Prosecutor: Men Chased Arbery Just Because He Was a Black Man Running

In her closing argument, Linda Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor in the trial of the three men charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, said that the defendants had no justification to pursue Mr. Arbery or to claim they were performing a citizen’s arrest, because they did not have any knowledge that Mr. Arbery had committed a crime that day — they merely assumed that he had.

“All three of these defendants made assumptions about what was going on that day,” she said. “And they made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways, because he was a Black man running down the street.”

Ms. Dunikoski’s mention of Mr. Arbery’s race was significant because, during testimony last week, she did not bring up any instances of racist comments that the men were said to have made, including a claim by William Bryan that his fellow defendant, Travis McMichael, used a racist slur just after fatally shooting Mr. Arbery, a claim Mr. McMichael’s lawyers deny.

“So what’s going on here? You know what’s really going on here,” she said in her closing argument. “Mr. Arbery was under attack.”

She added: “They shot and killed him, not because he was a threat to them, but because he wouldn’t stop and talk to them. And they were going to make him — absolutely make him — stop. ‘We’re going to point a shotgun at you! That will make him stop.’”

Mr. Arbery was inside a partially built house on Feb. 23, 2020, in the defendants’ neighborhood. After a neighbor saw him and called police, Mr. Arbery left the house and began running. It was at that point that Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael’s father, saw Mr. Arbery and called to his son, and the two men began chasing Mr. Arbery in a pickup truck. Mr. Bryan, a neighbor, soon also began chasing Mr. Arbery.

The men have said that they were trying to detain Mr. Arbery as part of a legal citizen’s arrest. But Ms. Dunikoski said that Georgia law called for a person to be in the presence of a crime being committed, or have “immediate knowledge” that a crime was committed, to perform such an arrest. The law also says that a person can make such an arrest if a felony has been committed and a suspect is “escaping or attempting to escape,” but the arresting person must have “reasonable and probable grounds” of suspicion.

Ms. Dunikoski said the three men never saw Mr. Arbery inside the partly built house on the day of the incident. At most, she said, Mr. Arbery had committed the misdemeanor of trespassing. There is no evidence that Mr. Arbery had ever taken anything from the house, which he had visited numerous times before.

“Is he this giant burglar who just happened to never show up with a bag, or any means to steal anything, all right, or is he a looky-loo?” she said.

Without a legal justification to detain Mr. Arbery, Ms. Dunikoski said, the men were essentially committing crimes against him.

She walked the jury through the charges — including false imprisonment, aggravated assault, felony murder and malice murder. She mentioned details that emerged in testimony about the way the three men in two pickup trucks had chased Mr. Arbery, who ran from them on foot. She noted that Mr. Bryan had tried numerous times to use his car to stop Mr. Arbery, at one point running him off the road into a ditch. She mentioned that Gregory McMichael had told investigators that Mr. Arbery had been trapped “like a rat” after he was hemmed in by the two trucks.

She also walked the jury through aspects of the law that she said made all three men culpable in crimes including murder, even though only one of them had pulled the trigger. She compared their acts to those of a football team working together to win.

“Everybody gets a Super Bowl ring,” she said.

Ms. Dunikoski’s presentation lasted roughly an hour. She suggested that she would exercise her right to speak a second time after the defense made its closing arguments.

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