GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. — Closing arguments in the trial of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery concluded Tuesday morning, after they ran most of their course the day before.
Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski signaled before the court recessed on Monday that she would use the full two hours for her rebuttal to the defense closing arguments. Once she concluded the rebuttal, the jury was charged, which is a process where they are instructed by the judge about the law and the charges the defendants face.
After that, the jury started deliberating to determine whether the Feb. 2020 killing of Arbery amounted to murder.
On Monday, Dunikoski made her initial closing argument, characterizing the events of Feb. 23, 2020 as an "attack on Ahmaud Arbery" - initiated by father and son Greg and Travis McMichael, borne out of unjustified suspicions and assumptions about the 25-year-old Black man.
For Travis McMichael's defense attorneys, it was a tactical, restrained process of "watching and waiting" to stop Arbery, by someone who had both law enforcement training and reasonable grounds for believing a crime had been committed - which turned into a tragic case of self-defense when Travis shot and killed Arbery.
Attacking the idea Travis McMichael shot Arbery in self-defense, Dunikoski compared the McMichaels and Bryan to bullies who provoke a response out of their target.
"What does the kid who's being bullied do? He takes it and he takes it and takes it until he can't anymore and he finally shoves the one bully, and what does that bully do? BAM. Punches the target child, right? What's the bully always say? 'He started it. He pushed me. I was defending myself,'" Dunikoski said. "The law knows people do this. The law knows people will goad other people into defending themselves so that they can claim, 'I was acting in self defense.' You can't do that."
Defense attorney Jason Sheffield countered with a portrait of Travis McMichael as a conscientious resident of his neighborhood who was, through his history with the Coast Guard, particularly qualified to try and protect it.
"Duty and responsibility, and following the law, will always be intertwined with heartache and tragedy," he said. "This case is about three things: It's about watching, it's about waiting, it's about believing."
The McMichaels and a third man, William "Roddie" Bryan face murder charges in the Feb. 23, 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery, which would go on to be one of the galvanizing cases for racial justice protests that swept the country last year.
Authorities said Arbery was running through the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Glynn County, near Brunswick, on Feb. 23, 2020 when father and son Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael left their home and began pursuing him. The McMichaels got ahead of him in their truck and blocked the road while Bryan followed and helped effectively pin him in the neighborhood.
Bryan filmed the incident from his following car.
The video taken by Bryan shows Travis McMichael and Arbery got into a struggle as he tried to run around the McMichaels' stopped vehicle blocking the road, and shot him.
Afterward the McMichaels claimed they were attempting a citizen’s arrest. Defense attorneys have argued it was an honest, sincere and lawful attempt to detain Arbery as a "suspect" in neighborhood thefts and break-ins.
Prosecutors have argued the men committed a vigilante killing that was not informed or influenced in the moment by Georgia's actual citizen's arrest law (which was repealed after Arbery's death).
During the roughly two-week trial, there has been a focus on Bryan's video from that day and others from an unfinished home in the Satilla Shores neighborhood.
Arbery was allegedly spotted entering onto that property a number of times in the months leading up to his death, which the defense has seized on as a critical component of their citizen's arrest case.
There is no evidence Arbery ever took anything or committed any damage at the home, and the owner had maintained before the trial he did not suspect Arbery of taking anything. And prosecutors have challenged the idea the McMichaels were in any way consciously attempting a citizen's arrest in the legal sense - often pointing out that they did not use the term "citizen's arrest" when explaining their actions immediately after the killing, or tell Arbery he was "under arrest" in any sense during the pursuit that ended in his death.
At one point prosecutor Dunikoski asked an officer who had patrolled the neighborhood and been involved in investigating the neighborhood crime incidents if it was his "intent to deputize Greg McMichael or Travis McMichael?"
"Never," he said.
Other moments that have stood out during the trial included Travis McMichael, the man accused of pulling the trigger in the fatal shooting, taking the stand and testifying.
"I shot him (Arbery)," Travis McMichael said tearing up. "He had my gun."
The defense asked several times for a mistrial, with Bryan attorney Kevin Gough in particular repeatedly trying to make the case that the political environment made a fair trial impossible.
Prosecutors argued Gough's volatile comments early in the trial, about not wanting "any more Black pastors coming in here" were largely the cause of the demonstrations he objected to.
An at-times exasperated Judge Timothy Walmsley shot down each mistrial request.
After the closing arguments, a jury of 11 white people and 1 Black person - the product of a jury selection process that was itself drawn out and highly contentious - will begin to decide if Ahmaud Arbery's death was a murder.