In This Episode
- Attorneys presented closing arguments in the trial of the three Georgia men charged with murdering Ahmaud Arbery, yesterday. Now, we wait for the jury to decide whether they’ll be convicted.
- On Sunday night, a man plowed his vehicle into a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin. At least five people died and several others were injured in the incident. Police are charging the suspect with five counts of intentional homicide.
- And in headlines: A Florida judge dismissed all charges against The Groveland Four, President Biden renominated Jerome Powell to lead the Federal Reserve for a second term, and the U.S. was deemed a “backsliding democracy” for the first time ever.
- City of Waukesha: https://twitter.com/CityofWaukesha
Gideon Resnick: It’s Tuesday, November 23rd. I’m Gideon Resnick.
Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day where we live in a constant state of fear that Emma Thompson will surprise us with one of our teachers.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, maybe you saw her do it to Adele. It is only a matter of time until she comes after us.
Josie Duffy Rice: You know, Dame Emma, she will stop at nothing to do something just really nice for us.
Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, updates on the tragedy at a holiday parade in Wisconsin, where a car hit and killed at least five people. Plus NASA launches a spacecraft tomorrow to quote unquote, “nudge an asteroid.”
Josie Duffy Rice: But first yesterday, after 10 days of testimony, attorneys presented closing arguments in the trial of the three Georgia men charged with murdering Ahmaud Arbery in February of 2020. Today, the prosecution will present their final statement, a rebuttal to the defense’s closing argument before the jury heads in to decide whether or not father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William Bryan, will be convicted of murder, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment, among other charges.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And just to refresh everyone’s memory: Arbery was on a run in February of 2020 in Brunswick, Georgia, when these three men saw him jogging in their subdivision. They grabbed their rifles and began chasing him in their pickup truck. For about five minutes, they pursued him, cutting him off and running him off the road to make it nearly impossible for him to escape.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, so footage taped by William Bryan showed Travis McMichael shoot Arbery once, when Arbery panicked and grabbed for McMichael’s gun, McMichael shot him two more times. Arbery tried to run away, but instead collapsed facedown in the street directly. After the shooting, Greg McMichael told police that Arbery had been, quote, “trapped like a rat” and as Arbery lay dead in the road, Travis McMichael reportedly called him “a fucking” N-word.
Gideon Resnick: God. That, I can’t even listen to that.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. It’s really just horrible.
Gideon Resnick: So let’s talk about the closing arguments yesterday. What happened during all of them?
Josie Duffy Rice: Well, this trial is somewhat unusual since the three men are being tried together. So instead of two closing arguments, there were four: one for the prosecution and then three, one for each of the defendants. Attorneys for the McMichaels claimed that the men were, quote, “worried about an increase in crime in their neighborhood” and they thought Arbery was a quote, “intruder” which is why they began chasing him. Hilariously, the attorney for the shooter, Travis McMichael, claimed that he shot Arbery in—wait for it—self-defense. Here’s a truly unbelievable quote from Travis’s attorney, “duty and responsibility and following the law will always be intertwined with heartache and tragedy.” It’s just unbelievable
Gideon Resnick: It’s drivel. Like I don’t even—
Josie Duffy Rice: It’s just crazy.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So this is basically their entire case it seems, that Arbery was asking for all this to happen.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yep. I mean, during Greg McMichaels attorney’s closing argument, she said Arbery decided quote, “without any sense of reason to run at a man wielding a shotgun, leaving him with no other alternative but to be placed in a position to kill him.” The “he ran out my gun thing” is just a little bit unbelievable. That same attorney also said that: Ahaud Arbery is not the victim in his khaki shorts with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails. That is a quote from their closing argument. So that is what we’re working with here, Gideon.
Gideon Resnick: Wow. Dear lord. OK, I’ll process all of this later, presumably. Or maybe never. So what about the third defendant here?
Josie Duffy Rice: So William Bryan never actually had any physical contact with Ahmaud Arbery, and he was not armed. His attorney claimed that Brian had been unaware that the McMichaels were armed and stated that his quote, “presence is absolutely superfluous and irrelevant to the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery.” His attorney also argued that it was quote, “Divine Providence” that led him to chase Arbery down with the McMichaels and record the interaction. I think what we’re supposed to take from that is that we are supposed to thank this guy for being part of this horrible incident.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. His attorney also made some pretty bizarre inferences about Arbery, saying quote “Why isn’t he calling out ‘hey somebody call 9-1-1, there’s crazy people after me.’ Maybe that’s because Mr. Arbery does not want help.” I, again, I don’t know where to begin with any of this. Josie, what did the prosecution say in its closing argument yesterday?
Josie Duffy Rice: Well, as you know, it’s always hard for me to give prosecutors credit, but they stated what I think is obvious to many of us, right? Chasing Arbery was completely unjustified. Killing him was a malicious act, born out of their racism and their belief that they’re above the law. Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski, stated that the men assumed Arbery was a dangerous criminal quote, “because he was a Black man running down the street.”
