Judge: Arbery’s mental health records can’t be used at trial


The men who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery can’t use his mental health records as trial evidence, according to a Georgia judge.

A Georgia judge ruled Friday that the white men who followed and killed Ahmaud Arbery as he ran through their neighborhood can’t use his mental health records as trial evidence.

When the case goes to trial soon, with jury selection set to begin Oct. 18, Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley’s decision will further limit defense attorneys’ efforts to depict Arbery as an angry young man with a difficult past.

Even in death, the judge held, Arbery’s medical privacy trumped the rights of the individuals on trial to a strong defense.

He also decided that a registered nurse’s “very dubious diagnosis” of mental illness during Arbery’s first and only visit to a mental health services provider in 2018 could unduly prejudice a trial jury.According to the judge’s finding, “there is no indication that the victim was suffering from any mental health issue, or had otherwise decompensated” on February 23, 2020, the date Arbery was slain.

Prosecutors claim Arbery was only running on that date when his father and son, Gregory and Travis McMichael, armed themselves and tracked him down in a pickup truck in their community outside of Brunswick, approximately 70 miles (112 kilometers) south of Savannah.

William “Roddie” Bryan, a bystander who joined the chase, captured cellphone video of Travis McMichael fatally shooting Arbery as he hurled punches and reached for McMichael’s shotgun. Arbery was unarmed when he was slain by three close-range shotgun shots.After the video was leaked online more than two months later, on May 5, the McMichaels and Bryan were arrested and charged with murder.

The case was taken up by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation the next day, and all three guys were quickly apprehended.

The McMichaels and Bryan, according to defense attorneys, did not conduct any crimes. They claim the McMichaels suspected Arbery of being a burglar after he was caught on video cameras inside a house in the process of being built. Lawyers for Travis McMichael claim he shot Arbery in self-defense.

Despite the judge’s judgment Friday, Travis McMichael’s attorney, Jason Sheffield, said in an email that he is certain that “the complete facts will come out throughout the course of trial and that the jury will recognize this case is simply about defending one’s neighbors and oneself.”

Kevin Gough, one of Bryan’s lawyers, said he appreciated the judge’s consideration and research, but disagreed with the outcome.

“However, we expect the court to review its judgement in whole or in part in the coming weeks,” Gough wrote in an email.

The judge delivered the defendants another defeat a month ago when he determined that evidence of Arbery’s previous run-ins with the law, including two arrests, was also off-limits.

Defense attorneys attempted to disprove the prosecution’s claim that Arbery was an innocent jogging by demonstrating that the white men who chased him had a reasonable suspicion that he had committed a crime.

Prosecutors claimed that defense attorneys were attempting to put Arbery on trial by bringing up his criminal history and mental health issues. Prior to the incident, none of the three defendants knew Arbery or anything about his background.

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