BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Ahmaud Arbery's mental health or drug use should not be admitted as evidence in the trial of three men charged in his killing, prosecutors say, because it has no bearing on what occurred.
In a new filing in the first-degree murder case, prosecutors are asking the judge to prohibit defense lawyers from introducing what they call prejudicial evidence, including toxicology reports that show the presence of THC in Arbery's blood, and the absence of a Zyprexa, a drug prescribed to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Before his death, Arbery received a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. The absence of the drug may indicate that he was not taking his medication.
"The only reason to put such evidence before the jury is to suggest that Mr. Arbery got what he deserved since he was mentally ill," prosecutors argue in a 73-page filing this week. "A crime is no less punishable if committed against a person with mental health illness than if it were perpetrated against a person with no mental health illness."
Arbery was shot to death on Feb. 23, 2020 in the coastal Georgia neighborhood of Satilla Shores, in a case that has captured national and international attention.
Travis and Greg McMichael are charged with first-degree murder, along with neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan. The McMichaels told police they armed themselves with guns and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck. Bryan recorded the incident, including the moment Travis McMichael fatally shot Arbery three times with a shotgun.
All three have pleaded not guilty.
The defendants contend they were attempting to make a citizen's arrest, believing Arbery was burglarizing a home under construction. Their attorneys have asked the judge to allow testimony about Arbery's prior brushes with the law and diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. They contend that evidence will show his intent was not to flee but to “evade capture” for trespassing, and that his motive for being in the neighborhood was “a nefarious one."
Prosecutors previously asked Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley to disallow evidence about Arbery's past behavior. The most recent filling specifically addressing the issue of Arbery's mental health, including some toxicology evidence.
"The defendants have failed to demonstrate how THC in his system or the absence of Zyprexa makes it more or less probable that they were acting in self-defense, or that Mr. Arbery was the aggressor the case, after they had unlawfully trapped him like a rat," the prosecutor's response says in the June 29 filing.
"They were the initial aggressors," it continues. "For over five minutes, Mr. Arbery ran away from the strange, shotgun-wielding men, who were chasing him, and trying to hit him with pickup trucks. How terrifying it must have been for him to be hunted down in such a fashion."
Given that, they conclude, "Does mental health evidence really explain Mr. Arbery’s behavior on Feb. 23, 2020? Does his behavior need explaining?"
Judge Walmsley has not ruled on whether to admit the evidence. The trial is set to begin on Oct.18.