Discussions of race were notably absent in the trial of the Arbery murder defendants.

Many outside observers say Ahmaud Arbery’s death at the hands of three white men is a prominent example of racial violence. But the jury never heard that argument.,

Nov. 22, 2021, 12:25 p.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 12:25 p.m. ET
ImageThe pastor Jamal Bryant led a prayer on Thursday outside of Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga.
The pastor Jamal Bryant led a prayer on Thursday outside of Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga.Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

When Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was chased through a Georgia neighborhood by three white men and shot at close range, his killing was widely viewed as an act of racial violence.

One of the men uttered a racist slur moments after shooting Mr. Arbery, one of his co-defendants told the authorities. One of the trucks the men were in had a vanity plate with a Confederate flag symbol on it.

And yet over 10 days of testimony in a South Georgia courtroom, jurors heard no discussion of race or allegations of bigotry.

The absence has been notable, given that prosecutors signaled early on that they might make race an important aspect of their case.

“I’m at a loss,” Esther Panitch, an Atlanta-based criminal defense lawyer, said. “While the state doesn’t have the obligation to prove motivation, jurors certainly would want to know what would motivate defendants to commit a crime like this.”

The state murder trial is not the last word on whether the defendants — Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William Bryan — were motivated by racial animus: A federal hate crimes trial looms for all three men in February.

But in Brunswick, Ga., in recent days, the gulf between the limited story presented in court and the broader story being told beyond earshot of the jurors seemed to yawn wider than ever.

Kevin Gough, the lawyer for Mr. Bryan, repeatedly introduced race into the public narrative by arguing — while the jury was out of the room — that the presence of prominent civil rights leaders in the courtroom could influence the jury. “We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here,” he said at one juncture.

Mr. Gough’s comments were widely criticized and prompted The Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network to invite scores of Black pastors to Brunswick to show support for the Arbery family.

A spokeswoman for the Cobb County district attorney declined to comment on the prosecution’s strategy. But Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor and professor at Georgetown University Law Center, said the fact that 11 of the 12 jurors were white might have played a role in the prosecution’s decision to not be more aggressive in framing the case in racial terms.

Ronald L. Carlson, a professor emeritus at the University of Georgia School of Law, said the introduction of racial themes also ran the risk that an appellate court might eventually rule such evidence to be overly prejudicial. If prosecutors felt that they were winning, he said, they might have decided the risk was not worth it.

Prosecutors had indicated that they would, in fact, make race an issue. Just before opening arguments, the judge ruled that they could introduce photographic evidence of Travis McMichael’s truck, which showed that it was adorned with a vanity plate with the design of the old Georgia state flag, which incorporates the Confederate battle flag.

Last year, prosecutors filed a motion saying they planned to introduce what they described as “racial” evidence, including a “Johnny Rebel” Facebook post by Travis McMichael, “racial messages” extracted from Mr. Bryan’s cellphone, and an “Identity Dixie” Facebook post by Gregory McMichael.

In a hearing, prosecutors read a text message from November 2019 in which Travis McMichael used a racist slur about Black people.

Ultimately, none of that evidence was presented to the jury.

Richard Fausset

Nov. 22, 2021, 12:22 p.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 12:22 p.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

Last week when Travis McMichael was on the stand, he acknowledged that he had told the police, shortly after the killing, that he was not sure whether Ahmaud Arbery had grabbed his shotgun. Today his lawyer says: “There’s no question that Ahmaud’s hands are on this gun.”

Richard Fausset

Nov. 22, 2021, 12:20 p.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 12:20 p.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

It’s worth noting that the essence of the defense being made by Travis McMichael’s lawyer — that the three men were trying to make a legal citizen’s arrest, and that McMichael fired on an unarmed man in self-defense — is the same argument that a previous prosecutor, George Barnhill, made to police in 2020 when advising them that the men should not be arrested. Barnhill was one of several prosecutors to handle the case before the current team took over.

