendant, had merely seen Mr. Arbery running down the street after leaving Mr. English’s house. When asked by police later if Mr. Arbery had broken into the house, Mr. McMichael said, “I don’t know.” He added, “My intention was to stop this guy so that he could be arrested or be identified at the very least.”

The prosecution’s assertion that none of the men had immediate knowledge that a crime was committed appears to be in anticipation of the likelihood that the defense will argue that the men were making a legal arrest under Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law, which was largely repealed by the state legislature after widespread outcry over Mr. Arbery’s killing. That law previously stated that a private person may arrest someone “if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.”

Ms. Dunikoski also described in detail how the two McMichaels and the third defendant, their neighbor William Bryan, chased Mr. Arbery for five minutes as he ran through their neighborhood, trying to evade them — the McMichaels in one pickup truck and Mr. Bryan in another. She said that in the midst of the chase, Travis McMichael stopped and asked Mr. Arbery, “Where you running from? What are you doing?” Mr. Arbery ignored him.

At some point during the pursuit, she said, Gregory McMichael, who was armed with a handgun, said to Mr. Arbery, “Stop or I’ll blow your fucking head off,” language, she said, that indicated an intent to harm Mr. Arbery, not simply talk to him.

She said that Mr. Bryan tried to hit Mr. Arbery four times with his pickup truck, at one point forcing him into a ditch.

Understand the Killing of Ahmaud Arbery

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The shooting. On Feb. 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot and killed after being chased by three white men while jogging near his home on the outskirts of Brunswick, Ga. The slaying of Mr. Arbery was captured in a graphic video that was widely viewed by the public.

The victim. Mr. Arbery was a former high school football standout and an avid jogger. At the time of his death, he was living with his mother outside the small coastal city in Southern Georgia.

The suspects. Three white men — Gregory McMichael, 67, his 35-year-old son, Travis McMichael, and their neighbor William Bryan, 52 — stand accused of murdering Mr. Arbery. They have also been indicted on federal hate crime charges. The men told authorities they suspected Mr. Arbery of committing a series of break-ins.

The fallout. The release of the video of the shooting sparked nationwide protests and prompted Georgia lawmakers to make significant changes to the state’s criminal law, including passage of the state’s first hate crimes statute.

The trial. The unsettling video of Mr. Arbery’s killing is set to play a starring role in the trial, which could bear similarities to that of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty of murder in the death of George Floyd.

The jury. After an extraordinarily long process, a jury was selected in the trial. Among the selected jurors, who are all residents from Glynn County, where more than a quarter of the population is Black, are 11 white people and one Black person,

And Ms. Dunikoski played the video that Mr. Bryan recorded on his cellphone, showing the moments when the two trucks had pinned Mr. Arbery in. She said that Gregory McMichael later claimed that Mr. Arbery had been “trapped like a rat.”

Ms. Dunikoski said the video showed Travis McMichael pointing the shotgun at Mr. Arbery as he ran toward the McMichaels’ truck. She noted that Travis McMichael had stepped out of the truck in one lane of the two-lane street, by the driver’s side door, with the truck blocking the second lane. The video shows Mr. Arbery running to the passenger side of the truck in an attempt to evade him. The two men appear to meet head on in front of the truck.

“What did McMichael do with that shotgun?” Ms. Dunikoski said. “He stepped around that open door and moved toward Mr. Arbery. He’s got a shotgun and he’s moving toward him to intercept him.”

Several shots are fired as the men struggle. Mr. Arbery falls to the ground after the last.

Ms. Dunikoski said that in interviews with police, Travis McMichael said that Mr. Arbery attacked him and that he was acting in self-defense. But she also said that when police asked him if Mr. Arbery grabbed his shotgun, he said, “I want to say he did, but I honestly cannot remember.”

The prosecutor asked the jury to find the men guilty on all of the counts on which they were indicted — including malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment.





Ahmaud Arbery’s Final Minutes: What Videos and 911 Calls Show

Using security footage, cellphone video, 911 calls and police reports, The Times has reconstructed the 12 minutes before Ahmaud Arbery was shot dead in Georgia on Feb. 23.

