What We Know About the Shooting Death of Ahmaud Arbery

Mr. Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was chased by white residents of a South Georgia neighborhood. They were convicted of murder and federal hate crimes.

A memorial for Ahmaud Arbery at the entrance to the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick, Ga.
Credit...Nicole Craine for The New York Times

A federal judge sentenced two Georgia men to life in prison on Aug. 8 for the pursuit and slaying of Ahmaud Arbery; a third man was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

A jury had determined that the three white men — Travis McMichael, 36; his father, Gregory McMichael, 66; and their neighbor William Bryan, 52 — were motivated by racism when they chased Mr. Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, through their neighborhood. They were each convicted of a federal hate crime.

The men were also found guilty of attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels were found guilty of one count each of brandishing or discharging a firearm during a violent crime.

U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood said she had given long and serious consideration to the sentencing. She said the men had received a fair trial — “the kind of trial that Ahmaud Arbery did not receive before he was shot and killed.”

Judge Wood rejected requests by the men — who were all previously sentenced to life for their murder convictions in state court — that they be allowed to serve part of their concurrent life sentences in federal prison.

The men chased Mr. Arbery through their suburban neighborhood outside of Brunswick Ga., on a Sunday afternoon in February 2020. The five-minute pursuit ended when Travis McMichael fatally shot Mr. Arbery three times at close range with a 12-gauge shotgun.

The Arbery trials — in state and federal court trial — were among the most closely watched proceedings with civil rights overtones in the United States since the April murder conviction of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who was captured in a bystander video kneeling on the neck of another unarmed Black man, George Floyd, for roughly nine minutes. The video of that incident created an international uproar and raised serious questions about the treatment of minorities at the hands of police.

The slaying of Mr. Arbery was also captured on a videotape that was widely viewed by the public. And the trial of his accused killers also brought up issues of policing — although in this case, it involved questions about private citizens and their rights to detain people who they believe to be breaking the law.

Those rights in Georgia were detailed in a controversial Civil War-era statute that was significantly weakened by state lawmakers in direct response to the outrage over the Arbery killing. Lawmakers also passed Georgia’s first-ever hate crimes law as a result of the incident.

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Listen to ‘The Daily’: The Shooting of Ahmaud Arbery

Mr. Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was pursued and killed. But no one was arrested until a video of the confrontation was released months later.
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Listen to ‘The Daily’: The Shooting of Ahmaud Arbery

Hosted by Michael Barbaro; produced by Alexandra Leigh Young and Eric Krupke; with help from Robert Jimison; and edited by Larissa Anderson and M.J. Davis Lin

Mr. Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was pursued and killed. But no one was arrested until a video of the confrontation was released months later.

archived recording (gregory mcmichael)

Hello?

archived recording

911, what’s the address of your emergency?

archived recording (gregory mcmichael)

I’m out here at Satilla Shores. There’s a black male running down the street.

archived recording

Satilla? Where at Satilla Shores?

archived recording (gregory mcmichael)

I don’t know what street we’re on. Stop right there! Damn it, stop. Travis!

archived recording

Sir? Hello, sir? Sir, where are you at?

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.”

archived recording

Hello? Hello?

michael barbaro

Today, the death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery and my colleague Richard Fausset’s investigation into it.

It’s Monday, May 11.

Richard, how did you first hear about this story?

richard fausset

I learned about this story in early April. I was up to my eyeballs in coronavirus coverage, along with my other colleagues in the national desk. And on April 2, my colleague Kim Severson, a food writer for The Times here in Atlanta, and a dear friend of mine, sent me a very brief note. And it said, “Look, you are busy. But this one’s looking pretty troubling.”

She included a link to a story in The Brunswick News down in Brunswick, Georgia. And it looked to be a story of two armed white men, who were chasing an unarmed black man by the name of a Ahmaud Arbery through their neighborhood, and that that chase ended with a confrontation and with the black man being killed.

The local coverage also showed that one of the men who was involved in this chase was a former police officer on the county police force, who had also spent years as an investigator in the district attorney’s office. And although the shooting had occurred on February 23, here we are in April, and no one had been arrested for it.

It was very disturbing. And it seemed like there were a lot of unanswered questions. And I really didn’t know if I could answer them. But I had to set it aside for a while, just because we had this avalanche of news rolling in.

