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Ahmaud Arbery’s killers can't use his past in trial, judge rules

The defense will not be allowed to present Arbery’s “bad acts” in court.

Ahmaud Arbery Getty

A judge has ruled that defense lawyers representing the men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery won’t be able to present the slain 25-year-old’s past legal troubles in court. Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley’s decision on the matter marks a victory for prosecutors, who argued against the defense’s attempts to present Arbery’s “bad acts” in front of a jury.

“This is a good ruling for the prosecution,” Former Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. “If that evidence had come in, it would have been damaging but not fatal to the state’s case. But since it doesn’t come in, it means the prosecution won’t have to play defense.”

Attorneys representing Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan — the three men accused of following and fatally shooting Arbery — argued against the ruling.

“Why the judge would now decide that all of [Arbery’s] prior motives, his intent, his plan to do these things is not relevant in this case is baffling,” Jason Sheffield, one of Travis McMichael’s lawyers, said.

Sheffield previously pointed to Arbery’s past run-ins with the law, which include shoplifting and illegal gun possession, to support his claim that the young man was robbing a home under construction in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick, Georgia and not out for a jog. No stolen items were found in Arbery’s possession at the time of his death and prosecutors say nothing was stolen from the construction site.

The defense lawyer further claimed that because of Arbery’s past, the McMichaels were within their rights under Georgia’s since-repealed citizen’s arrest law. However, Judge Walmsley pointed out in his ruling, the father and son had no knowledge about Arbery’s past when they chased him down.

“The character of the victim is neither relevant nor admissible in a murder trial,” Walmsley wrote, adding that defense attorneys’ attempt to get “clearly bad character and propensity evidence” about Arbery would create an unfair prejudice.

Earlier this week, Walmsley also ruled that both the prosecution and defense will be allowed to question Larry English, the owner of the home that was under construction that Arbery entered. Jury selection for the trial is scheduled to start on Oct. 18.

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