A defense attorney for one of the three men charged in Ahmaud Arbery’s killing asked prosecutors for a plea deal and was declined, an attorney for Arbery’s mother told CNN.
“Prosecutors shared with” Arbery’s mother that defendant William “Roddie” Bryan Jr.’s lawyer “asked for a plea deal before resting their case,” and “prosecutors declined any plea offer,” Lee Merritt, an attorney the mother, said Friday.
Reporters outside the southeastern Georgia court where the trial is being conducted asked Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney, on Friday whether he asked prosecutors for a plea deal.
“I don’t know what y’all are talking about,” Gough responded as he walked toward a courthouse entrance.
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, confirmed to reporters outside the same courthouse Friday that she heard from the district attorney about the request for a deal.
The district attorney’s office that is prosecuting the case declined to comment about being approached about a plea deal.
The claim about a plea deal request 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 defense rested its case Thursday, and lawyers and the judge were working in court Friday on what instructions to give to the jury.
Three White men – Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael and their neighbor Bryan Jr. – face charges including malice murder and felony murder in the death of Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was chased by the trio on February 23, 2020, in the Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick, Georgia.
Arbery’s family has said he was out for a jog when he was killed. Defense attorneys contend the McMichaels, suspecting him of burglary, were trying to conduct a lawful citizen’s arrest, and that Bryan, after seeing the McMichaels chase Arbery, attempted to cut Arbery off, followed and recorded cell phone video of the pursuit and shooting. The younger McMichael testified he shot Arbery in self-defense as he and Arbery wrestled over McMichael’s shotgun. All three defendants have pleaded not guilty.
Defense lawyer’s motion for mistrial rejected
On Friday, Gough again filed for a mistrial, this time saying it was because of concerns over a “demonstration” that occurred outside the Brunswick courthouse Thursday.
“This is an event that is literally, literally at the courthouse door with more people than I could count outside,” Gough said.
The defense attorney was referring to a “Prayer Wall” event Thursday afternoon, that was attended by a large group of pastors, clergy and other supporters of the Arbery family from across the country.
State prosecutors accused him of orchestrating the demonstration with his complaints about the presence of nationally known African-American clergymen in the courtroom.
“They’re responding to what he strategically, knowingly, intelligently did so that there would be a response so that he could then complain of it,” lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said. “That is good lawyering right there, because now he’s motioned for a mistrial based on something that he caused.”
The judge rejected Gough’s motion.
Seemingly attempting to put distance between himself and Gough, Travis McMichael’s attorney on Friday afternoon called the prayer event “beautiful” and “powerful.”
“There was passion, there was emotion, there was community support,” attorney Jason Sheffield said. “The community came together in a beautiful, powerful way on an issue that they felt very passionately about.”
Closing arguments expected Monday
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.
Charges were not filed against the defendants for months until Bryan’s cell phone video emerged, sparking 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 career. Ultimately, prosecutors in Georgia’s Cobb County – more than 200 miles from where Arbery was killed – were appointed to the case.
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
The McMichaels, according to their attorneys, suspected Arbery of burglary in part because they and several neighbors were concerned about people entering an under-construction home – and because of Travis McMichaels’ encounter with a man in the neighborhood on February 11, 2020, nearly two weeks before the shooting.
According to testimony, the deadly pursuit started with this: A neighbor called police on the afternoon of February 23 to say a man later identified as Arbery was at the construction site alone. Arbery ran off as the man called police, the neighbor testified.
Gregory McMichael, investigators testified, said he initiated the pursuit after seeing Arbery speedily run by McMichael’s home, and that he believed Arbery matched the description of someone who had been recorded at the construction site before.
The prosecution has said surveillance videos do show Arbery at the construction site multiple times, including the day he was killed, but always without breaking in and without taking anything.
Prosecution witnesses also have testified that the McMichaels did not know for certain at the time of the chase that Arbery was at the site that day, or whether the man in the videos had ever taken anything from the construction site.
The owner of the unfinished home, Larry English Jr., testified in a September deposition – played for jurors last week – that he “probably” had told the McMichaels about incidents on his property. English said he never authorized the McMichaels to confront anybody on the construction site.
Travis 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, but that Arbery 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 testified Arbery darted to him, 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.
On Friday, Sheffield called his client “brave’ for choosing to testify, saying the younger McMichael was “continuing to do his duty to the truth by telling his story, by subjecting himself to cross-examination.”
He also suggested that health concerns may have played a role in the decision to not put Gregory McMichael on the stand.
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, 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.
CNN’s Travis Caldwell, Alta Spells, Angela Barajas, Eric Fiegel, Christina Maxouris, Dakin Andone and Jason Morris contributed to this report.