Linda Dunikoski, a authoritative brought successful from the Atlanta area, struck a cautious code successful a lawsuit that galore saw arsenic an evident enactment of radical violence.
Nov. 25, 2021, 5:12 p.m. ET
BRUNSWICK, Ga. — The lawyer was from retired of town, a authoritative who had spent the bulk of her vocation successful a large, wide city, and she had been brought successful to effort the biggest lawsuit of her career: the execution of a Black antheral connected a sunny day by 3 achromatic men conscionable extracurricular a tiny metropolis pinned to the South Georgia coastline.
Despite the grounds of racism she had astatine her disposal, Linda Dunikoski, the prosecutor, stunned immoderate ineligible observers by mostly avoiding contention during the trial, choosing alternatively to hew intimately to the details of however the 3 men had chased the Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, done their neighborhood.
The risks went beyond her vocation and a azygous trial. Failure to convict successful a lawsuit that galore saw arsenic an evident enactment of radical unit would reverberate good extracurricular Glynn County, Ga. For some, it would beryllium a referendum connected a state that appeared to person made tentative steps past summertime toward confronting racism, lone to devolve into deeper divisions.
On Wednesday, Ms. Dunikoski’s strategy was vindicated erstwhile the assemblage recovered the 3 men blameworthy of execution and different charges aft deliberating for astir a day. The convicted men — Gregory McMichael, 65; his lad Travis McMichael, 35; and their neighbour William Bryan, 52 — are present facing beingness sentences successful prison. They are besides facing proceedings successful February connected abstracted national hate-crime charges.
Kevin Gough, the lawyer who represented Mr. Bryan, credited Ms. Dunikoski with threading the astir hard of needles. She mentioned a radical motive conscionable erstwhile during the three-week trial, successful her closing argument: The men, she said, had attacked Mr. Arbery “because helium was a Black antheral moving down the street.”
“She recovered a clever mode of bringing the contented up that wouldn’t beryllium violative to the right-leaning members of the jury,” helium said. “I deliberation you tin spot from the verdict that Dunikoski made the close call.”
A fig of ineligible experts, successful the moment, thought Ms. Dunikoski’s strategy to beryllium a risky one. But galore successful Brunswick thought that she had proved savvy astir what code to onslaught successful a Deep South assemblage where, they said, contention doesn’t person to beryllium referenced explicitly for everyone to recognize the implications.
Cedric King, a Black section businessman, said that the grounds against the defendants, peculiarly the video of Mr. Arbery’s murder, had been beardown capable to basal connected its own.
“Anybody with lukewarm humor moving done their veins that witnessed the video and knew the discourse astir what transpired knew that it was wrong,” Mr. King said.
The case, from the beginning, echoed achy themes successful the Deep South. The execution of a Black antheral by achromatic men carrying guns, presented to a assemblage that included conscionable 1 Black person. The remainder were white. The assemblage had been enactment successful spot implicit the protests of Ms. Dunikoski, who had tried unsuccessfully to forestall imaginable Black jurors from being removed during the enactment process by the defence lawyers. It was besides a achy infinitesimal for Glynn County, a majority-white region that remains marked by the bequest of segregation.
Its region seat, Brunswick, had earned accolades, decades ago, for the mode its Black and achromatic leaders worked unneurotic to integrate schools and nationalist facilities. But the enactment of specified a racially lopsided assemblage had sparked choler and mistrust successful a region wherever much than 1 successful 4 residents is Black. Neighboring Brunswick are 4 obstruction islands known arsenic the Golden Isles, a fashionable tourism destination that is besides location to immoderate of the wealthiest radical successful the country.
Before the proceedings Ms. Dunikoski, who is 54 and declined to beryllium interviewed, had spent her vocation mostly successful the Atlanta metropolitan area, establishing a estimation arsenic a tough-minded authoritative going aft murderers, pack members and enactment offenders. By the extremity of the trial, she had won the spot of the Arbery household truthful profoundly that they came to telephone her Auntie Linda.
The lawsuit took a tortuous way earlier landing successful Ms. Dunikowski’s lap. Two section territory attorney’s offices handled the lawsuit to statesman with, but some yet removed themselves from it, citing conflicts of interest; 1 of the erstwhile prosecutors, Jackie Johnson, has been criminally indicted implicit her handling of the case. It was successful the hands of a 3rd D.A.’s bureau earlier being passed to the much resource-rich Cobb County, wherever Ms. Dunikoski has worked since 2019.