Richard Fausset

Nov. 22, 2021, 12:04 p.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 12:04 p.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

A Georgia law that was in place at the time of the Ahmaud Arbery killing allowed a citizen’s arrest if someone had “immediate knowledge” that a crime had been committed. Travis McMichael’s lawyer is saying that his client had “immediate knowledge” of a crime that had occurred 12 days before the shooting (Arbery allegedly entering a house that was under construction). Jurors may have to decide whether “12 days” amounts to “immediate.”

Richard Fausset

Nov. 22, 2021, 12:12 p.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 12:12 p.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

Jason Sheffield, the defense lawyer, tells the jury that while chasing Ahmaud Arbery, Travis McMichael suspected him of committing a crime while “tangled up” with the truck of a co-defendant, William Bryan. Sheffield says that McMichael thought that Arbery was trying to get into Bryan’s truck “in an aggressive way. And he thinks that does not look good.”

Nov. 22, 2021, 11:57 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 11:57 a.m. ET
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Prosecutor Says Ahmaud Arbery Was Under Attack

The prosecutor argued in her closing arguments that the three white men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery cannot claim self-defense because they were “the initial unjustified aggressors.”

What did he do? What did Mr. Arbery do? He ran away for five minutes. He ran away from them. Ran away from them for five minutes. That’s what he did — put his hands out of his sides in those baggy shorts he had on. No weapon, no threats, no way to call for help, didn’t even have a cellphone on him. Ran away from them for five minutes. Ladies and gentleman, this is the bottom line. As I said in opening, and I say it to you again, this was an attack on Ahmaud Arbery. They committed the crimes, they committed the four felonies. They attacked him. They shot and killed him. They can’t claim self-defense under the law because they were the initial unjustified aggressors, and they started this.

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The prosecutor argued in her closing arguments that the three white men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery cannot claim self-defense because they were “the initial unjustified aggressors.”CreditCredit…Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

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.

Richard Fausset

Nov. 22, 2021, 11:51 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 11:51 a.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

Jason Sheffield, Travis McMichael’s lawyer, is laying the groundwork in his closing to argue that Ahmaud Arbery committed burglary, a felony, by visiting a house under construction in the defendants’ neighborhood, noting that burglary does not require that anything be stolen. Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law at the time (since repealed) said that if someone is trying to escape a felony, another person can try to arrest them “upon reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion.”

Richard Fausset

Nov. 22, 2021, 11:52 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 11:52 a.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

Sheffield said that Arbery had been “run out of” the same house three times before Feb. 23, 2020, when he was confronted by the defendants and killed. “It’s unreasonable to think that he’s going back there for some lawful purpose,” Sheffield argued.

Richard Fausset

Nov. 22, 2021, 11:55 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 11:55 a.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

Sheffield notes that McMichael, at one point, called police about a suspicious white man under a nearby bridge — a detail intended to counter the prosecution argument that Arbery was attacked “because he was a Black man running down the street.”

Richard Fausset

Nov. 22, 2021, 11:38 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 11:38 a.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

The lawyer for Travis McMichael tells jurors that the owner of the partially built house that Ahmaud Arbery often visited had told police that some items had been stolen out of a boat that he sometimes kept on the property. The defense will use this to argue that suspicion of a theft from the house had spread through the neighborhood when the three defendants decided to chase Arbery in February 2020.

Richard Fausset

Nov. 22, 2021, 11:40 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 11:40 a.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

Sheffield, the defense lawyer, recounts a night a couple of weeks before the killing when Travis McMichael said he saw Arbery on the construction site on his block. McMichael claims that he saw Arbery reach into his waistband that night, as though he had a gun. The defense believes this is important because it establishes that Travis started to think of Arbery as a dangerous threat.

Tariro Mzezewa

Nov. 22, 2021, 11:27 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 11:27 a.m. ET

Tariro Mzezewa

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

Travis McMichael’s lawyer tells jurors that the neighborhood of Satilla Shores, where Ahmaud Arbery was killed, changed over time, according to his client’s testimony, from a safe place to one with increased crime and people feeling “unsettled” and scared. The defense had previously argued that McMichael wanted to protect the neighborhood, and tried to stop Arbery and question him, not kill him.

