Ahmaud Arbery's killing trial begins

By Aditi Sangal, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Meg Wagner and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 10:21 AM ET, Thu November 11, 2021
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10:09 a.m. ET, November 5, 2021

Opening statements underway in Arbery murder trial

From CNN's Alta Spells

(Pool)
(Pool)

Opening statements have begun in the murder trial for the men accused of Ahmaud Arbery. 

Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski, a senior assistant district attorney from Cobb County, Georgia, began her opening statements by asking: "Why are we here?" She went on to lay out her case saying that all three defendants made decisions based on the assumptions. 

Dunikoski told the court she would present her opening statement in three parts:

  1. The charges and the indictment
  2. Housekeeping issues that relate to how evidence will be presented to the jurors
  3. A discussion of who the parties are, where this happened and what led up to the Feb. 23, 2020 shooting.

Opening statements began at 9:50 a.m. ET this morning.

10:20 a.m. ET, November 5, 2021

Judge rules on 2 pending motions prior to start of trial

From CNN’s Angela Barajas, Devon M. Sayers and Alta Spells 

The probation status of Ahmaud Arbery will not be allowed to be heard by the jury in the trial of the the three men accused of killing the 25-year-old Black man, Judge Timothy Walmsley ruled Friday morning prior to swearing in the jury.

Attorneys representing Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael had filed a motion to introduce evidence related to Arbery's probation status. In the filing, the defense argued that "while a person not on probation may not have been so concerned over answering questions about repeated nighttime intrusions into a home under construction, a person on active felony probation, who had waived his Fourth Amendment rights to search of his person and his home, and who can be imprisoned simply for having violated curfew, would be incredibly fearful of the ramifications of police interaction after such an unlawful entry."  

The state countered in its own filing, saying Arbery's "status as probationer is not relevant, as the defendants did not know Mr. Arbery was on probation. Further, it is not relevant to the defenses of 'citizen’s arrest' or self-defense."

Earlier in the year, Walmsley denied the use of any evidence pertaining to Arbery's prior brushes with the law.   

In a second ruling, the judge said photographs of Travis McMichael's pickup truck featuring a vanity plate with the old Georgia flag that featured the Confederate battle flag will be allowed to be shown during court.  

“It is not character evidence, it is motive evidence,” prosecutor Linda Dunikoski argued to the court on Thursday. 

“This is something he put on the front of his truck he wanted the world to know this, he put it out there to see,” Dunikoski added.  

The three White men on trial – Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan Jr. – are accused of chasing down and killing Arbery, as he jogged on Feb. 23, 2020, in the Satilla Shores neighborhood, just outside the city of Brunswick in Georgia's lowcountry. 

The three men are charged with malice and felony murder and aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony. All three men pleaded not guilty, with the McMichaels claiming they were conducting a citizen's arrest and acting in self-defense and Bryan maintaining his innocence, saying he took no part in the killing. 

All three men have also been indicted on federal hate crime and attempted kidnapping charges. 

CNN’s Martin Savidge and Eric Fiegel contributed to this report 

9:39 a.m. ET, November 5, 2021

There was a vigil outside the court this morning before the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial began

People outside the Georgia courthouse where the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial is unfolding held a prayer vigil this morning.

Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William "Roddie" Bryan Jr. are charged with malice and felony murder in Arbery's 2020 killing. The 25-year-old Black man was out for a jog in Brunswick when he was fatally shot.

Opening arguments should begin shortly.

Here's a look at the vigil this morning:

9:38 a.m. ET, November 5, 2021

The jury has been sworn in

(Pool)
(Pool)

The jury just entered the courtroom for the start of the murder trial in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

They were sworn in by Judge Timothy Walmsley, who said opening statements should begin soon.

About the jury: After a long and contentious jury selection process in a coastal Georgia county in preparation for the trial for Ahmaud Arbery's killing, a panel of 12 people — consisting of one Black member and 11 White members — was chosen Wednesday.

The jury was selected after a two-and-a-half-week selection process that ended with prosecutors for the state accusing defense attorneys of disproportionately striking qualified Black jurors and basing some of their strikes on race.

Walmsley said the defense appeared to be discriminatory in selecting the jury but that the case could go forward.

In Glynn County, where the trial is taking place, more than 26% of the 85,000 residents are Black, and about 69% are White, according to 2019 data from the US Census Bureau.