Before joining the Cobb County office, Ms. Dunikoski had spent much than 17 years arsenic a authoritative successful Fulton County, wherever 1 of her highest-profile cases was the proceedings of a radical of Atlanta Public Schools teachers who were recovered blameworthy successful 2015 of racketeering and different charges for altering students’ standardized trial scores. Critics said the prosecutors had offered up a radical of mostly Black educators arsenic scapegoats for a schoolhouse territory that had overmuch deeper systemic problems.
In 2009, according to The Associated Press, Ms. Dunikoski was jailed by a justice for failing to wage a $100 good aft the justice had cited her for contempt. The main region authoritative astatine the clip reportedly engaged successful a shouting lucifer with the judge, arguing that helium had unjustly harmed the estimation of an honorable lawyer.
Observers said Ms. Dunikoski had succeeded successful the proceedings implicit Mr. Arbery’s execution by finessing a hard lawsuit with the close tone.
She presented her lawsuit to the assemblage with a benignant that was astatine times matter-of-fact and astatine times intimate and colloquial, similar a strict precocious schoolhouse main who occasionally offers students a flash of her unguarded self. At immoderate moments, she twisted her assemblage into exaggerated, matador-like poses arsenic she described the mode she believed Mr. Arbery, successful the infinitesimal helium was shot, had tried to support himself.
Understand the Killing of Ahmaud Arbery
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The shooting. On Feb. 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot and killed aft being chased by 3 achromatic men while jogging adjacent his home on the outskirts of Brunswick, Ga. The slaying of Mr. Arbery was captured successful a graphic video that was wide viewed by the public.
She led the assemblage done a thicket of elaborate ineligible points arsenic she pushed backmost against the defense’s statement that the 3 achromatic men had pursued Mr. Arbery legally, nether a authorities citizen’s apprehension instrumentality that has since been mostly gutted. And she sought to dismantle the thought that the antheral who pulled the trigger, Travis McMichael, had done truthful successful self-defense.
In her rebuttal to the defense’s closing statement — the past connection earlier jurors were sent disconnected to determine the destiny of thee 3 men — Ms. Dunikoski made an entreaty to communal sense, offering up a wide regularisation of beingness that she said the defendants had violated: “Don’t spell looking for trouble.”
She had already told them that Mr. Arbery was killed due to the fact that helium was Black. Now she was telling them that the lawsuit wasn’t astir whether the men were “good oregon atrocious people.” Rather, she said, it was “about holding radical accountable and liable for their actions.”
On Wednesday, arsenic the assemblage deliberated, Mr. Arbery’s aunt, Theawanza Brooks, fretted implicit the information that they did not person a T-shirt for Ms. Dunikoski with Mr. Arbery’s sanction connected it. When Ms. Dunikoski concisely entered a country successful the courthouse, wherever household members had been watching a video provender of the proceedings, different aunt cried out, “Linda, girl, you killed it!”
Soon aft the verdict was broadcast extracurricular the Glynn County Courthouse connected Wednesday, Ms. Dunikoski was hailed arsenic a leader by the crowd. At the notation of her name, they cheered, “Thank you, Linda!” Charlie Bailey, a Democratic campaigner for Georgia lawyer general, responded to the verdict by texting, “Amen,” to his friends.
“It wasn’t excessively agelong agone successful Georgia that 3 achromatic men could termination a Black antheral and did not basal a precise bully accidental of being held to relationship by an each achromatic jury,” said Mr. Bailey, who is achromatic and worked with Ms. Dunikoski successful the Fulton County prosecutor’s office. “I’m arrogant of wherever I’m from, but portion of that is besides not ignoring the sins of our forefathers and wherever that leaves america today.”
Shortly aft the verdict, Ms. Dunikoski spoke to a thrilled and relieved assemblage extracurricular the courthouse, with Mr. Arbery’s parents astatine her side. Her tone, erstwhile again, was direct. “The verdict contiguous was a verdict based connected the facts, based connected the evidence,” she said. “And that was our extremity — was to bring that to the jury, truthful they could bash the close thing.”
Tariro Mzezewa contributed reporting from Brunswick, Ga.