Jurors in the trial of three white men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man, heard Friday that the shooter’s first words to a responding officer were “I just f—king killed somebody!”
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The prosecution’s first witness, Officer William Duggan, said he arrived on the scene in the quiet Satilla Shores neighborhood of Georgia, where he saw Arbery sprawled on the ground in the middle of the road on a Sunday afternoon and another man, Travis McMichael, covered in blood Feb. 23, 2020.
Duggan asked Travis McMichael if he was OK. “It was a quick reply of basically, ‘No, I’m not OK, I just f—king killed somebody,'” Duggan told the panel of 11 white jurors and one black.
It was the first day of testimony in the Glynn County Superior Court trial of Travis McMichael, 35, his father Greg McMichael, 67, and a neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, who are charged with murder and assault for the death of Arbery.
The killing unfolded after the older McMichael saw Arbery sprint past his home, alerted his son and the two grabbed guns, hopped in a pickup truck and pursued him. Bryan joined the chase in his own vehicle. The three men believed that Arbery, 25, was a burglar who had just been spotted trespassing in a neighbor’s under-construction house and was fleeing.
Bryan recorded cellphone footage that captured part of the deadly encounter, which sparked national outrage.
“All three of these defendants did everything they did based on assumptions — not facts, not on evidence,” prosecutor Linda Dunikoski argued in her opening statement. “And they made decisions in their driveways based on those assumptions that took a young man’s life.”
The prosecutors said that Arbery was “under attack” by the defendants, who pursued him for five minutes through the neighborhood as he tried to evade them. Bryan had tried to hit him with his truck four times, she said.
Arbery, who often jogged through the neighborhood, was captured on surveillance video in the unoccupied home several times, but there is no evidence he ever took anything, she said.
Greg McMichael’s defense lawyer Franklin Hogue told jurors in his opening remarks that his client acted in self-defense.
Arbery, he said, ran toward the younger McMichael, whose car was stopped in the street, and lunged for his shotgun. The video shows the two tussling over the firearm.
“He’s in abject fear that he is about to witness his only son possibly be shot and killed in front of his very eyes,” Hogue said. “This case turns on intent, belief, knowledge, reasons for those beliefs whether they were true or not.”
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Robert Rubin, one of Travis McMichael’s attorneys, argued that the men were trying to make a citizen’s arrest permitted under an 1863 state law, which was largely repealed with bipartisan support after Arbery’s death.
The law had allowed citizens to make an arrest if an offense was committed in their presence or within their “immediate knowledge.”
Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, declined to make an opening statement but reserved his right to do so in the future.
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Arbery’s family has called his death a “modern-day lynching.”
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case after two other district attorneys’ offices recused themselves. The three men are also indicted on federal hate crime charges and are slated to go to trial on that case Feb. 7.
If convicted, the defendants face possible life sentences.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.