A Georgia Superior Court judge wrote in a Monday, Aug. 30, ruling that defense attorneys for the men charged in the death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery won’t be able to present evidence about Arbery’s past legal troubles at the trial.
Gregory and Travis McMichael, a father and son, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. are charged with malice murder, felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment, Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes announced last year. The men, are accused of chasing down and fatally shooting Arbery last in February 2020. Jury selection begins on Oct. 18.
Trial Judge Timothy Walmsley wrote that presenting evidence on Arbery’s legal troubles could “lead the jury to believe that although Arbery did not apparently commit any felony that day, he may pose future dangerousness in that he would eventually commit more alleged crimes, and therefore, the Defendants’ actions were somehow justified.”
Defense attorneys wanted the jury to hear about Arbery’s two past arrests to challenge prosecutors’ argument that he was simply an innocent jogger targeted by the defendants.
Prosecutors said defense attorneys were attempting to put Arbery on trial and Walmsley agreed that Arbery’s character shouldn’t be scrutinized at the trial. “The character of victim is neither relevant nor admissible in murder trial,” the judge wrote.
In 2013, Arbery pleaded guilty to charges that he’d brought a gun onto a high school campus a year after graduating. In 2017, Arbery pleaded guilty to shoplifting after allegedly trying to steal a television from a store. He was on probation at the time of his death.
Travis McMichael fatally shot Arbery as he ran through the Georgia neighborhood on Feb. 23, 2020. The McMichaels spotted Arbery running, chased him down and cut off his path with a truck before he was killed. Bryan filmed and joined in on the chase. Footage of the attack was posted to social media in May and led to outrage, causing the pace of the investigation to speed up and leading to the arrests of the three men.
Defense attorneys contend none of the men committed a crime, and say Bryan and the McMichaels thought Arbery had committed a burglary after he was previously captured on surveillance footage entering a home under construction. Travis McMichael shot Arbery out of fear for his life as the two struggled over the shotgun, the attorneys say.
Thea Brooks, Arbery’s aunt, said to reporters after learning about the judge’s ruling, “That is some of the best news we’ve heard in a while.
She added, “Everybody, as they say, has the right to a fair trial. When you look at a victim who’s been victimized, who’s been killed or murdered, and they’re not here to tell their side of the story, and you’d rather pull up something from their past, and try to make them this person that’s a monster, then where is their fair trial?”
Defense attorneys have also asked the judge to allow evidence that Arbery suffered mental health issues, although prosecutors have asked the judge to deny the request.
In April, federal prosecutors also indicted the men on hate crime and kidnapping charges in Arbery’s death. The federal trial will begin in February.