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Key takeaways from Ahmaud Arbery trial: Rev. Al, vigilantes, and dirty toenails

In this May 17, 2020, photo, a recently painted mural of Ahmaud Arbery is on display in Brunswick, Ga., where the 25-year-old man was shot and killed in February. It was painted by Miami artist Marvin Weeks. (AP Photo/Sarah Blake Morgan) Sarah Blake/AP

Key takeaways from Ahmaud Arbery trial: Rev. Al, vigilantes, and dirty toenails

Barnini Chakraborty November 23, 03:55 PMNovember 23, 04:23 PM

The fates of three white Georgia men accused of gunning down Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who they claim was burglarizing homes in their neighborhood, now lie with the jury.

The prosecution gave its final rebuttal Tuesday morning in the trial of a father and son and their neighbor, all accused of murder in the death of the 25-year-old Arbery, who was chased down and killed near the port city of Brunswick.

Greg and Travis McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan face nine counts each in Arbery’s death, including malice murder, felony murder, and aggravated assault. Arbery was killed Feb. 23, 2020, in an incident that has drawn intense national attention.

The McMichaels, who have close ties with local law enforcement in Glynn County, say they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest and thought Arbery was stealing. They claimed they had previously caught him on security cameras in an open-framed house under construction, though the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s lead agent refuted the claim.

Camera footage of Arbery’s death was recorded by Bryan and leaked online. When it went viral, the GBI became involved, and a few days later, the McMichaels and Bryan were arrested and charged.

The three-week trial had plenty of twists and turns, including two unsuccessful attempts by Bryan’s lawyer to kick Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton out of the gallery. After the last attempt, more than 700 black pastors showed up to the Glynn County Courthouse to hold a candlelight vigil and prayer service for the Arbery family.

Travis McMichael, the man who actually fired the shots that killed Arbery, testified in his own defense. It was the first first-person account ever heard publicly about what happened the day Arbery died.

Here are five takeaways from the high-profile trial:

TRAVIS MCMICHAEL TESTIFIES

The man who shot Arbery three times was the only defendant who took the stand in the murder trial.

“I want to give my side of the story,” McMichael, a former member of the U.S. Coast Guard, said.

McMichael testified that in the months leading up to the shooting, he had become worried about a rash of robberies and property crimes in his Satilla Shores neighborhood. On New Year’s Day, McMichael reported that his Smith & Wesson 9-millimeter pistol had been stolen from his unlocked Ford pickup truck.

On the stand, he got emotional as he described the confrontation with Arbery and what he described as his split-second decision to pull the trigger as Arbery grabbed for his gun.

“It was obvious that he was attacking me,” he said. “That is, he would have gotten the shotgun from me, then this was a life or death situation, and I’m going to have to stop him from doing this, so I shot.”

During cross-examination, McMichael, who called the shooting “the most traumatic event of my life,” admitted Arbery never threatened him or showed him a weapon.

“All he’s done is run away from you,” prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said. “And you pulled out a shotgun and pointed it at him.”

AN ALMOST ALL-WHITE JURY HEARS A TRIAL IN WHICH RACE PLAYS A ROLE

Eleven white jurors and one black juror were chosen from a pool of 1,000 potential jurors after a contentious selection process that lasted for two and a half weeks.

Defense lawyers claimed they struck black members from the jury for reasons other than race, but prosecutors complained that the defense only had problems with nonwhite contenders.

Even the judge took issue with the jury.

“This court has found that there appears to be intentional discrimination,” Judge Timothy Walmsley said, siding with prosecutors. However, he ultimately ruled the racially charged case could move forward.

KICKING OUT BLACK PASTORS 

Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney, complained about Revs. Jackson and Sharpton showing up to the courtroom, claiming the high-profile black pastors could intimidate jurors.

“We don’t want any more black pastors coming in here … sitting with the victim’s family, trying to influence the jurors in this case,” he said.

The comments isolated him from the McMichaels’ attorneys, who turned their backs on him. Walmsley was prompted to muse, “I’m not sure what we’re doing here.”

Gough issued a short apology but then reiterated his request to have other black pastors removed from the gallery. Walmsley refused.

MISTRIAL MOTION 

Prosecutor Larissa Ollivierre received a rebuke from the judge and a call for a mistrial by the defense when a neighbor of the McMichaels, Lindy Cofer, took the stand. Cofer testified about neighbors discussing crime on a Facebook page for Satilla Shores residents. The defendants all lived in the Satilla Shores subdivision where Arbery was killed. 

On cross-examination, Ollivierre asked Cofer, “Do you believe that stealing is deserving of the death penalty?”

The defense attorneys all objected loudly, and the judge ushered the jury out before turning on Ollivierre, saying she should have known the question was out of bounds. Bryan’s attorney asked in vain for a mistrial. 

However, Walmsley said, “The court does find that the question that was presented was inflammatory and irrelevant and completely unnecessary.”

When the jurors returned, he instructed them to ignore the question.

‘IT’S ARBERY’S FAULT’

While prosecutors suggested the defendants racially profiled Arbery on the day of his death, the defense worked to paint Arbery as the villain. One defense lawyer accused him of “running away instead of facing the consequences” and “making terrible, unexpected, illogical choices.”

Greg McMichael’s lawyer Laura Hogue said her client had good reason to suspect Arbery of stealing and alluded to his criminal record, something the judge had previously ruled inadmissible.

“Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after the choices that he made does not reflect the reality of what brought Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in khaki shorts, with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails,” Hogue said.

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Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, could be heard saying, “Wow.” She then got up from her seat and left the courtroom briefly.

© 2021 Washington Examiner

Originally appeared at Washington Examiner

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