So 10 or 11 days after getting this initial email from Kim, I started filing a flurry of open records requests. And I had a sense of what I was pretty sure I could get from this from covering previous controversial shootings in Georgia. I knew that I should be able to get a copy of the incident report, which is this brief summary that police file of what they saw when they arrived at the scene. I was pretty sure I could get the 911 call recordings, which I don’t think anybody had asked for yet. And then there was this other really just last-minute request that I filed. And I filed it with the county. And it was really just kind of a fishing expedition that I filed that turned out to be the most important public records request. And in that request, I asked for all of the emails to and from public officials from the day of the shooting up to mid-April.

michael barbaro

So essentially, you were trying to figure out if people in power in this community in the hours after this shooting are doing what you might expect them to do, which is saying oh, my god. Did you hear about this? What do we do? What do you think? That kind of thing.

richard fausset

Yeah. I thought maybe there would just be some chatter. They might have just been gossiping. You know, there just might have been a kind of, “oh, my god” kinds of emails. I didn’t quite know what to expect. But I think that was my first thought. So under Georgia law, all of those entities have three days to respond to my request. And of course, in an ongoing homicide investigation, there are a lot of things they can say that they’re not going to give me. So I talked to my editor, and we decided that I would wake up super early, drive down to Glynn County, Georgia — which is about four and a half or five hours from my home base in Atlanta — to a neighborhood called Satilla Shores, and do some social-distancing reporting. Satilla Shores is a middle-class neighborhood — you know, ranch houses and a few nicer homes that look like retirement homes. It’s kind of out of the way. There’s moss hanging from the oaks. I mean, it’s dramatically beautiful. And it kind of evokes Faulkner — I mean, Faulkner with ranch houses. And Satilla Shores is in the unincorporated part of Glynn County. Glynn County is a majority white place. It’s about 27 percent black. And like almost every part of the south, it has a very tragic and awful racial history, a history of lynchings of black men in the late 19th century. So I pulled up and parked my car near the McMichaels’ home. This is the home of the two men who chased Ahmaud. And almost as soon as I parked, a woman came out. And she started asking me what I was doing there. And I told her. She told me she’d called the police on me. And she told me she was armed.

michael barbaro

Wow.

richard fausset

You know, I think there was just a lot of tension in the neighborhood. And people were suspicious of my presence there. One very angry woman drove up to me as I was just walking the street and asked me repeatedly what I was doing there in a pretty hostile way. I came across another couple, and they had already made up their mind that Ahmaud Arbery deserved what he had gotten.

michael barbaro

Wow.

richard fausset

So on Thursday night, I drove back to Atlanta. And on Friday morning, I received the response to this last public records request that I had filed. And Michael, as you know, a lot of times, those kinds of public records requests just bring back just a bunch of dross, you know, just garbage.

michael barbaro

Yeah.

richard fausset

But in this case, when I opened this fat email attachment, I knew immediately that I had found something pretty explosive.

michael barbaro

What was that?

richard fausset

So the first document in this file was a three-page memo written by a district attorney in Waycross, Georgia named George Barnhill, who at the time was the prosecutor in the case. And the prosecutor in a case like this often advises the local police as to whether or not there’s sufficient probable cause to go to a judge and ask for an arrest warrant. Mr. Barnhill, in this letter, laid out an extensive justification — legal justification — for why he believed there was not sufficient probable cause to issue any arrest warrants for anyone. And his argument was that Mr. Arbery had committed a burglary, and that the men who pursued him were justified in pursuing him under Georgia’s Citizen Arrest law. It said that the man who shot Ahmaud Arbery, Travis McMichael, was justified in doing so because Mr. Arbery had grabbed the shotgun. He had initiated the fight. And Travis McMichael was allowed to use deadly force to protect himself under Georgia’s Use-of-Force statute. And it said, of course, that the men were legally armed under Georgia’s open-carry law. But there were a lot of pieces of this that I knew a lot of lawyers and even other prosecutors were very likely going to take issue with.

michael barbaro

So in this prosecutor’s telling, everything that these two men did in this interaction that resulted in Arbery’s death, despite the fact that he was unarmed, was completely legal. They were allowed to carry the guns. They were allowed to make a citizen’s arrest. They were allowed, in his telling, to defend themselves from this unarmed man.

richard fausset

In Mr. Barnhill’s words, it was his conclusion there was insufficient probable cause to issue arrest warrants at the time.

michael barbaro

And in your mind, what makes this so explosive?

