A defendant in the upcoming murder trial of Ahmaud Arbery is asking that photos of a vanity plate on his pickup truck that include the Confederate battle flag be excluded in the case against him.
However, prosecutors replied Friday that the vanity plate “similar to the state of Georgia flag from 1956 through 2001” is “intrinsic” to the case against Travis McMichael, one of three White men charged in the death of Arbery, who was Black.
The Cobb County District Attorney’s Office also asked the judge to reject the defense’s request to exclude as evidence police body camera footage in the aftermath of the shooting death of the 25-year-old Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020, on a public street in the Satilla Shores neighborhood.
Jury selection in the trial of Travis McMichael, 35, his father, Gregory McMichael, 65, and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, will begin Oct. 18 at the Glynn County Courthouse.
Travis McMichael shot the unarmed Arbery three times at close range with a 12-gauge shotgun on the corner of Satilla Drive and Holmes Road. The shooting ended a pursuit of several minutes in which the two McMichaels and Bryan chased Arbery in pickup trucks as he ran through Satilla Shores. Bryan used his cell phone to record the bloody conclusion, a video that sparked nationwide outrage and cries of racial injustice after it went viral online in May 2020.
Decatur attorney Robert Rubin and Jason Sheffield have asked the judge to keep the vanity plate and the police body cam footage from being presented to a jury.
Prosecutors say both are factual pieces of evidence that are key to their case to convict the three men.
Travis McMichael bought a new pickup truck in early January 2020, after which the truck featured the vanity license plate representing the former state flag of Georgia, Cobb County Senior Assistant District Attorney Linda Dunikoski said. That flag included the Confederate battle flag in one corner.
“Defendant Travis (McMichael’s) choice, and the fact that this vanity plate was on the front of his pickup truck on Feb. 23, 2020, are intrinsic evidence in this case and can be fully used by the state to illustrate the intent and motive of Travis McMichael,” Dunikoski said.
The police body camera footage in question shows the moments after the shooting, including Arbery lying in the roadway bleeding heavily in his final moments alive. It also includes interaction between the McMichaels and police.
Prosecutors said the body cam footage enhances their argument that Arbery’s killing was not self-defense, as defense attorneys will claim.
“The video shows the clothing of Mr. Arbery and the lack of any weapon,” Dunikoski said. “The nature and extent of Mr. Arbery’s injuries at the scene are relevant to rebut this contention of self-defense, and go on to explain Travis McMichael’s demeanor in the aftermath of the homicide.”
The prosecution also asked the judge to prevent the defense from sharing with the jury that Arbery was on probation at the time of his death, or that a Georgia Bureau of Investigation autopsy revealed marijuana in his system.
Dunikoski said Arbery’s probation status is not relevant since the three defendants did not know about it at the time. She added “there is no way to know whether the victim was actually under the influence of marijuana at the time he was killed, and no expert can say what, if any effect, the marijuana had on the victim at the time of his death.”
Superior Court Clerk Ron Adams told The News this week that the jury selection process alone for the murder trial could take up to 2-½ weeks. Two or more attorneys represent each of the three defendants, who are being tried simultaneously.
The potential jurors will be selected from among hundreds of citizens, Adams said.
In addition to standard questionnaires that all potential jurors fill out, prospective jurors for the trial also will be asked to fill out a three-page questionnaire specifically related to the Arbery shooting.
“We’ve had to clear the court calendar to conduct this,” Adams said. “There’s a lot of data to process. People think these things just happen automatically and that is not so.”
Judge Timothy Walmsley, Superior Court Eastern Judicial Circuit, Savannah, is the presiding judge.