BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Laying out her case that three White men committed murder when they chased and fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski used the defendants’ own words.

“Stop, I’ll blow your f---ing head off,” Greg McMichael told police he warned Arbery, according to the prosecutor. McMichael, his son and a neighbor did not just chase Arbery in their pickup trucks last year, Dunikoski said — the older McMichael described trapping the 25-year-old Black man “like a rat.”

Calling 911 just before Arbery was shot, she noted, McMichael did not describe a crime.

“All of this, and what does he say his emergency is?” Dunikoski told the jury. “ ‘I’m out here in Satilla Shores, and there’s a Black male running down the street.’ That’s the emergency.”

Lawyers gave their opening arguments Friday after nearly three weeks of jury selection in the case that went 74 days without charges. A viral video of Arbery’s killing in the suburban community of Satilla Shores sparked national attention in the spring of 2020 and became a visceral example for many of the justice system’s unfairness to Black people amid a wave of protests over police violence and racism. The defendants were accused of racially profiling Arbery as he jogged in coastal Georgia.

“All three of these defendants did everything they did based on assumptions — not on facts, not on evidence,” Dunikoski said Friday.

Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan have pleaded not guilty to charges including murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment. Their lawyers argue they had valid grounds to carry out a “citizen’s arrest” after suspecting Arbery of neighborhood break-ins, and Travis McMichael has said he shot Arbery in self-defense, fearful Arbery would take his gun.

Bob Rubin, a lawyer for the younger McMichael, emphasized Friday that the 35-year-old was trained in arrests and use-of-force as a former officer with the Coast Guard. That training, Rubin said, led the defendant to raise his shotgun as Arbery ran toward him, hoping first to scare the man off and “de-escalate.” Then, Rubin said, he was forced to shoot.

Travis McMichael's attorney on Nov. 4 argued his client acted “in self defense” when he shot Ahmaud Arbery as he and two others chased him in two pickup trucks. (AP)

Rubin described Satilla Shores as “on edge” and rattled by property crimes that led people to install security cameras and swap information on incidents. The McMichaels zeroed in on Arbery, he said, because he looked like the stranger who kept visiting an under-construction home at night — and they were correct.

“What we’re asking you to do is hard, and it may be unpopular,” Rubin told the jurors, asking them to set aside their emotions about the case.

One juror shielded herself with a notebook as the prosecution played police body-camera footage, which showed Arbery lying in the middle of the road, surrounded by blood.

Viral video from Bryan’s cellphone shows Arbery running past the truck of the McMichaels, who are armed, and then struggling with Travis McMichael as shots are fired. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, cried out in court Friday as cellphone footage played.

While the short clip seen around the world will be central to the trial, lawyers on both sides have emphasized there is far more to the case. Dunikoski said Friday that it captures just the deadly end of a five-minute chase. And the defense detailed incidents at the under-construction home they said had left neighbors on high alert.

Georgia’s old citizen’s arrest law — overhauled after Arbery’s death — required either “immediate knowledge” of a crime or “reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion” of someone fleeing a felony offense.

The defendants had heard that items went missing from the property, attorneys said, and that a man resembling Arbery was seen there in video. Earlier in February 2020, they said, Travis McMichael saw him firsthand and called police. Then Arbery walked into the property Feb. 23, 2020, prompting a neighbor to call police. Greg McMichael saw Arbery sprinting past his house and got his son, defense lawyers said, convinced a suspect was getting away. Bryan soon joined them in his own truck.

Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, opted to defer his opening statement to the close of the prosecution’s evidence.

Authorities found no stolen items on Arbery’s body, and prosecutors say the property owner will attest to other “looky-loos” wandering the vacant home. Dunikoski said the defendants displayed little idea of what Arbery was doing last February, even as they found him suspicious. Travis McMichael, for instance, recounted trying to ask Arbery where he was running from and what he was doing, she said.

“No one said, ‘I was making a citizen’s arrest today,’ ” Dunikoski said. “Not one single person used those words. No one said, ‘I was trying to arrest him for the crime of, fill in the blank.’ ”

Arbery did not even have a cellphone on him to call for help as strangers closed in, the prosecutor said, while the accused were armed with both guns and vehicles. Bryan repeatedly tried to hit Arbery with his truck and forced him down into a ditch, Dunikoski said, eventually sending him toward the McMichaels for the final violent confrontation. She framed the whole chase as an extended attack that Arbery tried to escape.

Dunikoski told jurors Friday that the state does not have to prove “premeditation” for the charge of “malice murder” filed against the defendants, only intent to kill. “Malice is something that can be formed in an instant,” the Cobb County prosecutor said.

All three defendants are also charged with felony murder, for which the prosecution must prove someone committed a felony that caused another person’s death.

Lawyers have been battling for months over exactly what evidence the jurors can hear. Just before opening arguments, Judge Timothy Walmsley rejected defense attorneys’ request to keep the panel from seeing a picture of Travis McMichael’s license plate, which features an old Georgia flag with the Confederate battle emblem. He previously barred the defense from bringing in information on Arbery’s criminal history and mental health.

Attorneys for the McMichaels had argued that the plate was “not relevant” and “prejudicial.” In court Thursday, they said it would amount to an improper comment on Travis McMichael’s character. Dunikoski countered that racial animus is evidence of motive, telling the judge that the state does not plan to introduce evidence of such animus but adding, “if Travis McMichael opens the motive door the state’s going to walk through it.”

The old Georgia flag was replaced two decades ago after a bitter political battle. Georgia had adopted the flag in the 1950s as the state legislature was fighting desegregation, and some historians talk about the flag as a defiant response to federal efforts to dismantle racist policies in the South.

Defense attorneys say race had nothing to do with their clients’ actions in February 2020. But prosecutors have portrayed the defendants as racists who hunted down a Black jogger they found suspicious. All three men face federal hate crimes charges for which a trial is scheduled early next year.

Bryan told investigators that Travis McMichael used the n-word and an expletive after shooting Arbery, an allegation that McMichael’s attorneys deny. At a bond hearing last year, prosecutors also highlighted defendants’ social media posts and texts as illustrations of racial bias.

Race took center stage in the trial this week as defense lawyers struck 11 out of 12 Black people in the final jury pool, leaving a main panel with just one Black member. The prosecution challenged the exclusions as discriminatory, but the judge declined to reseat anyone, saying that the defense gave “race neutral” reasons for their choices and that under Georgia law that was enough.

The result highlighted long-standing concerns about racial bias in jury selection, especially in cases where race could play a central role. The defense used a standard process called “peremptory strikes” — which allow parties to exclude some people deemed qualified to serve — that some lawyers blame for much of juries’ underrepresentation of non-White people.

One juror was dismissed before opening arguments for medical reasons and replaced with one of four alternate jurors. Attorneys have not specified the race of the alternate jurors. The final group of main jurors and alternates ranged in their prior knowledge of the case that has drawn worldwide media coverage and rocked Glynn County.

One woman said during jury selection that she had never seen the video that brought the case to national attention. Another called the video “obscene” but said she would do her best to consider the case objectively. A woman who works in retail called the shooting “a horrible situation as everyone knows.”

“But nothing is ever as it seems to be,” she added.

Rubin, the defense lawyer, also called the cellphone footage “horrible, horrible.”

“It’s tragic that Ahmaud Arbery lost his life,” he told the jury. “But at that point, Travis McMichael is acting in self-defense. He did not want to encounter Ahmaud Arbery physically. He was only trying to stop him for the police.”

Listening in court, Arbery’s mother sighed.

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