richard fausset

I mean, what’s explosive here is that you have this well-detailed legal justification for an action that I knew many people would see as one that just violates their basic sense of what’s right. You had two armed white men in a truck chasing after an unarmed black man in a suburb in the deep south. There’s a confrontation. The black man is shot and killed. And no one has been arrested. And there’s an argument now, a legal argument, that no one should be arrested.

michael barbaro

So what happens next?

richard fausset

So I reported my story about this case. And I included this information about this district attorney, who gave this legal justification for why no one should be arrested. It also included the fact that, by that point, that district attorney had recused himself for a conflict of interest. It turns out that his son worked in the local district attorney’s office with Greg McMichael, one of the men who had pursued Ahmaud Arbery. And the reaction to this story was pretty strong. But we were also in the midst of a pandemic. And we were social distancing. And the country was locked down. And so the kinds of protests that we’ve seen crop up in big cities and in other places when issues like this come to light were not materializing.

michael barbaro

Right.

richard fausset

And so it was sort of unclear, really, where this whole drama was headed. But then on Tuesday, a video emerged online. It was a 36-second video. And it showed the last violent moments of Ahmaud Arbery’s life. And that started to change everything.

[music]

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

Richard, what exactly does this video show?

richard fausset

The video appears to be shot from a moving car. And it shows a man running, presumably Ahmaud Arbery. He’s approaching a white pickup truck. There’s a man in the bed of the truck — Greg McMichael. And there’s a man standing outside the truck with a shotgun — his son Travis. Mr. Arbery jogs to the right, presumably in an effort to just get away from Travis McMichael. But they tangle, and it’s violent. And you can see the shotgun between them. There’s a shotgun blast and more fighting. They go offscreen for a moment. There’s a second shotgun blast and more fighting. And then there’s a third shot. And you can see Mr. Arbery turn as if to run further. But then you see him crumple and fall to the pavement.

michael barbaro

Richard, what do we know about where this video came from and who shot it?

richard fausset

The video was shot by a third man who was also engaged in the pursuit of Ahmaud Arbery.

michael barbaro

So another man in the neighborhood, who was essentially chasing him?

richard fausset

Right.

michael barbaro

And how does this video and all those details you just described change our understanding of this event?

richard fausset

Well, it appears there’s some contradiction in the initial story that Greg McMichael laid out in the initial police report. In it, Mr. McMichael said that he and his son pulled up beside Ahmaud Arbery. And they shouted “stop,” and they’d been shouting it before. And it was at that moment that Travis McMichael gets out of the truck with his shotgun. But the video shows that they were actually waiting for him in the truck. He was being blocked in because you had a third man, the man with the cell phone video, who was chasing him.

michael barbaro

So it very much shows him being trapped by these pursuers.

richard fausset

Yeah, it looks like he’s trapped.

archived recording

The shooting took place back in February. And at the time, it remained a largely local story. But all that changed yesterday. Some video of the shooting went viral on the internet.

richard fausset

I mean, it’s one thing to read about a man struggling for his life and being shot and killed. And I think, just emotionally, it’s just a totally different story when you see it.

archived recording (stacey abrams)

I believe that there should be immediate investigation of charges. It looks like murder.

richard fausset

Stacey Abrams, the former gubernatorial Democratic candidate in Georgia, spoke out about it in an interview. LeBron James, the basketball star, tweeted about it.

archived recording

“We’re literally hunted every day, every time we step foot outside the comfort of our homes,” he said.

richard fausset

Joe Biden spoke about it in an interview.

archived recording (joe biden)

Well, it sure looks like murder to me. At a minimum, it needs a thorough investigation.

archived recording (brian kemp)

Earlier this week, I watched a video depicting Mr. Arbery’s last moments alive.

richard fausset

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican who has created a lot of ill will among people of color, particularly in Georgia, for a very divisive campaign, talked about the need for Georgians to find justice in this case.

archived recording (brian kemp)

I can tell you it’s absolutely horrific. And Georgians deserve answers.

michael barbaro

So just looking at this video, it seems pretty uncomplicated what’s going on here.

richard fausset

It’s not entirely uncomplicated. There’s another video that’s emerged. And this one appears to be a surveillance video from a house on the block. And it shows a man who appears to be Mr. Arbery going inside of a house that’s under construction near the McMichaels’ house. It’s sort of unclear what he’s doing there. And his family’s lawyer has said that, yes, he stopped by a house, by a property that was under construction while he was jogging. But still, the idea of an unarmed man out for a jog being chased down and killed by armed civilians, no matter what he was doing in the midst of the jog, is really what’s resonated so widely. And in fact, it’s become very much a rallying cry.

