Ahmaud Arbery was ultimately responsible for his own death, a lawyer for one of the men charged with his murder argued in court on Friday. The explosive claim came as the defense rested its case, setting closing arguments for Monday in the high-profile trial over a killing that sparked national outrage last year.
William Bryan is charged with felony murder for participating in the chase that led to Arbery being shot to death in February 2020 by Travis McMichael, who is also facing felony murder charges along with his father, Gregory McMichael.
Bryan’s lawyer, Kevin Gough, attempted Friday to separate his client from the McMichaels in the criminal charges to be considered by the jury likely sometime next week. In doing so, he at several points argued that not only was his client not responsible for Arbery’s death, but that the 25-year-old Black man who was chased through a Georgia neighborhood bore the ultimate blame.
Gough said Arbery had a “last chance” to avoid Bryan’s truck, which the men used to chase Arbery during the encounter.
“You may consider whether Mr. Arbery had a last clear chance to avoid such danger and contributed to that danger, by his own conduct,” Gough said, adding that Arbery should have run to avoid the truck, possibly by “running into a neighbor’s house, jumping into a pool or climbing up the side of a tree.”
All three men have pursued a claim of self-defense, and argued they were attempting a citizen’s arrest on Arbery because they suspected Arbery, who was jogging, had been committing burglaries in the area.
The men have admitted they did not tell Arbery they were performing such an arrest, and police testimony has backed up that claim. Gough explicitly argued that, nevertheless, Arbery should have given in to the three white men, one armed with a gun, who chased him.
“To be charging them with an aggravated assault that he could have avoided by submitting, that is not adjusted to the law,” Gough said.
“Arbery is supposed to know the law just as well as everybody else who was out there that day,” Gough said, referring to the Georgia statute that, at the time, permitted citizen’s arrests. He added that Arbery’s “ignorance of the law” is no excuse.
“If Mr. Arbery could reasonably think these people were trying to stop him or detain him, pursuing a citizen’s arrest statute, then yeah, he has some duty at some point to get off the road,” he added.
And even if Arbery realized that a citizen’s arrest was underway and that it was unfounded, Gough argued Arbery should have let the men go to jail for false imprisonment.
State prosecutor Linda Dunikoski blasted the argument. “There is no duty to retreat. The victim of a crime is a victim of a crime, and to allege that the victim contributed to his own victimization by not avoiding criminals enough, that is not the law, your honor,” Dunikoski told Judge Timothy Walmsley.
Gough also argued for a mistrial Friday, on the grounds that there were “multiple Black voters” shirts people wore outside of the court, along with signs that read “Black pastors matter.” He also said there was a T-shirt he could not read but was “sure it was not flattering of Mr. Bryan.”
Dunikoski pushed back, noting the shirts and signs were a response to Gough’s comments last week about him not wanting Black pastors in the courtroom. Dunikoski argued Gough filed a motion for a mistrial based on something that he himself caused, because, she said, Gough knew the trial was being nationally televised and he strategically created further conflict in the case.
Gough then claimed the trial was being influenced by a “mob mentality” and stories pushed by the media. At one point, Gough stated that the case has been “infected” by things that were not relevant to the guilt or innocence of the defendants and says “third parties” are influencing the case.
Gough said this is what a “public lynching” looks like in the 21st century, describing the trial and the defendants who were criminally charged.
“The perception is the reality. And the media has fed that perception and created that reality whether it was true or not,” Gough said. “This is what a mob mentality looks like in the 21st century and we are asking for a mistrial.”
Walmsley denied the mistrial. Closing arguments for the case will begin Monday.