In February, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was shot dead in the south Georgia neighborhood of Satilla Shores. In the two months that followed, no arrests were made. But local residents and lawmakers protested what they said was a deadly combination of racial profiling and flawed self-defense laws. “When they stop you, make sure you got your cameras on. Make sure you got a video.” Police did eventually arrest 2 suspects, but it was days after this video of the fatal shooting emerged. Gregory McMichael and his son Travis were charged with murder and aggravated assault. The case has reignited the national debate over racial violence. “I’m sure you saw the news about Ahmaud Arbery.” “It looks like murder.” “The American public saw the video.” What exactly happened in the last moments of Mr. Arbery’s life? Using security camera footage, cellphone video, and 911 calls and logs, The Times has reconstructed the critical 12 minutes from when Mr. Arbery appeared on Satilla Drive to his death, less than 300 yards away. It’s around 1 p.m. on Feb. 23 when Ahmaud Arbery is out, less than 2 miles from his home. A security camera at 219 Satilla Drive is recording when Mr. Arbery enters the frame at around 1:04 p.m. He may have been jogging in the area, but he stops on the front lawn of 220 Satilla, a house being built across the street. Arbery glances around and wanders into the open construction site. Inside, security footage briefly captures him looking around. Meanwhile outside, a neighbor walks from Jones Road towards Satilla Drive and calls 911. The neighbor waits by the street corner. He will later tell the dispatcher that Arbery resembles a recent trespasser in the area. On multiple occasions before Feb. 23, several trespassers were caught on camera at 220 Satilla. The owner routinely alerted the police. On four occasions, what appears to be the same man was filmed. It’s unclear if this was Arbery, but even if it were, this does not justify his shooting by neighbors outside on the street. The site’s owner says nothing was ever stolen from the house during these incidents or on Feb. 23, and no property was ever damaged. But neighbors were aware of the trespasses and the community was on alert. Now, back to the day in question. It’s 1:08 p.m. and Arbery is walking around inside the house. Four minutes after he entered, he walks out and runs off. In the top corner of the security footage, we can see down the street to 230 Satilla, the home of Travis McMichael. At 1:10 p.m., Travis and his father, Gregory, grab their guns, jump in a white truck, and leave the house to pursue Mr. Arbery. We don’t have footage showing the next 3 minutes, but testimony Gregory McMichael gave police at the scene, and interviews by another witness, Roddy Bryan, indicate what happened. Gregory and Travis McMichael follow Arbery onto Burford Road. Their neighbor Roddy Bryan sees the pursuit, gets in his car and follows. The McMichaels try to cut Arbery off. Arbery doubles back and passes them. Bryan tries to block Arbery, but Arbery runs past him and toward Holmes Road. Gregory McMichael climbs from the cab to the bed of the truck armed with a handgun. We don’t know exactly what happens next. But Bryan and the McMichaels end up following Arbery on Holmes Road. And we next see Arbery at 1:14 p.m. running back down Holmes Road away from Roddy Bryan and toward the McMichaels. Roddy Bryan is filming and — a warning — these scenes are distressing. Gregory McMichael dials 911 at this time. Let’s watch this back and break down what happens. This is Arbery. He has been running from the vehicles for almost 4 minutes. Travis is standing by the driver’s side of the truck, armed with a shotgun. Gregory is in the bed of the truck on the 911 call. Arbery doesn’t know where to run. He veers right, then left and then darts around the right side of the vehicle. Arbery comes around the front of the truck. We see his white T-shirt through the windshield and here is Travis now leaning toward him. This is the instant the first shot is fired. Arbery is hit in the chest, his right lung, ribs, and sternum are injured. The two men wrestle over the gun. Gregory shouts: “Travis!” Arbery punches Travis. In the back of the truck, Gregory drops the cellphone. A second blast goes off out of frame. But we see the shotgun smoke here. Arbery is heavily bleeding. He throws another punch. Travis fires a final shot, which hits Arbery in his left upper chest. Travis walks away holding his gun. Gregory gets off the truck clutching his .357 Magnum. According to the police report, Gregory rolled Arbery over to see if he had a weapon. He did not. Police officers arrive within seconds of the shooting, and a minute or so later at 1:16 p.m., Police Officer R. Minshew reports: Two subjects on Holmes Road. Shots fired. Male on ground bleeding out. The police took Gregory McMichael’s testimony and let the two men go. But now the McMichaels both face serious charges. Hi, this is Malachy and I reported this story. For transparency, a note about the security footage used in this video, which was first published by The Atlanta Journal Constitution. The time code you see here is incorrect. We know this because we lined up what we see in this video with what we hear in two 911 calls and we confirmed the time of those calls. These details and police logs also allowed us to determine that Gregory McMichael called 911 from his son’s phone just before the fatal shooting. So in this video, we used the real time that events happened. Thank you for watching.

Using security footage, cellphone video, 911 calls and police reports, The Times has reconstructed the 12 minutes before Ahmaud Arbery was shot dead in Georgia on Feb. 23.CreditCredit…Dustin Chambers for The New York Times

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