Before Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, There Was Ahmaud Arbery


Mr. Arbery and Travis McMichael, who was 34 at the time, are seen tussling over Mr. McMichael’s shotgun as Mr. McMichael shoots three times. Mr. Arbery then spins around, tries to run and falls to the pavement.

“From our review of the law — as much as no one likes what it allows Georgia citizens to do — it appears the McMichaels had the full authority of the law to engage Mr. Arbery, and to try to stop him and talk to him and hold him until the police arrived,” Jason Sheffield, one of Mr. McMichael’s lawyers, said in an interview last week.

Mr. Sheffield, echoing the analysis of one of the first prosecutors on the case, George E. Barnhill, also said that Travis McMichael was within his rights to fire on Mr. Arbery under the state’s self-defense law because the two men were physically fighting at the time.

Ms. Cooper-Jones, in an interview last week, said she hoped that jurors would not be swayed. “The citizen’s arrest law was implemented in the time of the Civil War,” she said. “My son’s murder happened back in 2020. You can’t hide behind that law and commit murder in 2020.”

Still, the arguments may resonate in Glynn County, where Mr. Arbery and the accused men lived, and where the trial is likely to be held. No date has been set. The county, along the southern stretch of Georgia’s Atlantic coast, is majority white and conservative — “a defense friendly venue for this type of case,” said Esther Panitch, a criminal defense lawyer and legal analyst in Atlanta.

The prosecutors and defense have sparred, in competing motions, over whether Mr. Arbery should be allowed to be called a “victim” in the case; lawyers for the McMichaels have argued that it is a “prejudicial” term.

But it is the fate of two other motions that may prove to have a more serious impact on the eventual trial. In one, prosecutors have asked that evidence of what are described as past “racial” incidents involving the three defendants be included at trial, including Facebook posts and text messages.

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