Defense says ruling by judge in Ahmaud Arbery trial over citizens arrest law guts their case

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — What was expected to be a relatively calm day in the trial for the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery ended in fireworks once again.

The judge ruled Friday afternoon that under Georgia’s old citizen’s arrest law, the one applied in this case, the arrest would have to occur right after any felony crime was committed, not days or months later.

The defense argued that the ruling guts their case.

[EXPLAINER: What are the charges in Ahmaud Arbery’s killing?]

“If you are going to instruct the jury as you say, you are directing a verdict for the state,” said Bob Rubin, attorney for Travis McMichael.

Channel 2′s Tony Thomas has been in Brunswick covering the trial since the beginning. He said the defense attorneys were livid over the jury instructions Judge Timothy Walmsley plans to give next week.

“We have built this whole case around the probable cause and you are gutting all of it if you give this particular charge,” Rubin said.

Greg and Travis McMichael, along with Roddie Bryan, say they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest of Arbery, believing he had previously committed crimes in their neighborhood. But they had not witnessed any crimes themselves or knew of any immediately before they began chasing him last year.

Travis McMichael shot Arbery in what he claims was self-defense during a struggle.

“I understand the significance of this charge,” Walmsley said.

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Defense attorney Kevin Gough again called for a mistrial, saying the gathering of hundreds of Black ministers Thursday outside court was an effort to influence the jury.

“This is what a public lynching looks like in the 21st century,” Gough said. “This is not 1915. This is not 1923. There are not thousands of people out there with pitchforks and baseball bats. But I would submit this is the 21st century equivalent.”

Many of the ministers came to pray in response to Gough’s previous efforts to ban Black ministers from the courtroom.

“He has asked for a mistrial for something he caused himself,” special prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said.

Prosecutors fought the mistrial, and the other defense teams didn’t like it either.

“I want to tell you what happened yesterday was beautiful, it was powerful, it was passion,” defense attorney Jason Sheffield said.

The judge again denied a mistrial.

Earlier in the day, there was word of apparent efforts for a plea deal by defendant Roddie Bryan.

Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said Dunikoski told her directly of the efforts by Bryan for a deal as testimony closed.

“Did they give you any input on any potential plea deal?” Thomas asked Cooper-Jones.

“No, they haven’t,” Cooper-Jones said.

Cooper-Jones and her legal team said prosecutors rejected the deal and that she was surprised by the offer.

“Very surprising the actions that they did. I was expecting them to put up a bigger fight,” Cooper-Jones said.

Prosecutors won’t comment. Bryan’s defense attorney refused to talk about it as he walked into court.

“I’m not getting into it. Denied. Denied, denied, denied,” Gough said to reporters.

The judge said he will consider written arguments from lawyers on the citizen’s arrest law this weekend. Closing arguments are set for Monday.

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