The Arbery Murder Jury Will Weigh Multiple Charges

Here are some of the complications.


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The jury will now weigh multiple, interlocking charges in the Arbery murder trial.

Nov. 23, 2021, 11:56 a.m. ET

Nov. 23, 2021, 11:56 a.m. ET

Ahmaud Arbery was killed in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick, Ga.Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

The task before the jury in Brunswick, Ga., is not just a matter of deciding between guilty or not guilty on a particular charge. The jurors must sort through a matrix of interlocking charges and different forms of culpability that can depend on one another. Here are some of the complications.

Could they all be guilty of what any of them did?

The indictment charges the three defendants — Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William Bryan — both individually and as “parties concerned in the commission of a crime.” Under the law, if the jury finds that one of the men committed a felony, it can convict them all of that crime, on the basis that they were acting together.

This issue is especially important for Mr. Bryan, whose lawyer has tried to distance him from the other two defendants, arguing that Mr. Bryan was just a witness to events and had no hand in actually harming Ahmaud Arbery.

Does it matter what the men set out to do?

To convict on the top charge, malice murder, the jury would have to find that the men had a deliberate intention to kill, without considerable provocation. But the other murder charges in the indictment do not depend on whether the three men meant to kill Mr. Arbery.

Defense lawyers have argued that the men were attempting to make a citizen’s arrest, and killed Mr. Arbery in self-defense. The prosecution has argued that they had no justification for a citizen’s arrest and could not claim self-defense because they instigated the confrontation.

The lesser charges create four paths to felony murder.

The men are each accused of four other serious felonies besides murder. But each of those charges could also lead to a murder conviction.

Under Georgia law, causing a person’s death in the course of committing another felony is murder, “irrespective of malice” — in other words, regardless of whether the death was intentional or accidental.

So if the jurors find the men guilty of any of these crimes …

Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (the shotgun);

Aggravated assault with something likely to cause serious bodily harm (pickup trucks);

False imprisonment (the “citizen’s arrest”); or

Attempted false imprisonment

… and then find that Mr. Arbery’s death was caused along the way, they could convict the men of felony murder as well, without having to find that they intended or tried to kill him.

On one count against Mr. Bryan, the jury can consider reduced charges.

The judge said in his instructions to the jury that on one count in the indictment — aggravated assault involving the pickup trucks — they could consider whether one of the defendants, Mr. Bryan, was instead guilty of a reduced charge of simple assault, reckless conduct or reckless driving.

Those are misdemeanors in Georgia, not felonies, so a conviction on one of the reduced charges would not expose Mr. Bryan to a felony murder charge in connection with that count.

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