Washington (AFP) -
Prosecutors and defense attorneys presented their closing arguments on Monday in the racially charged trial of three white men accused of murder in the southern US state of Georgia for shooting dead a Black man after chasing him in their pickup trucks.
Gregory McMichael, 65, a retired police officer; his son Travis, 35; and their neighbor William 'Roddie' Bryan, 52, are facing murder and other charges for the February 2020 shooting of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.
A graphic video of the shooting of the unarmed Arbery went viral on social media and added fuel to last year's protests against racial injustice sparked by the murder in May of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, by a white police officer in Minnesota.
The three defendants have said they suspected Arbery was a burglar who had been active in their neighborhood and invoked a since-repealed Georgia state law that allows ordinary citizens to make arrests.
But chief prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said the three had no justification for trying to detain Arbery and never told him they were trying to arrest him as he jogged through the neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon.
'None of the defendants saw Mr. Arbery commit any crime that day,' Dunikoski said. 'They assumed he must have committed some crime.'
The McMichaels, who were armed with a shotgun and a handgun, and Bryan, who was unarmed, chased Arbery based on 'assumptions and driveway decisions,' she said.
'They made their decision to attack Ahmaud Arbery in their driveways because he was a Black man running down the street,' she said.
- 'Under attack' -
Arbery was chased by the men in their trucks until he was 'trapped like a rat,' Dunikoski said, using a description that Gregory McMichael gave police.
The jury was shown video of Travis and Gregory McMichael pursuing Arbery in their truck, and Bryan chasing him in his own vehicle and filming the scene on his cell phone.
At one point, Arbery attempts to run around the front of the McMichaels' stopped truck.
Travis McMichael, who had gotten out of the vehicle, opens fire with a 12-gauge shotgun. A wounded Arbery is seen struggling with McMichael before being killed by another shot.
Dunikoski, the prosecutor, said Arbery was 'under attack' and 'ran away from them for five minutes.'
Arbery did not have a weapon, and 'he's not threatening anybody,' she said. 'He's just running away.
'They attacked him and shot and killed him,' she said. 'They can't claim self-defense.'
'They all acted as a party to the crime,' she said. 'But for their choices, Ahmaud Arbery would be alive.'
There is only one Black juror on the 12-member jury hearing the case, although about 25 percent of the 85,000 residents of Glynn County, where the trial is taking place, are Black.
- 'Horrifically tragic' -
Jason Sheffield, a lawyer for Travis McMichael, said what happened was 'horrifically tragic.'
McMichael had reason to believe Arbery was responsible for the burglaries in the area and had seen him at night 11 days earlier in a house on the street under construction, Sheffield said.
He said Arbery grabbed McMichael's shotgun during the fatal confrontation, and his client was defending himself.
'You are allowed to defend yourself,' Sheffield said.
'You are allowed to use force that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury if you believe it's necessary,' he said. 'At that moment, Travis believed it was necessary.'
Kevin Gough, Bryan's attorney, said his client had 'no reason to know' that the McMichaels had guns, and his actions were 'superfluous and irrelevant to the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery.'
The prosecution is to deliver its rebuttal to the defense on Tuesday, and the case will then go to the jury.
Before delivering his closing argument, Gough asked the judge, Timothy Walmsley, to declare a mistrial, citing the presence of armed Black protesters outside the courthouse.
The judge denied the request, saying that 'individuals have a right to be outside' and there was no evidence that the jury had been exposed to the protests.
Gough had previously asked the judge to bar 'Black pastors' from the trial, claiming that the presence of civil rights leaders Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson in the public gallery was influencing the jurors.
Walmsley dismissed the motion, saying anyone is welcome to attend the trial so long as they are not disruptive.
The closing arguments come just days after the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse in another closely watched case.
Rittenhouse, 18, shot dead two men during protests and riots against police brutality in Wisconsin last year that followed the police shooting of a Black man.
The teen claimed self-defense and was acquitted of all charges on Friday.