As legal teams prepared for opening arguments in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial on Friday, the judge dealt an early blow to the defense, ruling that prosecutors can discuss a vanity Confederate license plate on defendant Travis McMichael’s truck the day of the killing.
The plate depicts an old Georgia flag with a Confederate emblem on it. The flag was in use in the state from 1956 until it was officially replaced in 2001. Jason Sheffield, an attorney representing Travis McMichael, said on Thursday that a photograph of the truck that shows the flag was seen as a “symbol of racism” by many during jury selection. He argued that the court had been trying hard not to make the case about race, and that the admission of the vanity plate would be used as a “can opener” by prosecutors to discuss other things, like Facebook posts and text messages by Travis McMichael, his father Gregory, and co-defendant William "Roddie" Bryan.
But prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said the plate is something McMichael consciously chose to put on his truck after buying it in Jan. 2020. “He wanted the world to know this.” she said, arguing the plates are relevant to the case, because there is a point in the video of Arbery being chased and shot where the truck is coming toward him and he turns around. “Whether he saw that on the truck or not, he was looking at the truck and that is what’s on the front of the truck,” she said, speaking of the plate. Donaski said that if McMichael takes the stand, they will ask him why that vanity plate was on his truck. She also said prosecutors are allowed to inquire if it is part of racial animus and if it dovetails into other evidence.