Jury to hear closing arguments in trial over former Hill staffer’s death

Trial over former Hill staffer’s death – during which witnesses’ testimony is under a gag order – enters closing arguments Jurors will hear closing arguments in the trial of a trio of men accused…

Jury to hear closing arguments in trial over former Hill staffer’s death

Trial over former Hill staffer’s death – during which witnesses’ testimony is under a gag order – enters closing arguments

Jurors will hear closing arguments in the trial of a trio of men accused of killing former Hill staffer Ahmaud Arbery, and a Georgia prosecutor said he will argue to jurors Wednesday that the three should be sentenced to death.

Prosecutors have presented witnesses, including Arbery’s sister and Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler, to tie the three men to the slaying and the use of a handgun during the murder and robbery. But in closing arguments, District of Columbia prosecutor Mark Pomerantz will attempt to convince the jury to ignore those witnesses, who are forbidden from speaking to the media.

“This case is the saddest case I’ve seen in 30 years as a prosecutor,” Pomerantz said Tuesday morning. “And I’ve seen pretty horrific cases in my time.”

The three men are accused of beating Arbery, a Southeast DC neighborhood activist, to death with a hammer in his wood-frame home on December 27, 2012. His body was discovered the next day, wrapped in the home’s bedspread, bed sheet and blankets.

The three men were arrested in Dec. 2013. Wilfredo Mathews, 24, has been convicted of first-degree murder and faces a possible life sentence. Authorities said Antonio Barnes, 22, and Dedrick Williams, 21, entered the home under the pretense of buying drugs. They allegedly killed Arbery and robbed him of $180, $1,200 and his cellphone. Arbery’s wife had been living in the home when the murder occurred, and she escaped, authorities said.

Prosecutor Deanna Richardson did not offer specifics Tuesday about her closing arguments but said they would be “firm, powerful and a stark contrast to the puffy, false excuses of the defendants.” In her opening statements in early October, Richardson described Williams and Barnes as “this city’s next generation” of violent, repeat-offender criminals.

The three defendants did not have attorneys present in the courtroom Tuesday, but do have representation in the form of a legal defense fund for each defendant.

The three men are not tried separately, but they are being tried together, partly because Washington Superior Court Judge John Laub did not feel there was enough evidence against Barnes and Williams to convict them separately. A jury will eventually decide their fate.

Many of the witnesses who testified against them have invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid self-incrimination, to the dismay of the prosecution. Others have been reduced to tears or appeared too nervous to testify. None of them were willing to testify in the presence of a witness-protection officer, the prosecutor said, and prosecutors were unable to match the voices of many of them.

Laub said last week that he was considering striking some of those recordings, and in closing arguments Pomerantz said the witnesses will testify only in a sealed courtroom before the trial resumes Thursday. He said in closing arguments he would urge jurors to reject any recordings played in that courtroom.

The trial has entered a grisly phase, too. Arbery’s sister has told the jury of her close relationship with her younger brother and his wish to be a father; Kessler wrote about the murder after Arbery’s body was found, recounting his detective work. He described talking to a woman identified only as “Percia,” and said she escaped out a window and took him to the hospital.

Delaigh Deats, a friend of Arbery’s who was with him when he was murdered, said the 2009 death of his daughter Karen Lynn Deats was a “shocking and disturbing event” for him. But Deats, who has been in an outpatient program after being arrested on a drug-related charge this year, said that the Arbery family offered him words of consolation.

“They thanked me for what I did for Karen and for Ahmaud’s family, and that kept me going,” Deats said.

The trial is expected to last through the week.

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