Tariro Mzezewa

Nov. 22, 2021, 11:20 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 11:20 a.m. ET

Tariro Mzezewa

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

Jason Sheffield, a lawyer for Travis McMichael, the defendant who shot Ahmaud Arbery, is beginning his closing arguments. During the recess, Sheffield and Linda Dunikoski, the prosecutor, had a heated exchange in front of the judge over the possibility of the defense showing the jury images they have never seen before, such as a photo of the Coast Guard training center that McMichael attended.

Richard Fausset

Nov. 22, 2021, 10:55 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 10:55 a.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

The court is now in a brief recess after the prosecutor, Linda Dunikoski, finished her closing arguments, but with plans to come back again for rebuttal after the defense lawyers present their cases. “The state gets to go first, and last, because the state has the burden of proof to prove this to you beyond a reasonable doubt,” she had explained earlier.

Tariro Mzezewa

Nov. 22, 2021, 10:36 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 10:36 a.m. ET
The defense attorney Robert G. Rubin, left, with Franklin Hogue, another defense attorney, cited Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law in his opening statement to the jury. Credit…Octavio Jones/Reuters

One of the key arguments on behalf of the men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery is that they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest permitted under a Civil War-era Georgia law — a statute that was later largely dismantled by state legislators in response to this case.

Lawyers for the defendants — Travis McMichael; his father, Gregory McMichael; and their neighbor William Bryan — have argued that the men suspected Mr. Arbery of a series of break-ins in the Satilla Shores neighborhood outside of Brunswick, Ga. When the men saw Mr. Arbery running through the neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon in February 2020, their lawyers have argued, their goal was to stop him.

Robert G. Rubin, representing Travis McMichael, cited the citizen’s arrest law in his opening statement, focusing on property crimes, which he said had left the neighborhood “on edge.” He said that Mr. Arbery had been spotted four times via security cameras in a half-built house and that Mr. McMichael had confronted a man emerging from that house on the fourth occasion and felt threatened when the man appeared to reach toward his waist, as if for a weapon.

It was the same house from which Mr. Arbery was seen running on the day he was fatally shot, Mr. Rubin said, giving Mr. McMichael probable cause to assume that a burglary had occurred — and reason to suspect that Mr. Arbery might be armed — thus giving Mr. McMichael the right to make a citizen’s arrest.

The law in question had existed in Georgia since 1863. It allowed residents to arrest each other if they had reasonable suspicion that someone had committed a felony and the police were not present.

In this case, the jury will have to consider whether the men reasonably suspected that Mr. Arbery had committed a felony.

These kinds of laws, similar to “stand your ground” and “castle doctrine” laws that allow people to use force to protect themselves or their homes, exist in man states but are not uniform. Critics argue that they enable people to act out of pre-existing biases and help foment environments that can lead to extrajudicial killings.

“This is based on racism,” said Ira P. Robbins, a law professor at American University who wrote a paper on the issue. “You look at the Georgia law, for example. This is a law that was used for white people to help catch escaping slaves. There is a close connection between citizen’s arrest laws in the South and lynchings.”

Another criticism of these kinds of laws is that ordinary citizens are not well-versed in the complexities of the law when they take matters into their own hands. “It’s scary because it allows for vigilante injustice,” Mr. Robbins said.

Georgia lawmakers dismantled the citizen’s arrest law last spring in response to Mr. Arbery’s killing, repealing the portion that allowed a private person to arrest someone if that person witnessed — or was told about — a crime, or if someone suspected of committing a felony was trying to escape. The legislation carved out some exceptions for business owners, who can detain people on “reasonable grounds” if they are suspected of shoplifting or other thefts. Other exceptions apply to licensed private detectives and security guards.

Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, called the former statute “an antiquated law that is ripe for abuse.”

