Barbara Arnwine, an attorney who isn’t working on the federal case, spoke in support of Arbery’s family at a news conference on Monday. "First of all, obviously, it's quite a different day from what we saw in the state proceeding,” she said, “and the diversity of having three Black jurors is encouraging and it is significant."
Only one juror in the state case was Black, and that jury still found Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man.
Travis McMichael used a shotgun to fire two deadly shots at Arbery while Travis’ father, Gregory McMichael, a former prosecutorial investigator, was armed in Travis’ pickup truck. Their neighbor, Bryan, recorded the shooting, and the video was released to authorities the same day as Arbery’s death on Feb. 23, 2020 in coastal Georgia’s Satilla Shores community.
Still, it took 74 days for an arrest to be made, with two prosecutors admitting conflicts of interest and one of them—former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson—indicted on obstruction charges. The other, George Barnhill, the district attorney of the Waycross Judicial Circuit, wrote in a letter recusing himself from the case that Arbery family members “are not strangers to the local criminal justice system,” according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He offered no such criticism of the men who actually killed Arbery after seeing him running and accusing him of trespassing onto the property of a home under construction.
Prosecutor Bobbi Bernstein began opening statements for the government with how Arbery spent his last day alive wearing shorts and running shoes, tweeted WSB radio reporter and anchor Veronica Waters. Bernstein said a few minutes after Arbery ran past the McMichaels' driveway "minding his business," he was facedown in the street, bleeding and gasping his final breaths.
Bernstein said in the prosecution’s opening that the facts of the case aren’t in dispute but the issue is why the defendants acted the way they did. The prosecutor said they made assumptions based on the color of Arbery’s skin that they wouldn’t have made if he was white.
The prosecutor read a message reportedly from Travis McMichael to a friend claiming that Travis loved his job as a contractor because "zero n-----s” work with him. Travis allegedly said in the message: “They ruin everything. That’s why I love what I do now, not a n----r in sight."
The federal government said in statements Waters covered that Travis called Black people animals, criminals, monkeys, and subhuman savages. His father reportedly said of former Georgia state Rep. Julien Bond’s death that he wished he’d “been put in the ground years ago.”
“He’s nothing but trouble,” Gregory said, according to the prosecution. “Those Blacks are nothing but trouble.”
The prosecution accused Bryan of using the racial slur “bootlicks” to refer to an accused dirtbike thief and using the N-word to describe a Black man his daughter dated four days before Arbery’s death. Bryan reportedly wrote to someone that his daughter “has her a n----r now,” Waters tweeted.
After listing instance after instance of hateful language spewed from the defendants, the prosecution ultimately argued this trial is not about racial slurs. It’s about what the defendants did. “The Black man running down the street had to be a thief, in the eyes of the defendant,” Waters tweeted of the prosecution’s opening statement.
Defense attorneys predictably focused less on the specifics of what their clients did and said, according to Waters' coverage. Gregory McMichael's lawyer, A.J. Balbo, called Arbery's death tragic and unnecessary before saying it's what happened at the beginning of video footage of the encounter that's important.
Balbo said he's not going to call Greg McMichael an angel, that he was no angel, and that he has used the kind of language that makes people cringe in his 60-plus years. The attorney then said the jury will be asked to put those remarks in the context of other evidence.
He pointed to the fact that Greg McMichael was the person who released video of the incident to the authorities as proof of Greg McMichael’s believed innocence.
Attorney Amy Lee Copeland, who is representing Travis, warned jurors that it will be difficult to watch the footage Bryan shot as it captures the last moments of a young man's life. She described footage she said shows Arbery running, Arbery engaging in hand-to-hand combat with Travis over a shotgun, and Travis in shock.
Copeland also admitted that her client has used the N-word. "He left a digital footprint over several years: Facebook, texts," Waters captured of Copeland's opening. Copeland, however, asked jurors to consider whether any acts accompanied the words. She described Travis as a good neighbor trying to help everyone.
Pete Theodocion, Bryan's attorney, said in his opening that he didn't travel more than three hours from home to defend racism. He said he won't ask jurors to defend racism either but that his client didn't see a Black man walking and jogging and assume he was a criminal. The attorney said Bryan's introduction to Arbery was during a chase in broad daylight with people yelling for Arbery to stop. Bryan was unarmed and never wanted Arbery physically harmed, Theodocion said.
Arbery was, however, harmed. He was murdered.
And after denying a motion from the defense to dismiss the case, U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood announced that the trial will begin on Tuesday with the government's first witness, Waters reported.
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