A medical examiner testified Tuesday that Ahmaud Arbery, the Black man who was chased and killed while running through a Georgia neighborhood last year, was shot at very close range, potentially boosting the shooter’s self-defense claims.

Edmund Donoghue, who conducted the autopsy, told jurors that Arbery was first shot in the wrist and torso at the same time, indicating that the 25-year-old might have been grabbing Travis McMichael’s firearm. Questioned by prosecutors, Donoghue said the wounds could also be consistent with someone pushing the gun away, leaving some uncertainty about how jurors should interpret the final moments of the shaky cellphone video that thrust this case into the national spotlight.

The testimony came on the final day of the prosecution’s case, as they suggest three White men racially profiled a jogger based on vague suspicions. The defense is expected to begin calling its witnesses Wednesday and argues that the killing occurred when a legitimate citizen’s arrest went awry. Travis McMichael; his father, Greg McMichael; and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan have pleaded not guilty to murder, false imprisonment and other charges.

Attorneys for Travis McMichael say their client sought first to scare off Arbery and “de-escalate,” firing as Arbery got close and fearing that the unarmed man would take McMichael’s weapon. Prosecutors contend that McMichael cannot claim self-defense because he, his father and their neighbor were the aggressors — pursuing Arbery in their trucks and then confronting him in their coastal Georgia neighborhood of Satilla Shores in February 2020.

Donoghue testified Tuesday that Arbery was beyond medical help before he hit the ground, badly wounded in the chest and armpit area and spurting blood from his wrist. The jury saw graphic photos of Arbery’s body: up-close injuries, a blood-soaked T-shirt, shotgun pellets still buried beneath skin. At one point, Arbery’s mother left the gallery.

The death of Ahmaud Arbery transformed Brunswick, Ga. Now, community leaders are hoping more change will come as the trial for his killing comes to an end. (Drea Cornejo/The Washington Post)

Donoghue, a medical examiner from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said he initially guessed that Travis McMichael’s shotgun muzzle was three to four feet from Arbery when fired. But after the defense noted the analysis of another expert at the GBI, Donoghue said, he watched video of the shooting frame by frame and revised that estimate significantly — to between three and 20 inches.

That expert, Brian Leppard, testified Monday that Arbery was shot at “contact or near-contact” range and said, “I think it’s reasonable to say that if the end of the shotgun can touch your shirt … then it would be reasonable to think that you can also grab the shotgun.”

Video shot by Bryan shows Arbery ahead of him, running down a suburban road toward Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and their truck. Arbery heads around the truck in the footage and then toward the younger McMichael, who like his father is armed. A first shot rings out as McMichael’s truck obscures the men’s movements.

Travis McMichael told police that he was not sure whether Arbery actually grabbed the gun. Donoghue wrote in his initial report — before watching the now-viral video — that Arbery’s wounds were “sustained during a struggle for a shotgun,” and he affirmed Tuesday that a frame-by-frame breakdown shows Arbery’s hand on the weapon as he grapples with Travis McMichael while injured.

Prosecutors had also planned to show the jury Arbery’s shoes during Donoghue’s testimony. The medical examiner identified them in pictures as Nike running shoes, a potential boost to the prosecution’s portrayal of Arbery as a runner who was unfairly targeted.

But Cobb County prosecutors changed course on the shoes after the defense indicated that this could open the door for its alternative arguments about Arbery’s activities the day of shooting.

Arbery was not found with any stolen items, but defense lawyers have said their clients suspected him of break-ins and theft or intent to steal after he repeatedly entered an under-construction home. They sought to bring in evidence on Arbery’s prior run-ins with law enforcement, but Judge Timothy Walmsley barred that information — unknown to the defendants in February 2020 — as irrelevant.

Frank Hogue, an attorney for Greg McMichael, argued Tuesday that even the photo of Arbery’s well-worn shoes had “opened the door” for such evidence by suggesting that Arbery was shot while jogging. But Walmsley disagreed.

Jurors heard this week from a slew of employees at the GBI, which took over Arbery’s case in May 2020 after the leaked video spurred protests and new scrutiny. A local prosecutor had earlier advised police not to make arrests in the Feb. 23, 2020, killing.

The prosecution’s final witness was Richard Dial, the GBI’s lead investigator in Arbery’s death. He narrated slow videos of Arbery and the defendants’ reconstructed path through Satilla Shores leading up to the shooting.

It is not clear whether the defendants will testify on the killing, and the prosecution has threatened to bring in additional evidence suggesting “racial animus” if Travis McMichael were to take the stand and defend his motives. Bryan briefly testified Tuesday afternoon to criticize the conditions at the Glynn County detention center — where he has spent more than a year — as “oppressive.”

The trial for the three men charged in Ahmaud Arbery’s death has begun in Brunswick, Ga. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, didn’t think a trial would happen. (The Washington Post)

As the prosecution’s case came to a close, an attorney for Bryan continued to press his objections to high-profile guests attending court at the invitation of Arbery’s family. He submitted a formal motion expressing concerns that people in the gallery could influence jurors and interfere with a fair trial.

“We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here,” Kevin Gough said last week while unsuccessfully trying to bar the Rev. Al Sharpton from the gallery. More than 100 Black pastors are expected to gather outside the courthouse Thursday after Gough’s comments drew widespread criticism.

Walmsley has declined to bar respectful members of the public from attending the proceedings, and on Tuesday he said that had not changed.

“I’m not going to re-plow that ground,” the judge said.

Earlier this week, Walmsley rejected the defense’s requests for a mistrial after Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, began to weep in the gallery. The judge quickly ordered the jury out of the room, but the defense lawyers argued that her show of emotion could interfere with the case. Some also cited the appearance of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights leader, who joined Arbery’s family amid an outcry over Gough’s objection to “high-profile members of the African American community” sitting in view of jurors.

Walmsley rebuked Gough on Monday, calling his comments “reprehensible," and took particular issue with the lawyer’s apparent comparison last week of Sharpton’s attendance to the hypothetical appearance of “a bunch of folks … dressed like Colonel Sanders with white masks.”

An attorney for Travis McMichael distanced himself from Gough’s comments — “asinine and ridiculous,” Jason Sheffield said — but he joined in Monday’s calls for a mistrial. He said jurors looked over as Cooper-Jones wept, their faces flashing with sympathy.

“And to see then Mister Reverend Jackson — whose autographed picture hung in my mother’s law office for two decades, who is the ultimate figure of fairness and justice and equality, to see that — I don’t think it gets any higher in terms of the impression that that makes,” Sheffield said.

But Walmsley sided with prosecutors, who called a mistrial an extreme step necessitated only by “incurable” disruptions.

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