Rick Rojas

Nov. 22, 2021, 10:34 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 10:34 a.m. ET

Rick Rojas

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

Although Travis McMichael was the defendant who was armed with a shotgun and who fired at Ahmaud Arbery, prosecutors argue that his father, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan, who were also involved in the incident, should be considered equally responsible in the eyes of the law. “It’s called party to a crime,” Linda Dunikoski, a prosecutor, told the jurors in closing arguments. “The law says that everybody involved is guilty.”

Rick Rojas

Nov. 22, 2021, 10:29 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 10:29 a.m. ET

Rick Rojas

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

The prosecutor leading closing arguments, Linda Dunikoski, is actually a senior assistant district attorney from Cobb County, Ga., who was brought in after the Glynn County district attorney first handling the Ahmaud Arbery case was indicted. Before this trial, one of Dunikoski’s highest-profile cases was an Atlanta public school cheating scandal, which led to a trial that was among the longest in Georgia history.

Tariro Mzezewa

Nov. 22, 2021, 10:18 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 10:18 a.m. ET

Tariro Mzezewa

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

In her closing arguments, Linda Dunikoski, the prosecutor, runs the jury through the charges that the defendants are facing. She told the jurors that when someone points a gun at someone, the logical outcome is that they will shoot. Last week, Travis McMichael, one of the defendants, testified that he pointed his gun at Ahmaud Arbery to try and de-escalate the situation when the defendants confronted him.

Tariro Mzezewa

Nov. 22, 2021, 9:55 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 9:55 a.m. ET

Tariro Mzezewa

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

The prosecutor, Linda Dunikoski, tells jurors that the defendants killed Ahmaud Arbery because he would not stop to talk to them, not because they were facing a threat. She is reminding the jury of the details of Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law, which was in effect at the time of Arbery’s killing. The law required immediate knowledge of a crime, which the defendants did not have. She is arguing that they speculated that Arbery committed burglaries, but did not know for sure.

Rick Rojas

Nov. 22, 2021, 9:58 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 9:58 a.m. ET

Rick Rojas

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

In order to legally carry out a citizen’s arrest, Dunikoski emphasized, the person would need to witness someone committing a crime. “You’re doing it in my presence,” she said. “Do we have that here? No.” The Arbery case fueled a successful drive for Georgia lawmakers to repeal its citizen’s arrest law, which was criticized for being vague and, according to Gov. Brian Kemp, “ripe for abuse.”

Nov. 22, 2021, 9:53 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 9:53 a.m. ET
Jackie Johnson, then the district attorney of Glynn County, Ga., during a trial in 2013.Credit…Phil Skinner/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via Associated Press

Even before the trial of the men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery got underway, the case was complicated by the actions of the district attorney first handling the case in Glynn County, Ga.

The initial prosecutor, Jackie Johnson, was indicted in September by a grand jury that accused her of “showing favor and affection” to one of the suspects and of directing police officers not to arrest a second suspect.

Ms. Johnson, who eventually recused herself from the case, was charged with “violation of oath of public officer” and “obstruction and hindering a law enforcement officer,” according to the indictment.

The indictment said Ms. Johnson failed “to treat Ahmaud Arbery and his family fairly and with dignity” by not disclosing that she had sought the assistance of another district attorney, George E. Barnhill of the Waycross Judicial Circuit, before recommending that he take over the case. Ms. Johnson recused herself because Gregory McMichael, one of the three men accused of killing Mr. Arbery, had worked in her office.

She also “knowingly and willfully” directed two Glynn County police officers not to arrest Mr. McMichael’s son, Travis McMichael, another suspect in the case, “contrary to the laws of said state,” the indictment said.

Two other prosecutors subsequently took over the case and then stepped aside. Mr. Barnhill, the district attorney who replaced Ms. Johnson, recused himself because his son worked for Ms. Johnson. He had said that the McMichaels were protected by the state’s citizen’s arrest law and self-defense statutes and should not be held responsible for the killing.

