BRUNSWICK, Ga. — The trial of Travis and Greg McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddy” Bryan, which is expected to last up to 10 days, got underway Friday morning after three weeks of jury selection.
“Assumptions and driveway decisions.” According to state Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski, those two things fueled the fatal encounter between Ahmaud Arbery and the three men charged with his murder.
In a one-hour and 35-minute opening statement, Dunikoski showed the video of Arbery’s killing a handful of times and described the actions of the men using their own statements to police, describing how they “ran him into a ditch” and trapped Arbery “like a rat.”
“I thought, well, you know he’s running from somebody, he’s just done, something,” Travis McMichael told police.
“I don’t think the guy has actually stolen anything,” Greg McMichael told police.
But Travis McMichael’s attorney Bob Rubin countered, “This case is about duty and responsibility. It’s about Travis McMichaels’ duty and responsibility to himself to his family and to his neighborhood. And it’s about your duty and responsibility as jurors.”
In the first of three opening statements by the defense, Rubin noted that Arbery made four nighttime visits to the house under construction in Satilla Shores. He painted a portrait of a neighborhood experiencing escalating anxiety after a series of thefts and trespasses, and noted that neighbors had previously discussed trying to detain or “hem in” the suspect until police could arrive.
He described Arbery as the aggressor in the encounter, charging at Travis McMichael, whom he said raised his shotgun in an effort to stop him, not to kill him.
“Travis’ training had taught him to show a weapon. Not to use a weapon. Because that is a way to deescalate violence,” Rubin said.
Rubin noted that even as the chase was happening, the McMichaels dialed 911.
“Before the first shot is fired .. they called the police. That is not evidence of intent to murder.”
Opening statements from the other two defendants continued into the afternoon.
Franklin Hogue, representing Greg McMichael, began his opening statement telling jurors his client was “absolutely sure, he was absolutely certain and he was absolutely right. The guy he saw was the guy he suspected” – someone who’d trespassed on the private property several times, that police were seeking to speak to, and who showed up in the neighborhood “not in the bright light of day but in the dark of night.”
Hogue said he relied on the fact that he was “law enforcement trained for 30 years.. and chased Arbery to hold him for police, not to shoot him.
“The what happened in this case will for the most part be without dispute. …The why it happened is what this case is about. This case turns on intent, belief, knowledge, and the reasons for those beliefs.”
“I consider an American courtroom to be practically a sacred place,” Hogue told jurors. “It’s in here that the facts will unfold for you. It’s in this room where you will decide the truth. And the truth is Greg McMichael is not guilty of any of these crimes.”
Kevin Gough, attorney for Roddie Bryan, waived his opening statement until the state finishes presenting their case, which is his right.
Evidence begins with Glynn County Police Officer William Duggan. Noting that his body cam footage “could in some ways be surprising or elicit some reaction,” the judge gives people an opportunity to leave. Arbery’s mom, Wanda Cooper Jones remains. Leigh McMichael, Travis McMichael's mom, leaves. Arbery’s father is not present.
Glynn County Police Officer William Duggan was the first to testify. Prosecutors played his body camera and dashcam video for jurors, with Officer Duggan occasionally identifying an officer or a defendant. He said when he first arrived, he saw Travis McMichael “covered in blood, there was blood all over.”
In his report, Duggan described McMichael as “very upset.” When he asked McMichael if he was OK – meaning injured -- and McMichael replied, “No I’m not OK. I just fucking killed somebody.” He compared that response to “a driver of a car who had just hit a child.”
During cross-examination, attorney Jason Sheffield noted that the officer did not feel imperiled by the McMichaels and determined, “it was safe to enter the scene?” Duggan said it was.
Duggan, who attempted to render aid to Arbery, noted there was a lot of blood on the ground and that Arbery had “fixed eyes.” Sheffield asked if it was possible “that he could have been deceased at that moment.” Duggan says that it was possible.
After Duggan’s testimony ended, the judge sent the jury home, asking them to return Monday at 9 a.m.