Prosecutors Focus on Arbery Killers’ Failure to Help as He Lay Dying
BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Prosecutors in the hate crimes trial of Ahmaud Arbery’s pursuers on Tuesday focused on showing the ways in which the government believes that the defendants’ racism manifested itself on the day Mr. Arbery was murdered — including the fact that they did not try to help him as he lay dying in the street.
During the second day of the federal trial, lawyers from the U.S. Justice Department showed body camera footage from one of the first police officers to arrive on the scene. On the witness stand, Richard Dial of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, noted that Mr. Arbery’s head and right leg could be seen moving on the video as he lay in the street after being shot by Travis McMichael, 36.
The three white men who chased Mr. Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, were close by at the time the body camera video footage was recorded, and they appear on the videos, cooperating with officers and describing what happened. But Mr. Dial noted that none of them administered aid to Mr. Arbery. Mr. McMichael’s father, Gregory McMichael, 66, told police officers on the scene that he had moved Mr. Arbery’s arm after he was shot to try to determine whether he was armed. He was not.
At about the same time, Gregory McMichael called Mr. Arbery an “asshole” in a conversation with the police.
Some of these details were divulged in a recent state trial, in which the men were found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. But the details took on a different importance in the federal trial, which centers on whether the McMichaels and their neighbor, William Bryan, 52, deprived Mr. Arbery of his right to use the public streets because he was Black.
The men could face additional life sentences for the federal charges they face, which include attempted kidnapping and weapons charges for the McMichaels.
In opening statements on Monday, Bobbi Bernstein, a Justice Department lawyer, told jurors about ugly and explicit expressions of racism the men had used at other times in their lives. She said evidence would show that two of the men, Mr. Bryan and the younger Mr. McMichael, used racist slurs and compared Black people to animals.
On Tuesday, prosecutors put Mr. Dial, the state’s lead investigator in the murder case, on the stand as they walked the jury through the events of Feb. 23, 2020. That afternoon, Mr. Arbery had jogged into Satilla Shores, the South Georgia neighborhood where the three men lived, Mr. Dial said. The defendants, who thought Mr. Arbery was a possible crime suspect, used a pair of trucks to chase him for more than five minutes, until the younger Mr. McMichael shot him three times at close range with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Mr. Dial noted on Tuesday that no emergency calls to the police had been made by the men during the chase until moments before Mr. Arbery was shot, when Gregory McMichael used his son’s phone to call 911. Prosecutors, who argue that the men assumed Mr. Arbery might have been a criminal because he was Black, also played a recording of Mr. McMichael telling the police that Mr. Arbery had “broken into a house” in the neighborhood on numerous occasions.
Video surveillance footage shows Mr. Arbery visiting a house under construction several times in the weeks leading up to his death, including one visit in the moments before he was chased. But in none of the surveillance footage is he seen taking or damaging property from the house, which had no door or walls at the time. Ms. Bernstein repeatedly asked Mr. Dial if Mr. Arbery took anything from the house on any of his visits. Mr. Dial said no. She also noted that Mr. Arbery did not have a wallet, a backpack or anything else with him when he was killed.
Mr. Dial said that these visits did not amount to a crime under Georgia law. During cross-examination, A.J. Balbo, a lawyer for Gregory McMichael, asked the agent if he would find it suspicious if someone was repeatedly entering a construction site at night. Mr. Dial said that in his experience, curious people visit construction sites all the time.
Lawyers for the defendants also emphasized that their clients had cooperated with investigators, offering to make statements and accede to search requests.
Understand the Killing of Ahmaud Arbery
The shooting. On Feb. 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot and killed after being chased by three white men while jogging near his home on the outskirts of Brunswick, Ga. The slaying of Mr. Arbery was captured in a graphic video that was widely viewed by the public.
The victim. Mr. Arbery was a former high school football standout and an avid jogger. At the time of his death, he was living with his mother outside the small coastal city in Southern Georgia.
The fallout. The release of the video of the shooting sparked nationwide protests and prompted Georgia lawmakers to make significant changes to the state’s criminal law, including passage of the state’s first hate crimes statute.
The suspects. Three white men — Gregory McMichael, 67, his 35-year-old son, Travis McMichael, and their neighbor William Bryan, 52 — stood accused of murdering Mr. Arbery. They told authorities they suspected Mr. Arbery of committing a series of break-ins.
The verdict. On Nov. 24, 2021, a jury found the three defendants guilty of murder and other charges. The men were sentenced to life in prison, with only one eligible for parole.
The federal hate crimes trial. Jury selection has begun in the federal hate crimes trial of the three men after a judge rejected a plea deal for two defendants following strenuous opposition from Mr. Arbery’s family. At the heart of the trial is whether the defendants were motivated by racism.
The prosecution also called neighbors of the defendants to the stand, including Daniel Allcott, who said he was in his house when he and his wife heard three loud bangs — the shotgun blasts that killed Mr. Arbery. From their garage window they could see Mr. Arbery’s body right outside his house.
Mr. Allcott outlined what he saw in the ensuing hours: a police officer kneeling over Mr. Arbery’s body, Travis McMichael sitting on the raised flower bed in Mr. Allcott’s yard, Gregory McMichael speaking on the phone.
He remembered a day when Mr. Arbery’s parents came to the house with a wreath and a cross in hand, hoping to create a memorial for their son. He allowed them to do so, he said, holding back tears.
“What do you say to a family that’s lost their son?” he said.
Jurors appeared attentive throughout Mr. Allcott’s testimony. Many took notes and some grew emotional, particularly as Mr. Allcott described Mr. Arbery’s parents visiting the site of the killing. One Black woman on the jury wiped tears from her eyes, first with her hands then with a tissue.
Mr. Allcott said he and his family have since moved away from their house in Satilla Shores. It never felt like home after Mr. Arbery was killed there, he said.