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Ga. prosecutors build a case against 3 white men charged in killing Ahmaud Arbery

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The state of Georgia is building its murder case against three white men charged in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. The 25-year-old Black man was shot to death last year while jogging down a residential street outside Brunswick. Defendants say they suspected him in neighborhood break-ins and were trying to make a citizen's arrest. Prosecutors say the men illegally trapped Arbery with their pickup trucks and murdered him. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: The state's witnesses have explained, using the defendants' own words, the extraordinary steps they took to protect their neighborhood from someone they considered an intruder. Many people would call 911 to report a suspicious person and leave it to police. But according to testimony, Gregory McMichael told authorities that when he saw a Black man, quote, "hauling ass" down his street, he got his adult son, Travis. They armed themselves and went in pursuit of Ahmaud Arbery in a pickup truck.

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski questioned Glynn County Detective Parker Marcy about how Greg McMichael described the moments before the shooting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDA DUNIKOSKI: What does he specifically say?

PARKER MARCY: I'm quoting. He says, "I said, stop. You know, I'll blow your [expletive] head off or something. I was trying to convey to this guy we were not playing, you know?"

DUNIKOSKI: OK.

ELLIOTT: The McMichaels and William "Roddie" Bryan are charged with murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment. Key evidence is cellphone video of the killing recorded by the defendant Bryan, along with 911 calls and police interviews with the defendants.

Stephan Lowrey was a criminal investigator for Glynn County at the time and testified that Bryan admitted to also giving chase in his pickup, forcing Arbery into a ditch, and then angling at him at least three more times.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEPHAN LOWREY: After I angled him off the side of the road, you know, and I kind of went on past him - because I didn't hit him. Wish I would have. Might have took him out and not get him shot.

ELLIOTT: Defense lawyers portray a neighborhood on edge because of break-ins and say Arbery fit the description of a Black man seen on surveillance video inside a home construction site - a prime suspect, Greg McMichael told Officer Marcy. Prosecutors had the officers testify that the defendants never said they saw Arbery take anything.

Glynn County Sgt. Roderic Nohilly testified to what Greg McMichael said about Arbery at police headquarters the day of the shooting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RODERIC NOHILLY: He was trapped like a rat. I think he was wanting to flee. And he realized that something, you know - he was not going to get away.

ELLIOTT: On cross-examination, Greg McMichaels' lawyer, Frank Hogue, reads what his client told Officer Nohilly about the struggle between his son Travis and Ahmaud Arbery.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANK HOGUE: His intention was to grab that shotgun and probably shoot Travis. That's in my mind. Those were his words, right?

NOHILLY: Yes.

ELLIOTT: The nearly all-white jury hearing this case will be weighing whether the defendants had cause to pursue Arbery and if Travis McMichael acted in self-defense when Arbery fought back.

Outside the courthouse Wednesday, civil rights activists joined with Arbery's family in a lunchtime vigil. The Rev. Al Sharpton said the stakes are high.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AL SHARPTON: Not only are those three on trial, but Georgia law is on trial.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hey.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: That's right. That's right.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Clapping).

SHARPTON: Have you grown from the days of lynching?

ELLIOTT: Testimony is expected to last at least another week. Debbie Elliott, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF EASTERN SUN'S "GROUND OF BEING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.