The third prosecutor, from a smaller county office, was removed after the state attorney general determined he was not equipped to handle the sprawling case.

The lead prosecutor now handling the case is Linda Dunikoski, the senior assistant district attorney for Cobb County, Ga.

Ms. Johnson was voted out of office last year, largely as a result of criticism over her handling of cases including Mr. Arbery’s.

Richard Fausset

Nov. 22, 2021, 9:43 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 9:43 a.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

Judge Timothy Walmsley has now brought the jury into the courtroom, and they are hearing closing arguments from prosecutor Linda Dunikoski.

Richard Fausset

Nov. 22, 2021, 9:33 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 9:33 a.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

The jurors remain outside of the courtroom as lawyers are hashing out last-minute motions and edits to jury instructions before closing arguments. According to a pool reporter in the courtroom, there are two women central to the human drama in the gallery right now: Wanda Cooper-Jones, Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, and Leigh McMichael, the wife of defendant Greg McMichael.

Richard Fausset

Nov. 22, 2021, 9:28 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 9:28 a.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

Kevin Gough, the lawyer for defendant WIlliam Bryan, who videotaped the fatal encounter, is asking for his client to be severed from the case — that is, given a separate trial — because he doesn’t think it’s fair for him to be tried with the other two men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery. Mr. Gough is citing testimony last week that showed that another defendant, Travis McMichael, made vigilante-style comments on social media. The prosecution is pushing back on the idea of a severance.

Richard Fausset

Nov. 22, 2021, 9:17 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 9:17 a.m. ET

Richard Fausset

Reporting from Brunswick, Ga.

Lawyers and defendants are in court this morning for the case of the men charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. They are hashing out final issues regarding the wording of jury instructions that Judge Timothy Walmsley will read to jurors today, before they begin their deliberations.

Nov. 22, 2021, 8:13 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 8:13 a.m. ET
Defense attorneys Kevin Gough, right, and Laura Hogue speaking during a break in the trial. The defense has cited a Civil War-era citizen’s arrest law to build its case.Credit…Pool photo by Sean Rayford

Jurors in a South Georgia courtroom on Monday are expected to hear closing arguments in the trial of the men charged with murdering Ahmaud Arbery.

Three white men — Gregory McMichael, 65; his 35-year-old son, Travis McMichael; and their neighbor, William Bryan, 52 — stand accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, after spotting him running through their neighborhood outside of the coastal city of Brunswick, Ga. Mr. Arbery was chased, cornered and shot to death at close range.

Over 10 days of testimony, jurors have heard defense lawyers describe the neighborhood, Satilla Shores, as a community on edge because of a rash of property crimes. The defendants, they said, had reason to believe that Mr. Arbery was responsible for a series of local break-ins. He had been caught several times on security camera footage at the site of a partially constructed home in the neighborhood.

The defense lawyers have cited the state’s Civil War-era citizen’s arrest law, which allowed private citizens to detain people whom they believed to be breaking the law — a statute that was largely dismantled as a result of this case.

Prosecutors have argued that the men had no evidence that Mr. Arbery had committed a crime and instead had based their decisions to pursue him on flimsy assumptions about his presence in their community.

The killing of Mr. Arbery was widely seen as an act of racial violence, and the case has become one of the most closely watched trials with civil rights overtones in the United States. Yet jurors have heard no discussion of race or allegations of bigotry. The absence has been notable, given that prosecutors signaled early on that they might make race an important aspect of their case.

Regardless of the verdict in the state’s case, all three men also face federal hate crimes charges. Each was charged with one count of interference with Mr. Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race. They were also charged with one count of attempted kidnapping. Travis and Gregory McMichael were also charged with one count each of using, carrying and brandishing a firearm. Travis McMichael is accused of shooting Mr. Arbery.

