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Ahmaud Arbery's mother watches video of his death for the first time as trial starts


Testimony has begun in the Georgia murder trial of three white men charged with the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. He is the 25-year-old Black man who was shot to death last year as he ran through a neighborhood. The defendants pursued him in pickup trucks. And the racially charged trial has grabbed the nation's attention. NPR's Debbie Elliott has been covering that trial in Brunswick and joins us. Debbie, thanks for being with us.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Oh, glad to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Let's begin with the case that prosecutors laid out. What did they say?

ELLIOTT: Well, during her opening statement, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said Arbery was just jogging through a neighborhood less than two miles from his house when three white strangers made the assumption that he must have done something wrong. They grabbed their guns. They went in pursuit.

Now, key to the state's case against Travis and Greg McMichael and William "Roddie" Bryan is graphic cellphone video, recorded by Bryan, that shows the end of the chase. Arbery's cornered, and then Travis McMichael shoots him in a struggle. She played that video for the jury. Ahmaud Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, wept watching it. Later, outside the courthouse on a blustery day, she said that was the first time she had seen the images that had galvanized so many to demand justice for Ahmaud.


WANDA COOPER-JONES: I avoided the video for the last 18 months. And I thought it was time to get familiar with what happened to Ahmaud on his last minutes of his life. So I'm glad I was able to stay strong and stay in there.

ELLIOTT: Other family members were in the overflow courtroom, where I was, and they also had a rough time seeing that video and some of the other evidence that's part of this trial.

SIMON: Debbie, how did the defense explain what jurors saw on that video?

ELLIOTT: They painted a portrait of a neighborhood on edge, concerned about break-ins, and say Arbery was this scary mystery, an intruder who had been seen several times at night on a new home construction site, quote, "plundering around." Travis McMichael's attorney said he acted in self-defense. Franklin Hogue is Greg McMichael's lawyer. He described how things escalated after Arbery rejected the McMichaels' call for him to stop and started to fight back when Travis approached him with a shotgun.


FRANKLIN HOGUE: Greg has turned as Ahmaud Arbery is running past the truck, and he sees him turn towards his only son. He's now in abject fear that he is about to witness his only son possibly be shot and killed in front of his very eyes.

ELLIOTT: So, Scott, clearly two very different versions emerging here about why Ahmaud Arbery was killed.

SIMON: Debbie, testimony started late on Friday after 11 days of jury selection, a process that resulted in a nearly all-white jury. What did the jury hear?

ELLIOTT: The first witness for the state was Glynn County Police Officer William Duggan. He was one of the first to respond to the scene. Prosecutor Dunikoski played his body cam video that shows him approaching Travis McMichael as Arbery's body lay in the street.


LINDA DUNIKOSKI: And what did that man, covered in blood, seated over there, say to you when you asked him, are you OK?

WILLIAM DUGGAN: He - it was a quick reply of basically, no, I'm not OK. I just effing killed somebody.

ELLIOTT: So as you hear there, dramatic testimony that first day, and it's set to resume Monday.

SIMON: NPR's Debbie Elliott, thanks so much.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.