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Video appears to show Ahmaud Arbery at construction site before shooting, family lawyer says

CNN legal analyst Laura Coates joins Chris Cuomo to examine the potential defense arguments in the fatal shooting death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.

Posted: May 10, 2020 8:11 PM
Updated: May 10, 2020 8:11 PM

Surveillance video from a construction site appears to show Ahmaud Arbery shortly before he was shot and killed while running in a south Georgia neighborhood in February.

The video, obtained by CNN affiliate WJXT from the homeowner, shows a man in a white T-shirt walk into a home that is under construction. Leaves are strewn across the floor among piles of lumber and other building materials.

Lee Merritt, an attorney for Arbery's family, said in a statement his office had reviewed the video and believes it shows Arbery.

"This video is consistent with the evidence already known to us," Merritt said in a statement, along with his co-counsel Benjamin Crump and L. Chris Stewart. "Ahmaud Arbery was out for a jog. He stopped by a property under construction where he engaged in no illegal activity and remained for only a brief period."

"Ahmaud did not take anything from the construction site," it said. "He did not cause any damage to the property."

Arbery, who was 25, was fatally shot while running on February 23. The suspects, 64-year-old Gregory McMichael and his 34-year-old son Travis McMichael, were arrested on May 7, and face charges of murder and aggravated assault.

CNN was unable to reach them by phone on Sunday night.

The case prompted outrage last week after a 36-second video that appeared to show the deadly confrontation surfaced. Critics' anger was compounded by the fact the McMichaels, who are white, had not been arrested more than two months after Arbery, a black man, was killed.

Gregory McMichael told police he and his son pursued Arbery because they believed he looked like a suspect in recent break-ins in the neighborhood, according to a police report.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Saturday it was reviewing additional footage but did not confirm to CNN whether the surveillance footage was part of the investigation.

Even if Arbery entered the construction site, his family's attorneys said, there were no grounds to shoot and kill him.

"Ahmaud's actions at this empty home under construction were in no way a felony under Georgia law," their statement said. "This video confirms that Mr. Arbery's murder was not justified and the actions of the men who pursued him and ambushed him were unjustified."

"We reiterate," the statement added, "Ahmaud Arbery did not take part in ANY felony, had no illegal substances in his system, was not armed yet was shot three times with a shotgun at close range."

Case has gone to three prosecutors

In the video that appeared to show the deadly confrontation, Arbery is seen jogging along a road outside Brunswick, Georgia -- as he often did, according to those who knew the former high school football player -- when he's met by two men in a pickup truck.

Arbery and one of the men get into a struggle over a shotgun as gunshots ring out. Arbery falls in the road.

That video was filmed by a man named William "Roddie" Bryan, his attorney, Kevin Gough, said. Though the police report cites Gregory McMichael as saying Bryan tried to "block" Arbery, Gough told CNN his client was not acting in conjunction with the McMichaels on the day of the shooting. Any implication that his client was a vigilante was inaccurate, Gough said.

District Attorney for the Atlantic Judicial Circuit Tom Durden said this past week he expects to present the case to a grand jury when coronavirus restrictions are lifted. Durden also requested an investigation by the GBI.

Durden is the third prosecutor to oversee the case after two others recused themselves due to their connections to the suspects.

The first, Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson recused, citing Gregory McMichael's position as a former investigator for the office. She has denied allegations by local officials that she told police not to make an arrest.

A second prosecutor, Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney George Barnhill recused because his son worked in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit DA's office and once worked with Gregory McMichael in a prior prosecution of Arbery, he wrote in a letter to state Attorney General Chris Carr.

In a separate letter to police, Barnhill wrote that he believed the McMichaels were within their rights to execute a citizen's arrest of Arbery, adding that Travis McMichael would have been allowed to use "deadly force" to protect himself as he and Arbery struggled over the shotgun.

Under Georgia law, a person can only perform a citizen's arrest if they've witnessed a crime, if that crime is a felony and if the suspect is escaping.

Though McMichael cited earlier break-ins as a reason he and his son chased Arbery, a lieutenant with the Glynn County Police told CNN only one automobile burglary was reported in the area in the more than 7 weeks before the shooting, when a gun was reported stolen from an unlocked vehicle outside the McMichaels' home.

A number of politicians, activists and celebrities have weigh in on the killing in recent days, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who told CNN that without the video, she did not believe there would have been any arrests made.

"I think had we not seen that video, I don't believe that they would be charged," Bottoms told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union" on Sunday. "And it's heartbreaking that it's 2020 and this was a lynching of an African American man."

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