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Jury has begun to deliberate in the trial of 3 men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery


Jury deliberations are underway in the Georgia murder trial of three white men accused in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. Arbery, who was Black, was shot to death last year while he was running down a residential street outside the city of Brunswick. The case has drawn attention from racial justice advocates, who have maintained a presence at the Glynn County courthouse since the trial began a little over a month ago. NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us now from Brunswick.

Hi, Debbie.


SHAPIRO: To start with what's actually in front of this jury, walk us through the charges and the defense's response.

ELLIOTT: Well, Travis McMichael, his father Greg and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, are charged with murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment for chasing Ahmaud Arbery in pickup trucks and then killing him. The McMichaels say they were trying to make a citizen's arrest when they went in armed pursuit after Greg McMichael saw Arbery running down their street. They say they thought he might be responsible for neighborhood break-ins. Bryan joined in that chase and then recorded the killing on his cellphone. Travis McMichael, the one who killed Arbery with a shotgun at close range - he's claiming self-defense because Ahmaud Arbery fought back.

SHAPIRO: So the jury started its deliberations just before noon local time today. After they heard final closing rebuttal from the prosecution, what was the state's final message for the jurors?

ELLIOTT: Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski sort of ran down all of the choices that the defendants made leading up to this tragic outcome. She talked about how these strangers chose to go after Ahmaud Arbery even though they had no knowledge that he'd done anything wrong other than seeing a Black man running down the street. She said he had no weapon, but they chose to arm themselves. They chose to run down a pedestrian with a truck. She urged the jury to reject Travis McMichael's argument of self-defense given that he's the one who drew the shotgun.


LISA DUNIKOSKI: You can't claim self-defense if you are the unjustified initial aggressor, meaning if you started it. Who started this? It wasn't Ahmaud Arbery. You can't force someone to defend themselves against you so you get to claim self-defense. This isn't the Wild West.

ELLIOTT: She also reminded the jurors about the language that Greg McMichael used on the day of the killing when he recounted to police what happened.


DUNIKOSKI: He proudly told the police this is what he said to Mr. Arbery. We're going to kill you if you don't stop. Greg McMichael - yeah, he was trapped like a rat.

SHAPIRO: Now, Debbie, Arbery's family, including his parents, have been in court throughout this trial, watching testimony and evidence that have sometimes been painful. What are they saying now that the case is before the jury?

ELLIOTT: Right. There was a real tough moment at the end of the prosecutor's closing today when she asked the jury to hold all three defendants accountable for turning this young man into that one, showing a smiling photograph of Arbery in contrast to a crime scene photo of him laying dead on the street. His mother Wanda Cooper-Jones wept at those images. Later, outside the courthouse, his father Marcus Arbery called what he'd seen in the courtroom devastating. But he said it's also strong evidence that should lead to a conviction. Wanda Cooper-Jones also sounded confident that the prosecution proved its case.


WANDA COOPER-JONES: She presented the evidence, again, very well. I do think that we will come back with a guilty verdict. And I'm going to leave with this. God has brought us this far, and he's not going to fail us now.


COOPER-JONES: We will get justice for Ahmaud.

ELLIOTT: Now it's just a matter of waiting to hear how jurors saw that evidence.

SHAPIRO: And in the meantime, what's the scene like in Brunswick, where everybody's waiting for that verdict?

ELLIOTT: Well, some protesters have been out today but not as many as we've seen at times, including yesterday, when there was a very vocal march around the courthouse led by the New Black Panthers. It caused a bit of a controversy because the judge was in the jury room at the time and heard some noise from outside. It prompted him to move the jury room into a more interior space, and it prompted Arbery's family to ask supporters to please remain peaceful and do nothing to jeopardize a fair trial.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Debbie Elliott in Brunswick, Ga.

Thank you.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Debbie Elliott
NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.