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Opening Statements in Arbery Case

Pate, Johnson & Church has been representing people in the State of Georgia who have been charged with serious crimes for over 25 years. Attorney Page Pate has been closely following the case involving the 2020 murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia and has been contacted numerous times by the media to provide his opinions and analysis of the ongoing case and the trial of the 3 men charged with the murder of Mr. Arbery.

CNN contacted Page to discuss the opening statements made by the lawyers for the defendants and the State of Georgia during the trial. Page is asked which side he thinks made the best argument in their opening statements. Page responds that he thinks “both sides started out with very strong opening statements,” and further explains that “we knew coming into this trial what the prosecution would say. They would focus on the video. They would focus on the fact that there’s absolutely no evidence that Ahmad Arbery was committing any crime. They would focus on what the McMichaels said there at the scene, all to support the prosecution’s case that this was cold-blooded murder. But what we heard today, really for the first time, from the defense was a very different narrative of what happened. They tried to create some doubt that, “Hey, Mr. Arbery was in the neighborhood before.” Maybe, at least from the McMichaels’ standpoint, he was committing a crime. So they were trying to present at least some alternative to suggest that their clients were justified not just in chasing them down but then approaching him, confronting him, and ultimately shooting him.”

Next, Page is asked what the impact on the trial may be of the Judge’s ruling that the defense attorneys cannot discuss Mr. Arbery’s probation status and that the prosecutor can show the Confederate flag vanity plate that was on Defendant Travis McMichael’s truck. Page says that he thinks “the probation issue is very important, especially the way it turned out that this jury was selected and seated.” Page also comments that “we’ve got 11 white people on this jury, 1 African-American. I think the idea from the defense side of showing that Mr. Arbery was on probation, maybe that gave him a reason to try to run through the neighborhood. Don’t completely understand the argument, but I know the defense wanted it. On the other side, I don’t know with this jury that this Confederate flag license plate is going to be all that significant. Again, we’re talking about a majority…almost exclusively white jury in Glynn County, and, look, there are Confederate flags on cars in Glynn County. This isn’t the only one. So I don’t know how strong that evidence will be or the state. I don’t know if it’ll change the dynamic, again, given this jury. It is all about the jury in these cases, especially this one.”

Mr. Arbery’s mother avoided watching the video of the murder of her son for 18 months, but finally watched it in the courtroom during the trial. Regarding the video, Page says “It’s incredibly difficult, and it’s hard to imagine. And not only is she going through it personally and with her family, his father has also been at the trial. It’s playing out in front of the community and it’s playing out across the world, and I can’t imagine the pain. But I think the family must appreciate, at least in some way, that there is a video, because, Don, you and I wouldn’t be talking about this case if there was no video…These people would have never been prosecuted if there was no video. So it’s painful, it’s disturbing, but it’s necessary if these cases are going to be prosecuted.”

TRANSCRIPT:

Don: Opening arguments underway in the murder trial of three white men in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery. The 25-year-old black man was shot in February of 2020 while he was out jogging. An emotional day in court today, Ahmaud Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, crying when she saw the full video of her son’s shooting and, again, as police bodycam showed her son’s body on the ground.

Joining me now to discuss, criminal defense attorney Page Pate. Page, thank you for joining us. Wow. I mean, it’s…I can’t even imagine. I don’t think any of us can imagine. I appreciate you helping us out with this. The prosecution are laying out their case today outlining what led up to the shooting and why Arbery was running away from the defendant. Listen.

Linda: How do you know Mr. Ahmaud Arbery was under attack by strangers with intent to kill him? Because Greg McMichael told the police this, “Stop or I’ll blow your head off.” That’s what he said to Mr. Arbery. Because he wanna make sure Mr. Arbery knew Greg McMichael was not playing.

Don: So the defense is arguing that the defendants thought that they were protecting their neighborhood, Page, and acting in self-defense. Which side made the better argument today, you think?

