Cobb Prosecutor convinces mostly White Brunswick jury to convict three White men in Arbery murder case
Like a skilled surgeon, Cobb County Assistant District Attorney Linda Dunikoski laid out the prosecution’s case before a Brunswick jury. Composed of 11 White and one Black, she successfully argued for the conviction of three white men accused of killing a black man.
Dunikoski struck the right tone and clearly related to the jury as she meticulously presented the prosecution’s case against the shooter, Travis McMichael, his dad, Greg McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan. She explained in layman terms how an unwarranted five-minute chase left Amaud Arbery dead in the middle of the road.
Instead of focusing on race, Dunikoski stuck closely to the details of how the three chased Arbery through their neighborhood. She used statements the three shared with police to pick apart the Defenses’ argument of self-defense. She also targeted shifting testimony offered by Greg McMichael who first blamed Arbery for break ins at multiple houses as he talked to an officer at the scene. Later, he told a detective at the police station that Arbery had targeted a single home — one that was still under construction with no doors or windows. Boastfully, Greg McMichael told police investigators that the Black man “was trapped like a rat” and he told Arbery: “Stop, or I’ll blow your f—ing head off!” In addition to their own words that were used against them, Dunikoski relied on the video of Arbery’s shotgun death to take jurors back to the very moment that Arbery lost his life.
As she pushed back against the defense’s argument that the three white men had pursued Arbery legally, under a state citizen’s arrest law that has since been largely gutted, Dunikoski skillfully led the jury step by step through detailed legal points. She also dismantled the idea that Travis McMichael had pulled the trigger of his rifle three times in self-defense.
Prosecutors told the jury that the men had no legal reason to pursue Arbery with guns, as there was no evidence Arbery committed any crimes in the Satilla Shores subdivision. They showed the jury security camera video from inside the house under construction recorded just before the deadly chase where Arbery can be seen wandering through the open-framed interior but doesn’t seem to touch anything.
During the three-week trial, Dunikoski elected not to mention race, but did so during her closing argument when she told jurors that the men had attacked Mr. Arbery “because he was a Black man running down the street.”
After roughly ten and a half hours of deliberation, the jurors found all three men guilty of felony murder on Nov. 24. Travis McMichael was found guilty of all nine charges. His father, George McMichael, was found guilty of all charges except malice murder. William “Roddie” Bryan, who filmed the attack, was found guilty of only six charges. All three men are facing the possibility of a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Defense attorneys for the three say that they plan to appeal their murder convictions, however, the legal saga for them is not over. Last spring, the Justice Department (DOJ) charged all three men with interfering with Arbery’s civil rights and attempted kidnapping of Arbery. The McMichaels were also charged with using, carrying, and brandishing a firearm. They will be in federal court in 10 weeks to stand trial on federal hate crime charges. That trial is scheduled to begin on February 7, 2022.
Lead Prosecutor Dunikoski had spent her career largely in the Atlanta metropolitan area, establishing a reputation as a tough-minded prosecutor going after murderers, gang members and sex offenders. Before joining the Cobb County office, Ms. Dunikoski had spent more than 17 years as a prosecutor in Fulton County.
By the end of the trial, Dunikoski had won the trust of the Arbery family and the appreciation of supporters gathered outside the courthouse.
Meanwhile, the former Brunswick District Attorney found herself in hot water and out of a job. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says Jackie Johnson showed favor to Ahmaud Arbery’s killers. For her alleged role in preventing a proper investigation, Johnson, 49, was indicted Sept. 8 by a Glynn County grand jury on charges of “violation of oath of a public officer” and “obstruction and hindering a law enforcement officer,” her indictment states. It took police 74 days to arrest Ahmaud Arbery’s killers and the GBI says the primary reason for this delayed justice was former Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson.