(CN) — After nearly two weeks of arguments and testimony from 30 witnesses, jurors began deliberations Tuesday to determine the guilt or innocence of three white Georgia men charged with murder for killing 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.
The jury – which is comprised of 11 white members and one Black member – began deliberations at 11:45 a.m. Eastern time, after the prosecution delivered its final rebuttal to the defense’s claims that their clients acted in self-defense and were merely trying to make a citizen’s arrest on Arbery.
“They started it. They do not get to claim self-defense,” prosecutor Linda Dunikoski told jurors, adding that the defendants provoked a confrontation with Arbery. “You can't force someone to defend themselves against you so you get to claim self-defense. This isn't the Wild West.”
Delivering a two-hour rebuttal to closing statements made by defense attorneys Monday, Dunikoski said all three defendants – Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan – are equally responsible for Arbery’s death.
The three men face charges including murder, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment for chasing Arbery in their pickup trucks after spotting him jogging through their coastal Georgia neighborhood on Feb. 23, 2020. They have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Bryan captured video on his cellphone of the moment Travis McMichael fired two fatal shotgun blasts at Arbery as the two men struggled for control of the gun. The footage has been repeatedly played for the jury throughout the 13-day trial.
Dunikoski argued Tuesday that although Travis McMichael pulled the trigger, the other two defendants were just as culpable for Arbery’s death because they were “parties to the crime.”
“When three people chase an unarmed man in pickup trucks with guns in order to violate his personal liberty, who gets to claim ‘I am not responsible for that’? Under the law in Georgia, no one gets to say that,” Dunikoski said. “Everybody is responsible.”
The prosecutor told jurors that the McMichaels “worked together” to chase Arbery in their pickup truck, arguing that Greg McMichael is “just as big of a murderer as Travis McMichael.”
As for Bryan, Dunikoski said he “decided to help” the McMichaels after he saw them chasing Arbery in front of his house.
Witnesses have testified throughout the trial that Bryan told police he used his truck to “corner” and “block in” Arbery five times as the 25-year-old tried to run away from the McMichaels’ truck.
Greg McMichael also made statements to police that the men had Arbery “trapped like a rat.”
“Without Bryan chasing Ahmaud towards [the McMichaels], we would not be here,” Dunikoski said.
The prosecutor also refuted the defense’s arguments that the men were trying to detain Arbery under Georgia’s now-repealed citizen’s arrest law because they believed he had committed burglaries in the area.
Playing police bodycam footage and 911 calls entered into evidence throughout the trial, Dunikoski reminded jurors of statements made by the McMichaels which she said demonstrate that they were never sure Arbery had committed any crime in their neighborhood. Although Arbery was spotted entering a construction site five times on security cameras, he was never seen stealing anything.
Dunikoski pointed to testimony from Glynn County investigator Parker Marcy, who said that Greg McMichael told him he didn’t think Arbery had stolen anything from a nearby construction site.
“I don’t think the guy has actually stolen anything out of there, or if he did it was early in the process,” the older McMichael told Marcy.
Dunikoski told the jury panel that a private citizen can only make a citizen’s arrest in emergencies where a crime is happening “right then and there” or when someone who has committed a felony is escaping.
Arbery had no obligation to stop for “strange guys in a white pickup truck” who did not have badges, uniforms or authority, she said.
A motion for mistrial raised by defense attorneys in response to the prosecutor’s definition of citizen’s arrest for the jury was denied by the judge.
After the close of Dunikoski’s rebuttal, the judge formally read the charges against the defendants out loud to the jury.
Each defendant faces a total of nine separate charges, including one count of malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of false imprisonment, and one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony.
If the jury finds Bryan not guilty of the second aggravated assault charge, they may still find him guilty of the lesser misdemeanor offenses of simple assault, reckless conduct or reckless driving.
The jury’s verdict must be unanimous.
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