Defense attorney in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial sought a plea deal for one defendant and was declined, Arbery’s mother’s lawyer says

Defense attorney in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial sought a plea deal for one defendant and was declined, Arbery’s mother’s lawyer says
Stephen B. Morton/AP

A defense attorney for one of the three White men accused of chasing and killing Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery asked prosecutors for a plea deal and was declined, an attorney for Arbery’s mother told CNN.

William “Roddie” Bryan Jr.’s lawyer “asked for a plea deal before resting their case. Prosecutors declined any plea offer,” Lee Merritt, an attorney for Wanda Cooper-Jones, said Friday.

The Cobb County, Georgia, District Attorney’s office declined to comment about being approached about a plea deal.

The revelation comes as defense attorneys are expected to begin closing arguments Monday after 10 days of court proceedings and testimony from more than 20 witnesses and investigators.

The trial has touched on a number of issues of national concern, from the role of race in the criminal justice system to how video evidence can spur action, the limits of self-defense rights and the consequences of using firearms on public streets.

Supporters of Arbery have held prayer vigils and marches outside the courthouse in Brunswick, the seat of Glynn County.

Arbery was jogging through a residential area near Brunswick on February 23, 2020, when the defendants pursued him in their vehicles, culminating in Arbery being shot and killed by one of the men. Defense attorneys have said their clients were trying to conduct a lawful citizen’s arrest of Arbery, whom they suspected of burglary.

Travis McMichael, who fired deadly shots; his father Gregory McMichael, a former police officer and investigator in the local district attorney’s office; and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. are charged with malice and felony murder. The men have pleaded not guilty.

Charges were not filed against the defendants for months until cell phone video from Bryan that showed the shooting sparked outrage and condemnation over the glacial progress of the case. The first two prosecutors recused themselves due to conflicts of interest, citing their proximity to Gregory McMichael during his professional career.

Additional charges levied against the defendants include aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony. If convicted, each man could face life in prison without the possibility of parole.

All three men have also been indicted on federal hate crime and attempted kidnapping charges.

Prosecutors cite inconsistencies from Travis McMichael

Over the course of two days, Travis McMichael gave testimony concerning the moments before, during and after the shooting. Prosecutors during cross-examination Thursday pressed McMichael on discrepancies in his statements and actions.

McMichael said during testimony Wednesday that he and his father had an encounter less than two weeks before the shooting with a Black man, who was “creeping through the shadows” near a home under construction. Residents testified in court that a spate of burglaries had hit the neighborhood before the shooting.

McMichael testified that on the day of the shooting, his father told him he saw “the guy that has been breaking in down the road.” Jumping into their truck, Travis McMichael said they caught up to Arbery and tried talking to him twice, who did not respond.

Travis McMichael said he noticed another truck in the neighborhood. Prosecutors contend Bryan, the third defendant, got in his own truck and joined the pursuit, though he did not know what was going on, and struck Arbery with his vehicle.

Eventually pulling ahead of Arbery down the road, McMichael testified, he parked his vehicle and exited, then pointed his shotgun at Arbery as he approached, telling him to stop. McMichael claims Arbery got to the truck, grabbed the rifle and struck McMichael before he then shot Arbery.

On Thursday, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski challenged McMichael over what she said were inconsistencies in his accounts to authorities. That included not telling police initially that he and his father were trying to make a citizen’s arrest, though that’s what the defense has since contended. She also covered differences in his accounts on when and where he told Arbery certain things, such as to stop.

McMichael responded he was “scattered” and “mixed up” in the hours after the shooting, because “this is the most traumatic event I’ve ever been through in my life.”

McMichael also acknowledged several times, under Dunikoski’s questioning, that he never saw Arbery armed during the pursuit, never heard Arbery verbally threaten him and that Arbery never responded or showed any interest in conversing with McMichael as he tried to ask what he was doing.

Racial aspects have not gone unnoticed

Race has been a noticeable factor surrounding the case, with three White men standing accused in the death of the Black jogger. In a county that has a 69% population of White residents and 26% Black, according to Census Bureau data, 11 of the 12 jurors are White.

Satilla Shores, the neighborhood where the shooting took place, is just outside Brunswick city limits. About 55% of the 16,200 residents in Brunswick are Black, compared to 40% who are White, according to the Census data.

Judge Timothy Walmsley said before opening statements he would allow the case to move forward, but he said the court “has found that there appears to be intentional discrimination” in the jury selection.

Ben Crump, an attorney for Arbery’s father, said Arbery had been “denied justice” and was highly critical of the jury makeup, adding, “A jury should reflect the community,” he said on November 4.

Days prior, Bryan’s attorney Kevin Gough complained that older White men from the South without four-year college degrees, “euphemistically known as ‘Bubba’ or ‘Joe Six Pack,'” seemed to be underrepresented in the pool of potential jurors that had turned up.

As testimony proceedings moved forward, Gough continuously decried the presence of Black pastors in the public gallery who were there to offer support for Arbery’s family.

Last Thursday, noting the attendance of the Rev. Al Sharpton during the trial, Gough said he had “nothing personally against” Sharpton, adding, “We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here or other Jesse Jackson, whoever was in here earlier this week, sitting with the victim’s family trying to influence a jury in this case.” Gough apologized for his remarks the next day.

Walmsley stated throughout the case that as long as there were no disruptions from the gallery, no measures would be taken by the court regarding attendance.

The Rev. Jackson joined Arbery’s parents and sat in the gallery for the first time after Gough’s comments. On Thursday at the courthouse steps, hundreds of Black ministers and pastors joined Sharpton in a prayer gathering supporting Arbery’s parents and family.

“Our agenda is that the God we serve will give strength to this woman and this man and this family and an agenda that God would give us justice in this courtroom,” Sharpton said during the outdoor gathering. “We did not come for an ulterior motive.”

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