The defense says the suspects acted in self-defense and had reason to believe Arbery had committed a crime in the Georgia neighborhood.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys presented conflicting versions of the events leading up to Ahmaud Arbery’s death in the US state of Georgia last year, such as the long awaited trial of the three men accused of killing the 25-year-old opened on Friday.
In her opening statement, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said the suspects had no reason to follow Arbery or suspect him of wrongdoing when they chased him to their neighborhood in Brunswick, a coastal community 480km (300 miles) southeast. of Atlanta.
“They thought he must have committed some crime that day,” Dunikoski said. “He tried to get around their truck and run away from these strangers, complete strangers, who had already told him they were going to kill him. And then they killed him. ‘
Lawyers for the suspects – Gregory McMichael, 65, his son Travis McMichael, 35, and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52 – described Arbery, who was black, as an “intruder”.
They argued that their clients, all three of them white, probably had reason to suspect that Arbery had committed a crime.
Robert Rubin, a lawyer for Travis McMichael, who shot Arbery three times, said his client was acting in self-defense while Arbery took his rifle.
“He has no choice because if this kid takes his gun, he’s dead or his father is dead,” Rubin said.
A leaked video showing Arbery’s killing last year sparked outrage in the United States, fueling the racial justice protests that rocked the country after the murder of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer.
The video of the incident was broadcast on Friday in the courtroom.
Local prosecutors had initially refused to indict the suspects in the Arbery case. Months later, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the investigation after the video went public and arrested the defendants. They were charged with murder.
Bryan, a neighbor who joined the chase, had recorded the video of the incident.
Arbery was seen walking into a house under construction in the neighborhood. The owner of the house says Arbery didn’t steal anything.
But the suspects followed him to stop him until the police arrived. At the time, Georgia had a law that allowed citizens to be arrested; it was repealed after Arbery’s killing.
“It’s a horrible, horrible video, and it’s tragic that Ahmaud Arbery lost his life,” said Rubin, the defense attorney. “But at that point, Travis McMichael acts in self-defense. He did not want to physically meet Ahmaud Arbery. He was just trying to stop him for the police. “
Dunikoski said Arbery was an “avid runner”, noting that he was killed 3.2 km (two miles) from his home. He added that he was “under attack” by suspects who had no evidence that he had done anything wrong.
“They made decisions in their driveways based on those assumptions that took the life of a young man, and that’s what we’re here for,” Dunikoski said.
The trick of the Jury of 12 members who will decide the outcome of the case was defined on Wednesday, but only included one black person, prompting objections from the prosecution.