archived recording

I’m running for Ahmaud today. He’s the young man that was gunned down in Georgia while jogging.

richard fausset

People were going out and jogging in solidarity with Ahmaud. They were using the hashtag, “I run with Ahmaud.”

archived recording 1

This morning’s run, 2.23 miles. I run with Ahmaud, baby.

archived recording 2

I run with Ahmaud.

archived recording 3

2.23 — we with you, young king.

archived recording 4

2.23 for Ahmaud. Let’s go. I haven’t run in 10 years, but I’m doing it.

richard fausset

They’re running 2.23 miles as a way of noting the day that he was killed: February 23.

archived recording (protestors)

No justice, no peace. No justice! No peace!

richard fausset

And then late last week —

archived recording (protestors)

No justice! No peace!

richard fausset

— hundreds of protesters gathered in the streets of Glynn County, Georgia in masks and gloves.

archived recording

This is about corruption and cover-up by the Glynn County Police Department.

richard fausset

It felt like the ball was rolling downhill and gathering force every moment.

archived recording (protestors)

This is not a murder. This was an assassination.

michael barbaro

At this point, Richard, how are people thinking about this case? And how is that differing from the way that it was first described in that memo that you unearthed with your public records request?

richard fausset

So I think what you saw from this mass protest was a fundamental disagreement with the legal analysis in this document that I dug up. People were calling this a lynching. They were evoking the context of the southern past and the American present. They just thought it was wrong.

michael barbaro

And at this point, as these protests are mounting, what is the status of the legal case?

richard fausset

Well, a lot starts happening. In my original reporting on this case, I noted that the D.A., George Barnhill, had recused himself. And there was a new prosecutor. As just the interest in this case exploded last week, he announced that he thought that the case should be presented to a grand jury in Glynn County for consideration of criminal charges being brought against the men involved in Mr. Arbery’s death.

michael barbaro

So that’s a very big change from the last prosecutor on the case.

richard fausset

Right. This is a total 180. He also invited the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to get involved. And the bureau launched its own independent investigation. And by Thursday night, Greg McMichael and his son had been arrested and charged with murder.

[music]

michael barbaro

What’s fascinating about that is that the video seems to describe what had been laid out in your reporting and in these legal documents beforehand. Right? There’s not a giant gap between them.

richard fausset

Yeah. I think what this video did is it really moved this case from the local stage to a global stage. And although we can’t know, for now at least, what the reasoning of this new district attorney was for saying the case needs to go before a grand jury, for indeed arresting these men, there’s no question that he’s now making decisions in a universe where many more people are paying very close attention.

michael barbaro

Right. It was no longer a local prosecutor writing a memo explaining why no one should be prosecuted, knowing that no one was paying all that much attention.

richard fausset

Right.

For me, it was just a very surreal moment because I’m thinking back to that moment, which is a very private one. I’m in my house. The country is locked down. This email comes. And it has this very controversial legal opinion from a very obscure prosecutor.

michael barbaro

Right.

richard fausset

And I felt like one person in on a conversation in a very closed and constrained system. And now, it seems like this whole story has just been blown out into the open.

michael barbaro

So Richard, where does this case stand right now?

richard fausset

So the McMichaels are currently in a jail in Glynn County. They haven’t had a chance to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. But the pandemic is still playing a role here. The Georgia court system has declared that a grand jury can’t be impaneled due to the coronavirus until after June 12, and that that stay could be extended at the discretion of the chief justice of the State Supreme Court if the pandemic continues to linger.

michael barbaro

What has been the response from Ahmaud Arbery’s family?

richard fausset

Ahmaud’s mother, Wanda Cooper, has maintained from the beginning that she believes her son, who was known to stay in good shape, was simply out for a jog. And I think there is some sense of relief that arrests have finally been made in this case after so many weeks of waiting. But I think they know that they’re only at the beginning of a new stage in this case and it could take a very long time to see it to its end.