Atty. Pate: Well, Don, I will have to admit that I think both sides started out with very strong opening statements. I mean, we knew coming into this trial what the prosecution would say. They would focus on the video. They would focus on the fact that there’s absolutely no evidence that Ahmad Arbery was committing any crime. They would focus on what the McMichaels said there at the scene, all to support the prosecution’s case that this was cold-blooded murder. But what we heard today, really for the first time, from the defense was a very different narrative of what happened. They tried to create some doubt that, “Hey, Mr. Arbery was in the neighborhood before.” Maybe, at least from the McMichaels’ standpoint, he was committing a crime. So they were trying to present at least some alternative to suggest that their clients were justified not just in chasing them down but then approaching him, confronting him, and ultimately shooting him.

Don: I mean, there’s so much to unpack here. I mean, number one, they’re not law enforcement, and number two, what gives them the right to do it? They could have just called police. But anyway, I digress. The judge, I think it’s important to mention the judge ruling on two key motions in this trial today, ruling that the defense will not be allowed to discuss Arbery’s probation status and that the prosecution can show the photos of Travis McMichael’s truck with that Confederate flag vanity plate on it. How could this potentially impact this case, Page?

Atty. Pate: Well, I think the probation issue is very important, especially the way it turned out that this jury was selected and seated. I mean, as you know, we’ve got 11 white people on this jury, 1 African-American. I think the idea from the defense side of showing that Mr. Arbery was on probation, maybe that gave him a reason to try to run through the neighborhood. Don’t completely understand the argument, but I know the defense wanted it. On the other side, I don’t know with this jury that this Confederate flag license plate is going to be all that significant. Again, we’re talking about a majority…almost exclusively white jury in Glynn County, and, look, there are Confederate flags on cars in Glynn County. This isn’t the only one. So I don’t know how strong that evidence will be or the state. I don’t know if it’ll change the dynamic, again, given this jury. It is all about the jury in these cases, especially this one.

Don: Yeah. But all about the video, too, Page, in this case. I mean, that is…you know, that’s probably the key thing here other than the jury. Let’s talk about the mom. We saw the mom, you know, breaking down when she saw that video for the first time and then, you know, saw her son laying there on the ground. The mother, her name is Wanda Cooper-Jones, explaining to reporters today why she stayed in the room while video of the shooting was being played. Listen.

Wanda: I decided to remain in so I can get familiar with what happened to Ahmaud the last minutes of his life. I avoided the video for the last 18 months, and I thought it was time to get familiar with what happened to Ahmaud in the last minutes of his life. So I’m glad I was able to stay strong and stay in there. That’s the first time I saw the video in the entirety.

Don: So we saw, with the family of George Floyd, how these trials can affect families who had to watch the evidence play out over and over, right? And now, she’s going through very similar thing.

Atty. Pate: It’s incredibly difficult, and it’s hard to imagine. And not only is she going through it personally and with her family, his father has also been at the trial. It’s playing out in front of the community and it’s playing out across the world, and I can’t imagine the pain. But I think the family must appreciate, at least in some way, that there is a video, because, Don, you and I wouldn’t be talking about this case if there was no video.

Don: Right.

Atty. Pate: These people would have never been prosecuted if there was no video. So it’s painful, it’s disturbing, but it’s necessary if these cases are going to be prosecuted.

Don: Yeah, very well stated. Look, in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, we are hearing from more witnesses, like journalist Richie McGinnis, about what he saw before Rittenhouse shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum. Listen to this, Page.

Man: Did you ever see a weapon on Mr. Rosenbaum?

Richie: I did not.

Man: Never saw a gun on Mr. Rosenbaum?

Richie: I did not.

Man: Never saw him have a knife?

Richie: Nope.

Man: Never saw him have a club, or a bat, or a chain, or anything like that?

Richie: I just saw the bag that was thrown. That was it.

Don: So another witness testifying that Rosenbaum was belligerent that night. What stands out to you from what you heard today?

Atty. Pate: Well, belligerent but not a threat. I think that was very important that came across in that witness’s testimony that, you know, he was there, he was also there for the same reason that Kyle Rittenhouse says he was there to protect businesses and the community. And even though this person may have been acting out, may have seemed to be odd and stranger, he did not present a threat, certainly not a threat that justified the use of deadly force.

Don: Yeah. Well, Page, we’ll be watching both of these trials, very interesting ones, and you’ll be here to help us out. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Atty. Pate: Thank you, Don.