Murderers who try to blame their victim’s death on his or her behavior are despicable. While this tactic might work in some instances, the judge in the Ahmaud Arbery case is having none of it. Jason Sheffield, who represents Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael, and Roddie Bryan, tried to bring Arbery’s mental health records into the case for their October 18, 2021, trial for Arbery’s murder. Sheffield wanted to use those records to justify Arbery’s murder. What could these men have known of Arbery’s mental health as he was out jogging, minding his own business? Is there a history of the mentally unstable going out for a jog in their area? Of course, there is not. They are grasping at straws because they have no legal or logical reason for what they did that day other than their racist thoughts.
According to WSB News, the defendants “desperately” wanted to use those records to portray Arbery as the “aggressor.” The video of Arbery’s murder clearly showed him running, with his back to his killers and that they approached and accosted him, not the other way around. The only aggression displayed by Arbery that day occurred when he tried to wrestle that shotgun from Greg McMichael to save his own life. The thought that his mental health was at issue is ludicrous, but Sheffield said to WSB: “It is reckless to disregard the mental health illness that plagued him up to this moment in February 2020.” Linda Dunikoski, the prosecutor in the case, has a different take: “He could have been a Rhodes Scholar. He could have been clucking like a chicken in the middle of the road, but it’s irrelevant to this murder case.” She is correct. She further pointed out that the defendants knew nothing about Arbery and, therefore, could have known nothing about his mental health. Judge Timothy Wamsley agreed and ruled that Arbery’s mental health would have no place in this trial.
Medical records are privileged. Only in certain circumstances can they be used in litigation. Law firm Hark & Hark explains on its website that “the defendant must provide actual proof of a legitimate need to reach the evidence which is shielded by privilege by showing the evidence is relevant and material to an issue before the court.” In this case, they could not. The facts of this case speak for themselves. They chased Arbery in a pickup truck as he jogged down the street. They claimed “self-defense” because they assumed him to be a “burglar.” The man was dressed for exercise, in shorts and a shirt. How many burglars dress in this manner, with nowhere to stow their ill-gotten gains? They have no evidence that Arbery was burglarizing their neighborhood, and because there is not, they wanted to victimize him a second time.
We no longer live in the old south where it was okay for whites to murder blacks for some perceived wrong. It is past time for black people to receive the same treatment as whites, and Arbery’s family will get to see justice done in his murder.
Shirley is a former entertainment writer and has worked in the legal field for over 25 years