Nov. 22, 2021, 8:04 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 8:04 a.m. ET
Defendants Travis McMichael, far left, Gregory McMichael, second from left, and William Bryan, far right, standing with their defense attorneys during the trial last week.Credit…Pool photo by Octavio Jones

The overview

Three white Georgia men stand accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man after they suspected him of committing a series of break-ins in their neighborhood outside of the coastal city of Brunswick in South Georgia in February 2020.

The trial of Gregory McMichael, 65; his 35-year-old son, Travis McMichael; and their neighbor William Bryan, 52, began in early November, and lawyers are expected to make their closing statements on Monday. All three men face possible life sentences.

The slaying of Mr. Arbery was captured on video that was widely viewed by the public, helping to make it among the most high-profile cases with civil rights overtones in the United States. The trial has played out at the same time as the case in Kenosha, Wis., involving Kyle Rittenhouse, who last week was found not guilty of homicide and other charges after fatally shooting two men and wounding another amid protests and rioting.

Who was Ahmaud Arbery?

Mr. Arbery was a former high school football standout who was living with his mother outside the small city of Brunswick. He had spent a little time in college but seemed to be in a period of drift in his 20s, testing out various careers and working on his rapping skills. He also suffered from a mental illness that caused him to have auditory hallucinations.

Friends and family said he liked to stay in shape. He was an avid jogger who was often seen running in and around his neighborhood.

The issues

The defense has argued that the accused men — who spotted Mr. Arbery running through their community, pursued him in two trucks and then cornered him — were making a lawful citizen’s arrest. They have argued that Travis McMichael shot Mr. Arbery because Mr. Arbery attacked him.

The state has argued that the defendants chased Mr. Arbery based on flimsy assumptions about his presence in their suburban neighborhood of Satilla Shores. Travis McMichael testified last week that he shot Mr. Arbery after Mr. Arbery grabbed his gun; a prosecutor pointed out that in Mr. McMichael’s initial statement to the police he had said he could not remember if that had happened.

Before the trial began, prosecutors signaled that they intended to tell the jury that the defendants’ decisions were based on racial animus; but the jury ultimately heard no talk of race.

Crime in the neighborhood

The defendants and other neighbors have described Satilla Shores as a community on edge after a series of burglaries and property crime. Gregory McMichael said that when he saw Mr. Arbery running through the neighborhood, he thought he looked like a man suspected in several break-ins in the area.

Mr. Arbery had been spotted on security camera footage several times at a house under construction. No evidence was produced that he had ever taken any property from the site.

One law dismantled, another enacted

Mr. Arbery’s death led lawmakers in Atlanta to change the state law in two significant ways. First, they gutted a Civil War-era citizen’s arrest statute that allowed citizens to arrest one another under certain circumstances and when the police were not present. Second, lawmakers passed a hate crimes law, allowing for extra penalties for people who commit crimes against others based on their race, gender, sexual orientation or other identities. Law enforcement officials are required to file reports of these kinds of crimes so the state can track them.

The defendants have claimed they are not guilty based in part on the former citizen’s arrest law. They were not charged under the new hate crimes law, but all three were indicted under the federal hate crimes statute earlier this year. Their trial in that case is set for February.

Nov. 22, 2021, 8:04 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 8:04 a.m. ET
Judge Timothy R. Walmsley of Glynn County Superior Court acknowledged that many Black jurors were excused by the defense. The jury is made up of 11 members who are white and one who is Black.CreditCredit…By Reuters

The jury that will decide the fate of the three white men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery is composed of 11 members who are white and one who is Black.

The lopsided balance — especially in a case that has been widely perceived as an act of racial violence — has been a cause of concern for civil rights activists. And it prompted legal experts in recent days to speculate that the racial makeup of the jury played a role in prosecutors’ decision not to make racial animus part of their case against Mr. Arbery’s assailants.

How did such a jury get chosen?

Even as he approved the selection of jurors earlier this month, Judge Timothy R. Walmsley of Glynn County Superior Court, who is presiding in the trial, declared that there was an appearance of “intentional discrimination” at play.

But Judge Walmsley also said that defense lawyers had presented legitimate reasons, unrelated to race, to justify unseating eight Black potential jurors.

