Prosecutors in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial presented a chilling account of how the four teenage defendants conducted an attack in the paralegal’s office of the New York County Supreme Court, where her estranged husband worked, on New Year’s Eve in 2014.
At a carnival on the night of Dec. 31, 2014, the defendants — Corey Jacobs, 18; Raed Jaser, 19; Samra Kesinovic, 18; and David Dalmau, 22 — had spent the evening drinking, playing video games and smoking marijuana. The prosecutor described them as “broken people,” with no family or friends in town, “living with their fathers, with their grandfathers.”
Arbery, a mother of four, was at work in the week before her death. The prosecutor asserted that there was no love lost between her and her husband. He told her that they were splitting up and that she should just go back to Florida, she said in testimony. When she turned to go outside, she stepped on a gas canister thrown by her husband.
She had gone to work and was sleeping when it happened. “My nightmare came true,” she said. “They showed up in the night like they planned it.”
The four allegedly followed Arbery into the office, entered her office where they proceeded to rob her and cut her throat in front of her coworkers. When her employers called 911, the four fled. Arbery died in a hospital a short time later.
In court on Thursday, the prosecutor, Robert Finnegan, revealed that the defendants were confronted as they tried to leave the office by a knife-wielding security guard who took them into custody. They were arraigned in the hospital days later. Each defendant faced murder charges for the shooting of Arbery, but were indicted on a lesser count for the slaying of her office manager, Robert Dzodzijski. He died.
The prosecutor described each defendant as doing whatever he or she could on New Year’s Eve to kidnap Arbery. At one point, Jacobs allegedly hit Jaser in the head with his fist. The four went to another facility, where they stole champagne and cocaine, and forced Dzodzijski and another man in their car to shoot him in the head.
Each defendant entered a guilty plea for the murder of Dzodzijski. Under his plea deal, he could receive an up to 15-year prison sentence in exchange for his testimony against the other three.
In his testimony on Thursday, Dzodzijski described finding Arbery’s body. “It was terrible,” he said. “It was cold.”
All four defendants appeared calm in court, but on Friday, defence lawyers questioned Jaser’s courtroom behaviour, attempting to suggest he was high on drugs. They suggested that his lips and the color of his skin changed as he walked, and that his jaw moved.
On Monday, Finnegan recalled that Jaser, who has been in custody since the day of the attack, had earlier this month signed papers agreeing to testify against the other three. Dzodzijski signed the documents on Friday.
Jaser’s lawyer, Nicholas Varich, argued that the light in the courtroom had changed and caused his client to flinch.
“There is some question that a significant amount of drug affected him that day,” Varich said. “This doesn’t excuse his actions but it doesn’t exculpate him.”
Jaser told the New York Post that he didn’t know his lawyers were interviewing him. “I am innocent,” he said. “I have admitted that I did commit the murder but I did not take that person’s life.”
Jaser changed his plea Thursday to guilty of murder. On Friday, the defense tried to convince a judge that Jaser was on the stand last week and was unable to answer certain questions, and had subsequently changed his plea to guilty to robbery. But that plea was ultimately denied by the judge.
One defense lawyer, Richard Manganelli, argued that these four boys should not be executed because they did not intentionally kill Arbery.
“If you start with the premise that every person involved is equally culpable in this tragedy then we’re going to have a situation where we have too many people who have done too much wrong for too long for too long,” he said.