(This Feb. 18 story corrects paragraph 5 to show the prosecution called 20 witnesses, not 18. Paragraph 8 contains offensive language)
BRUNSWICK, Ga. (Reuters) – The prosecution and defense rested their cases on Friday in the hate crimes trial for three white Georgia men who have already been convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery as the young Black man jogged through their neighborhood.
Closing statements will be made on Monday and the case will then go to the jury, made up of nine white and three black jurors. Prosecutors in the trial, which began on Monday, set out to prove Travis McMichael, 36; his father Gregory McMichael, 66; and William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, where motivated by racism in carrying out their crime.
Arbery’s killing in February 2020 was one of several of Black men and women, often at the hands of police, that helped spark racial justice protests in recent years. The federal prosecution of Arbery’s killers is the first in which those who carried out such a high-profile murder are facing a jury in a hate-crime trial.
The McMichaels and Bryan were convicted by a state court last year and sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors during the state trial did not raise racial animus, seeking only to prove the men were responsible for Arbery’s death.
Over the past week, federal prosecutors called 20 witnesses and presented evidence that they said showed the three men have a long history of using slurs and making racist statements.
A prosecution witness testified on Friday that Travis McMichael, then her supervisor in the U.S. Coast Guard, subjected her to racist insults in 2011 after he learned that she had dated a Black man.
Kristie Ronquille, who is white, testified that while with a group of people and Travis McMichael in a Coast Guard station mess deck, she recognized an NBA basketball player in a televised game, and told the group that she had dated the player, who is Black.
Ronquille, who broke down while testifying, said McMichael seized on that and called her a “nigger lover” several times.
Defense attorneys for the three men said their clients were not motivated by racism. Instead, the defense argued, they were concerned about security after a series of break-ins in their Satilla Shores neighborhood. The defense called just one witness.
Arbery was captured on security camera videos entering and looking at ongoing construction at a house – which was legal for him to do so under Georgia law, according to law enforcement witnesses who testified this week. The men said they thought Arbery was a thief. No evidence in the state or federal trials indicated that was the case.
Travis McMichael told police he shot Arbery in self-defense. Local authorities made no arrests for 10 weeks, only doing so after a cellphone video of the killing made by Bryan emerged on social media.
Travis McMichael said at a hearing last month that he was willing to plead guilty to attacking Arbery because of his “race and color” in a plea agreement that was opposed by Arbery’s family.
Judge Lisa Wood rejected the agreement because it bound her to sentencing Travis McMichael to 30 years in federal prison before he was handed back to the state of Georgia to serve out the rest of his life sentence for murder.
(Reporting by Rich McKay in Brunswick and Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Editing by Donna Bryson and Aurora Ellis)