9:44 a.m. ET, November 5, 2021

What we know about the killing of Ahmaud Arbery

From CNN's Eric Levenson, Dakin Andone and Angela Barajas

Ahmaud Arbery
Ahmaud Arbery (Courtesy S. Lee Merritt)

Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan Jr., are on trial for the 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.

Arbery was shot dead on Feb. 23, 2020, in a confrontation with the McMichaels in the neighborhood of Satilla Shores, outside the city of Brunswick in Georgia's lowcountry.

Arbery was on a jog — something he was known to do, according to those who knew him — when the McMichaels grabbed their guns and pursued Arbery. Gregory McMichael, a former police officer and investigator in the local district attorney's office, later told police Arbery and his son had struggled over his son's shotgun, and that Travis McMichael shot Arbery after the latter attacked him, according to the initial police report.

Bryan had joined the pursuit and recorded the shooting on his cellphone.

Gregory McMichael told police he and his son had pursued Arbery because they suspected he was responsible for a string of recent purported burglaries in the neighborhood. A Glynn County Police spokesperson later said there had only been one burglary — a gun stolen from an unlocked vehicle in front of the McMichaels' home — reported in more than seven weeks prior to the shooting.

Additionally, McMichael said he saw Arbery inside a home under construction. Arbery was seen entering the home in surveillance video at the site, but the owner of the home told CNN he did not see Arbery commit any crime other than "trespassing" the day of the shooting.

For months, the case lay dormant, and two prosecutors recused themselves due to conflicts of interest.

But in May, video taken by Bryan of the fatal interaction was made public, and the McMichaels were arrested days later. The three were all jointly indicted by a grand jury in June 2020.

At a preliminary hearing last June, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Assistant Special Agent in Charge Richard Dial testified Bryan told investigators he heard Travis McMichael use a racial epithet after shooting Arbery. McMichael had also used racial slurs numerous times on social media and on messaging services, Dial said.

Attorneys for the three defendants have said they acted in self-defense. But Dial testified the opposite was true.

"I believe Mr. Arbery was being pursued, and he ran till he couldn't run anymore, and it was turn his back to a man with a shotgun or fight with his bare hands against the man with the shotgun. He chose to fight," he said. "I believe Mr. Arbery's decision was to just try to get away, and when he felt like he could not escape, he chose to fight."
9:14 a.m. ET, November 5, 2021

There's only one Black person on the jury

From CNN's Devon M. Sayers, Alta Spells and Christina Maxouris

After a long and contentious jury selection process in a coastal Georgia county in preparation for the trial for Ahmaud Arbery's killing, a panel of 12 people — consisting of one Black member and 11 White members — was chosen Wednesday

The jury was selected after a two-and-a-half-week selection process that ended with prosecutors for the state accusing defense attorneys of disproportionately striking qualified Black jurors and basing some of their strikes on race.

Judge Timothy Walmsley said the defense appeared to be discriminatory in selecting the jury but that the case could go forward.

"This court has found that there appears to be intentional discrimination," Walmsley said Wednesday.

In Glynn County, where the trial is taking place, more than 26% of the 85,000 residents are Black, and about 69% are White, according to 2019 data from the US Census Bureau.

The jurors must decide whether Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis McMichael, along with their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan Jr., are guilty of malice and felony murder.

Arbery's killing sparked national outrage after a video of his shooting was made public. The 25-year-old Black man was out for a jog in Brunswick when he was fatally shot.

9:42 a.m. ET, November 5, 2021

The Ahmaud Arbery murder trial starts Friday morning  

From CNN’s Devon M. Sayers and Alta Spells  

A demonstrator holding a sign at the Glynn County Courthouse on October 18, 2021 in Brunswick, Georgia when jury selection began. 
A demonstrator holding a sign at the Glynn County Courthouse on October 18, 2021 in Brunswick, Georgia when jury selection began.  (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Opening arguments in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial are set to begin Friday morning, according to Judge Timothy Walmsley who made the announcement in court Thursday.

The judge said he would rule on two pending issues before the start of the trial, one regarding the probation status of Arbery and one regarding a vanity license plate that featured the confederate battle flag on Travis McMichael's pickup truck. 