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And so as we wait for this verdict, what are some of your other takeaways here?
Josie Duffy Rice: Arbery’s death was yet another example of the ways in which the legal system affords white vigilantes leniency that others simply do not receive, despite the fact that the McMichaels readily admitted that they had pursued, shot and killed Arbery, the men were not arrested for 74 days. Local police said that the District Attorney’s Office where Greg McMichael had previously been employed had instructed them not to arrest the men.
Gideon Resnick: Wow.
Josie Duffy Rice: And when that D.A. recused herself, another D.A. recommended the men not be arrested as well, before also recusing himself due to the fact that he too was personally connected to the defendants. So it’s just kind of a disaster.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, to say the least. And so this trial and the Rittenhouse trial that we talked about yesterday have been happening simultaneously. There’s some similarities between them where the defendants in both instances, are claiming self-defense. Do you have different expectations then for this case?
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I do. I mean, I don’t want to pretend that this is a sure fire win for the prosecution because it is South Georgia and anything is possible, of course. But I think it’s undeniable that Rittenhouse had a stronger self-defense claim than the three defendants in this case. And these men, I mean, their behavior was just very disconcerting. They were pretty explicitly racist. They were reportedly entirely unaffected by Arbery’s death mere moments after the shooting. So I’m certainly less convinced that they will be acquitted. But again, anything is possible. As one member of the community said quote, “I feel confident we will get justice for Ahmaud. But if we don’t, it won’t be a surprise.”
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Let’s move to another tragic and disturbing story that our listeners may have seen that continues to develop in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha, Wisconsin. On Sunday night, a man plowed his vehicle into a Christmas parade while allegedly fleeing a domestic dispute.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, it’s a very tragic story, and we’re getting more details as this develops. But what do we know so far about the man who did this?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so much of this came from a press conference yesterday that was held by Waukesha Police Chief Dan Thompson. The police ID’d the suspect as 39-year old Darrell Brooks, and he is set to be charged with five counts of intentional homicide. Thompson also said that Brooks wasn’t being pursued at the time or that he knew anyone in the parade, but that he had fled the scene of a domestic dispute nearby just minutes before essentially. The chief also said that an officer fired shots at the car in an attempt to stop him, but had to cease doing that because of the crowds that were at the parade. And he added that no one was hit by the gunfire.
Josie Duffy Rice: So can you tell us a little bit more about Brooks and what we know about him at this point?
Gideon Resnick: Yes, this is coming out in drips and drabs. He was reportedly in the custody of law enforcement just days before Sunday’s incident. And earlier this month, Brooks was accused of trying to run over the mother of his child, apparently, in an incident that drew some comparisons to what we saw over the weekend. But he posted the $1000 bail. He was also already out on bail for another case where in 2020 he was accused of shooting at his nephew. And this has seemingly become a big focus already of the prosecution’s office. Court documents show that the Milwaukee County District Attorney said at the most recent bail recommendation had been quote, “inappropriately low” and quote, “not consistent with what his normal policy” and they are apparently conducting an internal review.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, like clockwork, right? It certainly seems as though prosecutors are already preparing to get increasingly harsh in response to this tragedy, and I really worry when prosecutors use cases like these, these very tragic cases, as reasons for higher bails in general or more punishment in general. And I think this is also just a reminder of how ill-equipped the criminal legal system is addressing the root issues that lead to such harm like this one, right? So Gideon, what can you tell us about the people at the parade who were hurt?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So as a recording time, at least five people died and at least 48 were injured. Here is Chief Thompson identifying the individuals who were killed as of Monday:
[clip of Dan Thompson] I say this with great sorrow: Virginia Sorenson, 79-year old female; LeAnna Owen, 71-year old female; Tamara Durand, 52-year old female; Jane Kulich, 52-year old female; Wilhelm Hospel, 81-year old male.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so as we heard there, many of those who died were older folks, and one of the many horrific elements of this very horrific story is that at least two members of a group that was called the Milwaukee Dancing Grannies were reportedly among the victims. They have been described in reports as a fixture of events like this holiday parade. Additionally, one local hospital said yesterday that it was treating 18 children in its emergency department. So yeah, every part of this is really just unspeakably awful.
Josie Duffy Rice: It’s so, so, so tragic. It’s really hard to imagine just how devastating this is. This is a developing story, so we want to caution again that this is what we know for now, and we’ll keep you updated.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And in the meantime, the city of Waukesha’s Twitter account, posted some resources to support families that were impacted. We can link to that in our show notes. So more on all of this soon, but that is going to be the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.
