Ahmaud Arbery murder: Jurors are set to begin second day of deliberations in federal hate crimes trial of three men convicted

Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan were previously given life prison sentences in state court, but federal charges they face — including a hate crime, interference with rights — would bring additional punishments for acts prosecutors say were racially motivated.

During the closing rebuttal arguments on Monday, prosecutor Tara Lyons emphasized the state’s position that “this offense happened” because Ahmaud was Black.

“On February 23, 2020, the three defendants did not see 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery as a fellow human being,” Lyons said.

Defense attorneys have not denied the use of their language yet argued the facts of the case show their response to Arbery was not due to his race.

Jury in federal hate crimes trial of Ahmaud Arbery's killers excused after first day of deliberations

The McMichaels have claimed they pursued Arbery, who prosecutors and his family say was jogging at the time of the attack, in their vehicle because they suspected him of burglary of a home under construction near their residence outside Brunswick, Georgia. Bryan told authorities he followed the McMichaels after seeing them give chase.

Upon reaching Arbery, Travis McMichael got out of his truck with a firearm, and after a brief struggle, shot and killed Arbery.

The three men were tried in a Georgia court and found guilty on multiple murder counts in November. The McMichaels were sentenced to life in prison without parole, while Bryan — who recorded video of the shooting — was given life with the possibility of parole.
Before the federal trial, the McMichaels initially agreed to plead guilty, but the judge overseeing the case rejected the plea deal because of concerns about the sentence. The three men have since pleaded not guilty.

Jurors deliberated for more than two hours Monday before being excused for the evening. Deliberations will recommence at 9 a.m. ET.

The jury is made up of eight White jurors, three Black jurors and one Hispanic juror, according to details provided in court. Three White people and one Pacific Islander have also been selected as alternates.

Closing statements wrapped on Monday

Prosecutor Christopher J. Perras spoke at the start of the prosecution’s closing arguments Monday by going through some of the evidence presented during trial, including Facebook posts made by Greg McMichael, texts and posts by Travis McMichael, and Bryan’s use of a derogatory phrase in messages to friends.

In one example, under a Facebook video appearing to show a group of primarily Black teenagers beating a White teen, Travis McMichael commented, “I say shoot them all,” and referred to the group as “monkeys,” according to testimony from an FBI intelligence analyst.

Perras claimed the defendants also made false statements to the police by saying Arbery had been caught breaking into houses, during interviews with investigators.

“This wasn’t about trespassing. It wasn’t about neighborhood crime. It was about race. Racial assumptions, racial resentment and racial anger,” said Perras. “All three defendants saw a young Black man in their neighborhood, and they thought the worst of him.”

How the defendants acted was part of a pattern that they knew what they did was wrong, Perras said, and did what they could to try to get away with the murder. The men were not charged until more than two months after the shooting.

Defense attorneys on behalf of each of the three men also spoke Monday in closing remarks, pushing back against prosecutors’ arguments.

J. Pete Theodocion, a defense attorney for Bryan, said his client was put into a situation, which, “for all intents and purposes look like the individual had committed a crime.”

Racist messages were key evidence in the hate crimes trial of Ahmaud Arbery's killers

Amy Copeland, a defense attorney for Travis McMichael, said there is no evidence her client used a racial slur on the day Arbery was murdered, no evidence he was part of a hate group, no evidence of racial violence committed by McMichael and no evidence he talked about Arbery’s death in racial terms.

The defense attorney for Greg McMichael told the jury his client had tenants who were people of color.

“Those are his private facilities,” attorney A.J. Balbo said. “Gregory McMichael invited people of color, African Americans to make use of his private facilities.”

Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, was seen overcome with emotion in the courtroom during the defense’s closing arguments, including when Balbo detailed the moments leading up to the fatal attack.

“He described Ahmaud as turning toward Travis and attacking Travis, which we all know now that wasn’t true,” she told reporters outside the courthouse during Monday’s lunch break. “When Ahmaud turned to Travis, Travis already had that shotgun pulled toward him.”

The timing of the closing of the trial is “great,” Cooper-Jones said, as it nears the two-year anniversary of Arbery’s death. “The anniversary date is the 23rd, and hopefully we’ll have a good verdict by the 23rd,” she said.

After recounting what Balbo claimed about her son, she said, “this has been very draining, and I’m thankful that it’s almost over.”

CNN’s Pamela Kirkland, Kevin Conlon, Maria Cartaya, Jason Hanna, Christina Maxouris, Eric Levenson, Sam Perez, Jaide Timm-Garcia and Alta Spells contributed to this report.

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