The court convenes at 9 a.m. ET Friday to address the motions, then opening arguments should begin shortly after.

On Thursday just before court adjourned, the judge announced that one of the participating jurors was being struck from the panel for medical reasons. According to CNN's analysis of available juror information, the juror that was struck was a White female and she is being replaced by a juror referred to as Alternate 1, who is also a White female. Leaving the racial composition of the jury unchanged from the previous day when only Black juror was selected for the trial jury panel. 

The three White men on trial – Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan Jr. – are accused of chasing down and killing Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was jogging on Feb. 23, 2020, in the Satilla Shores neighborhood, just outside the city of Brunswick in Georgia's low country.  

The defendants are charged with malice and felony murder and face charges of aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit a felony. All three men pleaded not guilty, with the McMichaels claiming they were conducting a citizen's arrest and acting in self-defense and Bryan maintaining his innocence, saying he took no part in the killing.

If convicted, each man could face life in prison without the possibility of parole.

9:50 a.m. ET, November 5, 2021

3 men are on trial for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. Here's a timeline of the case.

From CNN's Dakin Andone

Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William "Roddie" Bryan, Jr.
Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William "Roddie" Bryan, Jr. (Glynn County Sheriff's Office)

Opening statements are set to begin soon in the trial for Ahmaud Arbery's 2020 killing.

Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael and William "Roddie" Bryan Jr. are charged with murder and aggravated assault.

Arbery's killing sparked national outrage after a video of his shooting was made public. The 25-year-old Black man was out for a jog in Brunswick, Georgia, when he was fatally shot.

As we wait for opening statements to begin, here's a timeline of the case:

  • Feb. 23, 2020 — Arbery is fatally shot: Arbery was shot dead in a confrontation with the McMichaels in the neighborhood of Satilla Shores, outside the city of Brunswick in Georgia's lowcountry. Arbery was on a jog — something he was known to do, according to those who knew him — when the McMichaels grabbed their guns and pursued Arbery. The men claimed to be conducting a citizen's arrest of Arbery. Bryan had also joined the pursuit and recorded the shooting on his cellphone.
  • Feb. 27, 2020 — Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney recuses herself: The day after the shooting, Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson recused herself from the case, citing Gregory McMichael's position as a former investigator in her office. The attorney general's office says it received a letter from Johnson requesting the appointment of a new prosecutor on Feb. 27.
  • April 7, 2020 — Second prosecutor recuses himself: Waycross Judicial Circuit, George Barnhill, who took over the case after Johnson rescued herself, sent a letter to the Attorney General's Office informing the office of his own conflict of interest: His son worked in Johnson's office and had previously worked with Gregory McMichael on a previous prosecution of Arbery.
  • April 13, 2020 — The case is transferred to a third prosecutor: After receiving Barnhill's letter, the Attorney General's Office appointed Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden to the case. 
  • May 5, 2020: Video of the shooting surfaces: The 36-second video begins with Arbery jogging down the middle of a street toward a pickup truck stopped in the road. Gregory McMichael is in the bed of the truck while his son is standing near the driver's side door with a shotgun.
  • May 7, 2020 — The McMichaels are arrested: Gregory and Travis McMichael were arrested on charges of murder and aggravated assault.
  • May 11, 2020 — A fourth prosecutor takes over: The attorney general announced a fourth prosecutor, Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes, would lead the case after Durden had asked to step down due to a lack of sufficient resources.
  • May 21, 2020 — Bryan is arrested: Two weeks after the McMichaels' arrests, the GBI arrested Bryan on charges of felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. 
  • June 24, 2020 — All three suspects indicted on murder charges: Four months after the shooting, a Glynn County grand jury indicted Gregory and Travis McMichael and Roddie Bryan on malice and felony murder charges in Arbery's death, District Attorney Holmes announced.
  • July 17, 2020 — Suspects plead not guilty: All three pleaded not guilty to the charges they face in mid-July 2020.
  • April 28, 2021 — Suspects are indicted on federal hate crime charges: In late April, federal prosecutors announced a grand jury had indicted the McMichaels and Bryan on hate crime and kidnapping charges.
  • May 11, 2021 — Suspects plead not guilty in federal court: The McMichaels and Bryan all pleaded not guilty to the federal charges in a hearing May 11. They remain in state custody, and the federal trial is set to begin February 2022.