[music]

michael barbaro

Richard, what do you make of this case that you have now been working on for about a month or more?

richard fausset

Well, it’s hard not to talk about this case without talking about the historical context of extrajudicial killings of people of color in the south and in the whole country. And I think a lot of people were shocked and dismayed by the details of this case. But they weren’t necessarily shocked that it happened. And I think one of the things that we’re starting to sketch out here are the systems in place, things like Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law, that might allow for the perpetuation of these kinds of problems. And I think even though we’re all looking closely at these systems, no one’s sure whether this story, as tragic as it is, may in the end serve to change them.

michael barbaro

Richard, thank you very much.

richard fausset

Thanks, Michael.

michael barbaro

On Friday, a lawyer representing Ahmaud Arbery’s family called for a civil rights investigation, focused not only on the men who pursued and shot him, but the broader justice system that took weeks to prosecute them. On Sunday night, Georgia’s attorney general asked the federal government to conduct a similar investigation.

[music]

We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you need to know today.

archived recording (mike pence)

The president and I not only will be tested every day, but I think everyone that comes into contact with the president will be tested every day. And so —

michael barbaro

The Trump Administration is trying to contain an outbreak of the coronavirus inside the White House after an aide to Vice President Mike Pence and a valet to President Trump tested positive. That has prompted at least three top officials leading the government’s response to the pandemic, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, to begin two weeks of self-quarantine.

archived recording

Do you wear a mask? Are you going to continue to show up for work at the White House?

archived recording (kevin hassett)

You know, I’ve got a mask right here. And the fact is that I practice aggressive social distancing. I’ll wear a mask when I feel it’s necessary.

michael barbaro

In an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, Kevin Hassett, a top economic advisor to the president, acknowledged that a sense of fear has crept into the White House.

archived recording (kevin hassett)

It is scary to go to work. I think that I’d be a lot safer if I was sitting at home than I would be going to the West Wing. But it’s a time when people have to step up and serve their country.

michael barbaro

As of Sunday night, the death toll in the U.S. reached nearly 80,000. And infections around the world surpassed four million.

[music]

That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

Mr. Arbery, 25, was a former high school football standout who was living with his mother outside the small city of Brunswick. He had spent a little time in college but seemed to be in a period of drift in his 20s, testing out various careers, working on his rapping skills and living with his mother. He also suffered from a mental illness that caused him to have auditory hallucinations.

He was shot dead in a suburban neighborhood called Satilla Shores. Friends and family said he liked to stay in good shape, and he was an avid jogger who was often seen running in and around his neighborhood.

On Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020, shortly after 1 p.m., he was killed in that neighborhood after being confronted by a white man and his son.

Image

Mr. Arbery was running in Satilla Shores when a man standing in his front yard saw him go by, according to a police report. The man, Gregory McMichael, said he thought Mr. Arbery looked like a man suspected in several break-ins in the area and called to Travis McMichael, his son.

According to the police report, the men grabbed a .357 Magnum handgun and a shotgun, got into a pickup truck and chased Mr. Arbery, trying unsuccessfully to cut him off. A third man was also involved in the pursuit, according to the report and other documents.

Police report detailing the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery

In a recording of a 911 call, which appears to have been made moments before the chase began, a neighbor told a dispatcher that a Black man was inside a house that was under construction on the McMichaels’ block.

During the chase, the McMichaels yelled, “Stop, stop, we want to talk to you,” according to Gregory McMichael’s account in the police report. They then pulled up to Mr. Arbery, and Travis McMichael got out of the truck with the shotgun.

Gregory McMichael “stated the unidentified male began to violently attack Travis and the two men then started fighting over the shotgun at which point Travis fired a shot and then a second later there was a second shot,” the report states.

The police report and other documents do not indicate that Mr. Arbery was armed.

Gregory McMichael is a former Glynn County police officer and a former investigator with the local district attorney’s office.

Image
Credit...Glynn County (Ga.) Detention Center, via Associated Press

Shortly after the shooting, the prosecutor for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, Jackie Johnson, recused herself because Gregory McMichael had worked in her office.

The case was sent to George E. Barnhill, the district attorney in Waycross, Ga., who later recused himself from the case after Mr. Arbery’s mother argued that he had a conflict because his son also worked for the Brunswick district attorney.

But before he relinquished the case, Mr. Barnhill wrote a letter to the Glynn County Police Department. In the letter, he argued that there was not sufficient probable cause to arrest Mr. Arbery’s pursuers.

Mr. Barnhill noted that the McMichaels were legally carrying their firearms under Georgia’s open-carry law. He said they had been within their rights to pursue what he called “a burglary suspect” and cited a state law that says, “A private person may arrest an offender if the offense is committed in his presence or within his immediate knowledge.”

Mr. Barnhill also argued that if Mr. Arbery attacked Travis McMichael, Mr. McMichael was “allowed to use deadly force to protect himself” under Georgia law.

