Prosecutor: Men Chased Arbery Just Because He Was a Black Man Running

In her closing argument, Linda Dunikoski said that the defendants had no justification to pursue Ahmaud Arbery because they did not have any knowledge that he had committed a crime that day.


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The men pursued Arbery because ‘he was a Black man running down the street,’ the prosecutor says in summation.

Nov. 22, 2021, 11:57 a.m. ET

Nov. 22, 2021, 11:57 a.m. ET





Prosecutor Says Ahmaud Arbery Was Under Attack

The prosecutor argued in her closing arguments that the three white men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery cannot claim self-defense because they were “the initial unjustified aggressors.”

What did he do? What did Mr. Arbery do? He ran away for five minutes. He ran away from them. Ran away from them for five minutes. That’s what he did — put his hands out of his sides in those baggy shorts he had on. No weapon, no threats, no way to call for help, didn’t even have a cellphone on him. Ran away from them for five minutes. Ladies and gentleman, this is the bottom line. As I said in opening, and I say it to you again, this was an attack on Ahmaud Arbery. They committed the crimes, they committed the four felonies. They attacked him. They shot and killed him. They can’t claim self-defense under the law because they were the initial unjustified aggressors, and they started this.

The prosecutor argued in her closing arguments that the three white men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery cannot claim self-defense because they were “the initial unjustified aggressors.”CreditCredit…Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

In her closing argument, Linda Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor in the trial of the three men charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, said that the defendants had no justification to pursue Mr. Arbery or to claim they were performing a citizen’s arrest, because they did not have any knowledge that Mr. Arbery had committed a crime that day — they merely assumed that he had.

“All three of these defendants made assumptions about what was going on that day,” she said. “And they made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways, because he was a Black man running down the street.”

Ms. Dunikoski’s mention of Mr. Arbery’s race was significant because, during testimony last week, she did not bring up any instances of racist comments that the men were said to have made, including a claim by William Bryan that his fellow defendant, Travis McMichael, used a racist slur just after fatally shooting Mr. Arbery, a claim Mr. McMichael’s lawyers deny.

“So what’s going on here? You know what’s really going on here,” she said in her closing argument. “Mr. Arbery was under attack.”

She added: “They shot and killed him, not because he was a threat to them, but because he wouldn’t stop and talk to them. And they were going to make him — absolutely make him — stop. ‘We’re going to point a shotgun at you! That will make him stop.'”

Mr. Arbery was inside a partially built house on Feb. 23, 2020, in the defendants’ neighborhood. After a neighbor saw him and called police, Mr. Arbery left the house and began running. It was at that point that Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael’s father, saw Mr. Arbery and called to his son, and the two men began chasing Mr. Arbery in a pickup truck. Mr. Bryan, a neighbor, soon also began chasing Mr. Arbery.

The men have said that they were trying to detain Mr. Arbery as part of a legal citizen’s arrest. But Ms. Dunikoski said that Georgia law called for a person to be in the presence of a crime being committed, or have “immediate knowledge” that a crime was committed, to perform such an arrest. The law also says that a person can make such an arrest if a felony has been committed and a suspect is “escaping or attempting to escape,” but the arresting person must have “reasonable and probable grounds” of suspicion.

Ms. Dunikoski said the three men never saw Mr. Arbery inside the partly built house on the day of the incident. At most, she said, Mr. Arbery had committed the misdemeanor of trespassing. There is no evidence that Mr. Arbery had ever taken anything from the house, which he had visited numerous times before.

“Is he this giant burglar who just happened to never show up with a bag, or any means to steal anything, all right, or is he a looky-loo?” she said.

Without a legal justification to detain Mr. Arbery, Ms. Dunikoski said, the men were essentially committing crimes against him.

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. With an unsettling video set to play a starring role in court, the case bears similarities to that of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer found guilty of murdering George Floyd. The trial is likely to address issues such as vigilantism and the role racism played in the three defendants’ actions.

The jury. After an extraordinarily long process, 12 jurors in the case were selected. The jury, which is made up of residents of Glynn County, where more than a quarter of the population is Black, only includes one Black person.

She walked the jury through the charges — including false imprisonment, aggravated assault, felony murder and malice murder. She mentioned details that emerged in testimony about the way the three men in two pickup trucks had chased Mr. Arbery, who ran from them on foot. She noted that Mr. Bryan had tried numerous times to use his car to stop Mr. Arbery, at one point running him off the road into a ditch. She mentioned that Gregory McMichael had told investigators that Mr. Arbery had been trapped “like a rat” after he was hemmed in by the two trucks.

She also walked the jury through aspects of the law that she said made all three men culpable in crimes including murder, even though only one of them had pulled the trigger. She compared their acts to those of a football team working together to win.

“Everybody gets a Super Bowl ring,” she said.

Ms. Dunikoski’s presentation lasted roughly an hour. She suggested that she would exercise her right to speak a second time after the defense made its closing arguments.

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