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Jury sees body cam video as trial over Ahmaud Arbery’s murder begins

The prosecution told the jury that Arbery was “under attack” when the three white defendants chased him in their pickup trucks, “trapped him like a rat” and fatally shot him with a 12-gauge shotgun. An attorney for one of the defendants said his client had “no choice” but to shoot.

(CN) — The prosecution in the trial over Ahmaud Arbery’s murder told jurors in an opening statement on Friday that the three Georgia men charged in the case “assumed the worst” about the 25-year-old Black man when they saw him jogging through their neighborhood last February.  

“In this case, all three of these defendants did everything they did based on assumptions,” Cobb County Assistant District Attorney Linda Dunikoski told the jury. “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.”

The panel of jurors — 11 white and one Black — were sworn in Friday morning. They will decide whether Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan are guilty of charges including murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment.

The men are accused of chasing Arbery in their pickup trucks and fatally shooting him with a 12-gauge shotgun.

All three men have pleaded not guilty.

Attorneys for the McMichaels told the jury Friday that their clients were merely acting to protect their families and neighbors from a suspected burglar who was seen “plundering around” a nearby construction site. They have argued that the defendants planned to detain Arbery under Georgia’s now-repealed citizen’s arrest law.

No one was arrested for the shooting until video filmed by Bryan on his cell phone leaked and went viral last May. The video, which was played in court Friday, shows Arbery being shot at close range by Travis McMichael as the two men grapple for the gun in front of the McMichaels’ pick-up truck.

Three shotgun blasts can be heard before Arbery, who was unarmed at the time of the shooting, collapses in the street.

Arbery’s father, Marcus, left the courtroom before the video was played in court, saying, “I don’t want to see that.” Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, could be heard quietly crying in the courtroom gallery as the video played.

Video from Glynn County police officer William Duggan’s body cam was also introduced into evidence Friday as he took the stand to testify. Duggan, the second officer on the scene, made a futile attempt to staunch the flow of blood from a large wound in Arbery’s side.

Duggan testified that he saw Travis McMichael sitting on the ground nearby.

“I could see he was covered in blood,” Duggan said. “I remember at some point asking if he was OK.”

Duggan said Travis responded: “No, I’m not OK. I just effing killed somebody.”

One juror who was apparently unable to watch the body cam footage, which included close-up images of Arbery’s lifeless face, reportedly shielded her face with a notepad.

Bob Rubin, an attorney for Travis McMichael, told the jury that his client, a former boarding officer for the U.S. Coast Guard, had “probable cause” to believe Arbery was a burglar and might be armed. He acknowledged, however, that the McMichaels had not observed Arbery commit any crime that day.

“There was no crime committed in their presence,” Rubin said. “But there was probable cause to believe a felony had been committed and that this man was attempting to flee.”

Twelve days before the shooting, Rubin said Travis McMichael saw Arbery “lurking in the shadows” outside a construction site in the neighborhood. Travis called 911 to report the incident, telling the dispatcher that the person he saw appeared to reach into his waistband or pocket for what might have been a gun.

It was this incident that caused Travis to grab his shotgun on the day of the shooting, Rubin said.

Rubin told the jury that Arbery’s death was “tragic," but said the evidence will show that his client “honestly and lawfully attempted to detain Ahmaud Arbery according to the law and shot and killed him in self-defense.”

Dunikoski characterized the events leading up to the shooting differently. She told jurors that the defendants chased down the 25-year-old, “trapped him like a rat” and fatally shot him despite having no actual evidence or knowledge that Arbery had committed any wrongdoing.

Despite their assumptions, Dunikoski said the defendants never made any statement to police that they had seen Arbery commit any crime or that they were trying to conduct a citizen’s arrest.

Franklin Hogue, an attorney representing Greg McMichael, told the jury in his opening statement Friday that his client had seen videos shared by frustrated and concerned neighbors of Arbery entering the construction site. He immediately recognized Arbery as he ran down the street that day.

“Greg McMichael was absolutely sure,” Hogue said. “He was absolutely certain. And he was absolutely right. The guy he saw was the guy he suspected.”

Hogue added, “Greg had sound reasons to believe theft had occurred... His suspicions were well-founded.”

There has been no evidence presented to show that Arbery stole anything from the construction site.

Kevin Gough, an attorney for Bryan, chose to forego making an opening statement until after the state has finished presenting its evidence. Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley noted that the decision was unusual but allowed it after reviewing the law.

The trial will resume Monday morning.

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