Speaker 3 [ad break]
Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: President Biden re-nominated Jerome Powell to lead the Federal Reserve for a second term yesterday. This appointment comes as the Fed tries to help the economy recover after the pandemic, while also facing the highest inflation rate in over three decades. In a press conference, Biden praised Powell, who he calls Jay, for steering the central bank through the deepest recession in nearly a century, while also making a swipe at former President Trump”
[clip of President Biden] In the last administration, he stood up to unprecedented political interference and in doing so, successfully maintained the integrity and credibility of this institution. It’s just one of the many reasons why Jay has support from across the political spectrum.
Gideon Resnick: Powell and his colleagues will be tasked with keeping consumer prices stable while trying to increase the employment rate in the next four years. And speaking of employment, yesterday the Labor Department announced that it is going to begin paying federal workers a $15 minimum wage starting January 30th, which could boost the paychecks of hundreds of thousands of workers. Biden signed an executive order back in April that directed the Labor Department to enact this regulation, and the administration hopes that this rule will encourage other industries like restaurants to follow suit.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yesterday, a Florida judge dismissed all charges against Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Sheppard, and Ernest Thomas, the man otherwise known as the Groveland Four. These Black men were accused of abducting and raping a white woman in 1949. They were convicted by an all-white jury, despite FBI testimony that the evidence against them was fabricated. Nearly 70 years later, in 2017, the state of Florida issued an apology to the men, acknowledging how the criminal justice system failed them. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis pardoned them in 2019, and yesterday a circuit court judge in Lake County exonerated them. None of the Groveland Four are alive today, but many of their family members attended the hearing on Monday. Carol Greenlee, the daughter of Charles Greenlee, cried as the judge formally dismissed the charges against her father and said quote, “If you know something is right, stand up for it and be persistent.”
Gideon Resnick: The country that’s big thing is democracy is officially doing it badly. The United States was deemed a quote, “backsliding democracy” for the first time ever in an annual report from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance—what took you so long? Each year, the institute evaluates 160 countries and places them in three categories: democracies such as the U.S., quote unquote, “hybrid governments” like Russia, and authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia. In justifying our country’s sub-designation as a quote unquote, “backsliding democracy” the report said our democracy has suffered quote, “visible deterioration” since 2019, as evidenced by Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election results, the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol, and restrictive state voting laws that disproportionately affect people of color. The report said that more than one in four people worldwide are living in backsliding democracies, so we are in good company. It also estimated that the number of backsliding democracies has doubled in the past decade. That does line up well with the rise of Facebook, but before I say anything more than that, I would need a full report from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, they seem really late on the uptake, I got to say. These people, I need to know more about this institute because—
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, same
Josie Duffy Rice: Feels like we were drawing their conclusions for them. NASA is playing to its base of elementary schoolers who love loud noises and explosions with a spaceship launching tomorrow night that will deliberately slam into an asteroid more than six million miles away. The asteroid poses zero threat to Earth, but NASA wants to observe how the collision changes its trajectory so we’re prepared if a different asteroid ever takes aim at our planet—yeah, this asteroid is coming for us. NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, aka. DART is an unprecedented mission. A golf-cart sized Space X rocket will blast off from California, and it will spend about 10 months hurtling toward a pair of asteroids that are, quote, “harmless”—that is what they tell us. In addition to providing inspiration for the next Vin Diesel movie, this new technology could save our planet. Scientists say an asteroid crashed into Earth about 66 million years ago, killing off dinosaurs and NASA hopes it can prevent the next big one from causing damage on a similar scale.
Gideon Resnick: Listen, them doing the “nothing to see here” gif over and over about an asteroid is not inspiring a lot of confidence.
Josie Duffy Rice: I got to say, if I were NASA and there is an asteroid headed towards Earth, I would 100% say it was not headed towards Earth. Why would I tell this world of nuts people that an asteroid is coming? I would just play it off. I feel like they’re wink, wink, nudge, nudging us and I will behave accordingly.
Gideon Resnick: I will, too, and I will let Bruce Willis handle this.
Josie Duffy Rice: I need NASA tell me if I should just not pay my student loans because it’s not going to matter.
Gideon Resnick: Right, right. Exactly.
Josie Duffy Rice: Just text me.
Gideon Resnick: Exactly. Tell me what to care about in our extinction events.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, exactly.
Gideon Resnick: And those are the headlines. One more thing before we go: if you are listening to this podcast—thank you, you are a beautiful soul—chances are you have opinions. Leave us a review and let us know your likes, dislikes, suggestions, and more about What A Day. We’re going to thank you in advance for that, and we can’t wait to read your reviews.
Josie Duffy Rice: That is all for today. If you’re into reading, and not just fantasy matchups between spaceships and asteroids like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked dot com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
Josie Duffy Rice: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And protect us from Emma Thompson!
Josie Duffy Rice: She’s too nice.
Gideon Resnick: She’s too nice, and she’s looking through directories now. She’s checking them twice.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah.
Gideon Resnick: For every teacher.
Josie Duffy Rice: A weapon of nice destruction, is Emma Thompson.
Gideon Resnick: What A day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.