And that, the judge said, was enough for him to reject the prosecution’s effort to reseat them.

What may have seemed like convoluted logic to non-lawyers was actually the judge’s scrupulous adherence to a 35-year-old Supreme Court decision that was meant to remove racial bias from the jury selection process — but has come to be considered a failure by many legal scholars.

The guidelines established by that ruling, Batson v. Kentucky, were central to the intense legal fight that erupted in court over the issue. The argument raised fundamental questions about what it means to be a fair and impartial juror, particularly in a high-profile trial unfolding in a small community where nearly everyone has opinions about the case.

Defense lawyers told Judge Walmsley there were numerous reasons to unseat several Black candidates for the jury. One man, they said, had played high school football with Mr. Arbery. Another told lawyers that “this whole case is about racism.”

But the resulting makeup of the jury profoundly dismayed some local residents who already had concerns about whether the trial will be fair.

“This jury is like a black eye to those of us who have been here for generations, whose ancestors labored and toiled and set a foundation for this community,” said Delores Polite, a community activist and distant relative of Mr. Arbery.

More broadly, the racially lopsided jury, in a county that is about 27 percent Black and 64 percent white, underscores the enduring challenges that American courts face in applying what seems to be a simple constitutional principle: that equal justice “requires a criminal trial free of racial discrimination in the jury selection process,” as Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh put it in a ruling from 2019.

Nov. 22, 2021, 8:02 a.m. ETNov. 22, 2021, 8:02 a.m. ET
Two of the three defendants on trial for murder are Gregory McMichael, center, and Travis McMichael, his son, left.Credit…Pool photo by Elijah Nouvelage

The indictment handed up by the grand jury in Glynn County lists nine criminal counts against each of the three defendants in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. For each count, they are charged individually and as “parties concerned in the commission of a crime.”

Taken together, the charges provide a number of different ways that the defendants, Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William Bryan, could wind up facing life in prison if they are convicted. All have pleaded not guilty.

Here are the charges in the order listed in the indictment:

Count 1

Malice murder

This crime is defined in Georgia law as causing a person’s death with deliberate intention, without considerable provocation, and “where all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.” It is punishable by death, or by life imprisonment with or without possibility of parole.

Counts 2, 3, 4 AND 5

Felony murder

This charge applies when a death is caused in the course of committing another felony, “irrespective of malice” — in other words, whether or not the killing was intentional and unprovoked.

The other felonies in this case are listed in Counts 6 through 9 of the indictment; one count of felony murder is linked to each. If prosecutors prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants committed one or more of those crimes and also caused Mr. Arbery’s death in the process, the basis would be laid for a conviction for felony murder.

Like malice murder, felony murder is punishable by death, or by life imprisonment with or without possibility of parole.

Count 6

Aggravated assault

One way Georgia law defines this crime is as an assault using a deadly weapon. This count charges the three men with attacking Mr. Arbery with a 12-gauge shotgun. It is punishable by imprisonment of one to 20 years.

Count 7

Aggravated assault

Another way Georgia law defines this crime is as an assault using “any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury.” This count charges the defendants with using two pickup trucks to assault Mr. Arbery. It is punishable by imprisonment of one to 20 years.

Count 8

False imprisonment

This charge applies when a person without legal authority “arrests, confines, or detains” another person “in violation of the personal liberty” of that person. Specifically, the defendants are charged with using their pickup trucks to chase, confine and detain Mr. Arbery “without legal authority.”

False imprisonment is punishable by one to 10 years in prison.

Count 9

Criminal attempt to commit a felony

Georgia law defines criminal attempt as performing “any act which constitutes a substantial step” toward the intentional commission of a crime — in this case, the false imprisonment charged in Count 8. A defendant can be convicted either of completing a particular crime or of attempting it, but not both.

Because false imprisonment is a felony, attempting it is also a felony, punishable by half the attempted crime’s maximum sentence: in this case, one to five years in prison.

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