BRUNSWICK, Ga. — One week after a mostly white jury convicted three men of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, prosecutors in the murder trial said they're still processing the past month and a half.
"The team is exhausted," lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski, said. "It was a very long, seven weeks, and we're trying to kind of get back to being normal after being so focused for so long," she said.
Dunikoski said it was a humbling experience to be able to represent the Arbery family.
"One of the things that we all do, as prosecutors, one of the reasons we are employed, as this team and in this office is to bring justice to victims and to be their voices because they're not lawyers, they can't do what we can do," she said.
"It is always such an honor to be able to represent a victim's family and a victim who can't speak for himself and to be able to obtain justice, at least closure because, of course, that person can ever be brought back, but it was very humbling," she said.
Dunikoski, Paul Camarillo and Larissa Ollivierre out of Cobb County prosecuted the historic case.
Camarillo recalled seeing Arbery's family moments after the guilty verdicts were read.
"It was just a room full of hugs," he said.
"We just hugged it out for quite a few minutes ... a lot of 'thank yous' and 'finallys,' and that sort of thing," Camarillo said.
Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor on the case, said the team was confident in the facts they presented and in the jury.
"I wasn't worried about the jury because they appeared to be really focused on the evidence, and I really felt that they would apply the law to the facts that were presented and come back with the right verdict," Dunikoski said.
“We really had faith in our jurors because, number one, they were very, very smart. They paid a lot of attention. They took a lot of notes. They were very engaged in everything that was presented, not only the state's case, but the defense's case. And we really felt that once we presented, as a team, all of that evidence and the law, that they would get it. And they did," she said.
Cobb County District Attorney Flynn Broady Jr. said he got a lot of phone calls about the mostly white jury when it was selected. He said many people felt they weren't going to get a guilty verdict. Then he said he spoke with Dunikoski.
"Linda was confident in how smart the jury was, how she felt that they would listen to the evidence," he said. "They did just that. So, you know, it was amazing to see justice worked the way it's supposed to, and designed to work," Broady said.
The prosecutors said their confidence in the facts of the case caused them to focus their argument on the McMichael's and William Roddie Bryan's assumptions, driveway decisions they called them, instead of race.
"We had been talking about this even back in 2020 as a strategy that once we presented the case, the evidence and the law, that race should not play a part for our jury in it, and it shouldn't be something that we should emphasize because no matter what race anyone was, what they did was illegal and did not conform to the statutory requirements of citizen's arrest nor self-defense," Dunikoski said.
According to the prosecutors, the defense gave away their plans in their opening statements, so they weren't surprised when Travis McMichael, the man who pulled the trigger, took the stand.
"All of us on the trial team have been doing this long enough that the three of us looked at each other and went, 'Oh, yeah. He's going to go ahead and testify,'" Dunikoski said.
"We actually prepared for it. We prepared heavy. We worked every single weekend. Paul, and I actually role played and Paul played Travis McMichael and we practiced, really tried to work through it because we did anticipate him taking the stand. We also prepared for Greg Michael and we also prepared for Mr. Bryan, not knowing if they were going to take the stand or not," she said.
Regarding the comments made by Bryan's attorney, Kevin Gough, about removing Black pastors from the courtroom, the prosecutors said the comments were calculated. After his comments, hundreds of pastors came to Brunswick from across the country to show support for Arbery's family.
"I was surprised by it," Ollivierre said. "It was something that was unbelievable when it was said, but we all agree that Mr. Gough is a smart attorney, and a lot of what happened was self-inflicted. All those Black pastors probably would not have come to the courthouse had he not made those comments," she said.
"So, we felt like it was strategy, and it was just essentially a way for Mr. Gough to maybe insert something in the case that he hopes would benefit his client on appeal, had the verdict not gone his way. So, that was strategy," Ollivierre said.
“I think he was very particular in realizing what was happening outside the courtroom and trying to use that as a factor in what the jury may be thinking," Broady said. "I think that was also part of his strategy, to bring attention to those details, and just find some way to be able to help his client out," he said.
Dunikoski told the court as Gough tried to file a motion for a mistrial based on the hundreds of pastors who came to Brunswick that the comments were calculated.
"The thing with Kevin Gough is he is a very good attorney. He filed a number of really good motions at the beginning of this case. We argued them in May of 2020 and his ability to attempt to insert some sort of reversible error, which he did almost every morning, stand up with some new motion and some new issue that he had, most of which were self-created," Dunikoski said.
"It needed to be put on the record that this is not ineffective assistance of counsel no, this is strategically planned for the benefit of William Bryan," she said.
Gough and the other defense attorneys said they plan to appeal the verdict. The prosecution said they're not worried.
"The thing is, Judge Wamsley did such a good job allowing all of the attorneys to know that you will have the opportunity to present your case, and that you will have the opportunity to make a record about your issues. And then he did a very good job of ruling and putting his rulings in writing, or explaining on the record the basis for his rulings, that at this time, the state is not worried about an appeal," Dunikoski said.
Dunikoski said she was shocked when they walked down the courthouse steps after the verdict to hear cheers from the community.
“It humbling it was really, really, really stunning. I did not expect that or know that that was what was going to happen," she said.
Regarding if they were nervous due to the amount of attention on this case, the prosecutors said they had a job to do.
"I let the pressure and everything go by the wayside. Because once you're in the courtroom, and you're looking at the defendants, and you're thinking about the Arbery family … I know I put it all aside because the goal was justice," Dunikoski said.
"For Ahmaud, the goal was to present the facts of this case. And of course, you're in battle, and in this case, we were in battle with some very good defense attorneys, and you have to stay focused. You just absolutely have to stay focused on the facts, presenting the evidence, and of course, focused on the victim's family and getting them justice and closure," she said.
They said they hope this case's outcome shows people that the justice system can and does work.
"I just hope that the messages that the criminal justice system works, and it may take a moment. It may take a while to get there, but it does work. And just to trust the system," Dunikoski said.
"No matter who you are as a defendant, no matter who you are as a victim, justice is going to be done for the crimes that you commit. I think this case really signified a change in Georgia and some parts of the state and across the country that times are going to change," Camarillo said.
"Even if you feel like you know you're a connected defendant or, you know somebody, or you're a victim who may be from a certain socioeconomic class, or anything like that, that justice is going to come for you, no matter who you are," he said.
Broady and the three prosecutors credited Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones for continuing to push for justice for Arbery even when she kept getting turned down.
"It was her persistence that made this happen. If she doesn't keep asking questions and wondering what happened to her son, this day never comes. It's important for all victims to be able to stand up and understand that, hey, if something is wrong, I've got to keep pushing forward to make sure justice is had. And she did that," Broady said.
"She said herself she didn't think this day would come, but she understood that she had to fight for her son, for what happened to him and to make sure that people knew, and she stood fast, and, you know, with such grace and such dignity throughout this trial, you know, her courage, I know gave inspiration to this team," Broady said.
The judge hasn't set a sentencing date.