Anger over the killing and the lack of consequences for the McMichaels grew when a graphic video surfaced, showing the shooting on a suburban road.

George Barnhill’s letter to Glynn County Police Department

The cellphone video, shot by Mr. Bryan, is about a half-minute long. It shows Mr. Arbery running along a shaded two-lane residential road when he comes upon a white truck, with Travis McMichael standing beside its open driver’s side door with a shotgun. Greg McMichael, his father, is in the bed of the pickup with a handgun.

Mr. Arbery runs around the truck and disappears briefly from view. Muffled shouting can be heard before Mr. Arbery emerges, fighting with Travis McMichael outside the truck as three shotgun blasts echo.

Mr. Arbery tries to run but staggers and falls to the pavement after a few steps.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published another video that shows a man walking into a house under construction in the neighborhood and eventually running out of it.

S. Lee Merritt, a lawyer for Mr. Arbery’s family, said in a statement that the second video, which appeared to be from a home-surveillance camera, is “consistent with the evidence already known to us.”

“Ahmaud Arbery was out for a jog,” Mr. Merritt said. “He stopped by a property under construction where he engaged in no illegal activity and remained for only a brief period. Ahmaud did not take anything from the construction site.”

In an April 7, 2020, email to the office of Chris Carr, the Georgia attorney general, Mr. Barnhill, the prosecutor, said that his office had “video of Arbery burglarizing a home immediately preceding the chase and confrontation.”

But Mr. Merritt said, in his statement, that no felony had been committed by Mr. Arbery when he was on the property.

In December, the Atlanta news station WSB obtained police body camera footage from when officers first arrived on Feb. 23, including the conversations they had immediately after the incident. The conversations show that many officers on the scene knew of Gregory McMichael’s background.

In September, Ms. Johnson, who had been voted out of her job as chief prosecutor for the area, was indicted on a charge of violating her oath by showing “favor and affection” to Gregory McMichael, the former investigator in her office, and on a charge of obstruction for telling two police officers on the day of the shooting not to arrest Travis McMichael.

Mr. Arbery’s defenders believe he was probably jogging through the neighborhood for a workout. Michael J. Moore, an Atlanta lawyer and a former federal prosecutor, reviewed Mr. Barnhill’s letter to the Glynn County police, as well as the initial police report. In an email, Mr. Moore called Mr. Barnhill’s opinion “flawed.”

In his view, Mr. Moore said, the McMichaels appeared to be the aggressors, and such aggressors were not justified in using force under Georgia’s self-defense laws. “The law does not allow a group of people to form an armed posse and chase down an unarmed person who they believe might have possibly been the perpetrator of a past crime,” Mr. Moore wrote.

The question of self-defense was a central one in the murder trial. Travis McMichael’s lawyers argued that their client had no choice but to use force when Mr. Arbery engaged with him in a fight.

Mr. Merritt has called it “an asinine defense.”

The victim who ran away from the threat, he said, before being cornered and shot to death “while desperately trying to disarm his assailant, cannot be the aggressor.”

It was Mr. Arbery, he said, who was engaging in self-defense.

“There is no other way to see this,” he said.

.

In her closing statement, the lead prosecutor, Linda Dunikoski, said the defendants had launched an attack on Mr. Arbery “because he was a Black man running down the street.” In doing so, she raised the question, barely voiced during the trial, of whether race had been an issue.

“What’s Mr. Arbery doing?” Ms. Dunikoski said. “He runs away from them. And runs away from them. And runs away from them.”

The defense countered that the men were carrying out a legal citizen’s arrest in an area that had been gripped by crime concerns in the months leading up to February 2020, when they chased Mr. Arbery through their neighborhood. Laura D. Hogue, a lawyer for one of the defendants, said that Mr. Arbery had become “a recurring nighttime intruder — and that is frightening, and unsettling.”

The argument that the men were not justified in their pursuit, and are therefore guilty of other crimes, including aggravated assault and false imprisonment, was a pillar of Ms. Dunikoski’s closing statement.

Jason Sheffield, a lawyer for Travis McMichael, suggested that Mr. Arbery’s presence in the house constituted burglary — a felony — and that his client therefore was justified in trying to detain him.

In his closing argument, Kevin Gough, the lawyer for Mr. Bryan, distanced his client from the McMichaels. He said that Mr. Bryan did not know and could not have known that the other two men were armed or that Mr. Arbery would be shot.

Daniel Victor and Christina Morales contributed reporting.