The sixth day of trial of the three White men accused in 25-year-old Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery’s killing concluded Friday with testimony from an agent who interviewed one of the defendants after the shooting.
Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. are accused of chasing Arbery in vehicles and killing him on February 23, 2020, in Brunswick, Georgia. Defense lawyers have argued the men were attempting to make a citizen’s arrest and Travis McMichael shot Arbery in self-defense as both wrestled over a shotgun. Arbery’s family has said he was out for a jog when he was shot and killed.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jason Seacrist testified Bryan told him during a May 11, 2020, interview, more than two months after the shooting, he knew Gregory McMichael from seeing him around the neighborhood but said he did not know his son, Travis McMichael. The interviews were conducted while Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, was also present.
Bryan told Seacrist a trailer had gone missing from his house in the Satilla Shores neighborhood in 2019 but he did not report it because it was not locked up and he was not sure exactly when it went missing, and added his brother-in-law had some “petty things stolen,” according to the interview transcript.
Bryan did not mention knowing anything about burglaries in the neighborhood and did not know Arbery before the shooting, nor had he heard his name before, the agent testified.
In a May 13, 2020, interview, Bryan told Seacrist he was doing work on his porch when the sound of someone running and a vehicle engine caught his attention, the agent testified.
Bryan told the agent he said, “You got him? You need help?” but not loudly, and said he did not believe anybody heard him, according to the interview transcript.
Bryan said in the interview he then went and grabbed his keys, “I guess just to go see what was going on, if anything needed to be done, if I could help,” according to the transcript.
“I’m thinking through my mind that maybe he’s done something, the guy running,” Bryan said, according to the interview transcript.
Bryan said he tried to slow down Arbery during the chase to get a picture of him, so “something would happen in the end other than just him getting away and cops not knowing who he was.” Seacrist testified he asked Bryan why police would need to know who Arbery was.
“Because I figured he had done something wrong,” Bryan responded, according to the transcript. “I didn’t know for sure.”
When the agent asked Bryan what made him think Arbery had done something wrong, Bryan said, “It was just instinct man, I don’t know,” according to the interview transcript.
“I figured he stole something,” Bryan later added, according to the transcript.
The defendants are charged with malice and felony murder in connection with the killing. They also face charges of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. All have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, each man could face life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The court adjourned Friday evening during cross-examination from the defense, which is expected to continue Monday morning.
Defense attorney apologizes over ‘Black pastors’ comments
“I will let the court know that if my statements yesterday were overly broad, I will follow up with a more specific motion on Monday putting those concerns in the proper context. And my apologies to anyone who might have inadvertently been offended,” Gough said.
On Thursday, Gough decried what he saw as “a precedent … where we’re going to bring high-profile members of the African American community into the courtroom to sit with the family during the trial in the presence of the jury,” adding,”that’s intimidating and it’s an attempt to pressure.”
The judge told Gough he did not object to Sharpton taking the place of an Arbery family member as long as there were no disruptions.
In Georgia’s majority-White Glynn County, where the trial is taking place, race has played a central role in the case. The three defendants in the case are White, as are 11 of 12 jurors.
Gough said Thursday he had “nothing personally against” Sharpton, adding, “We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here or other Jesse Jackson, whoever was in here earlier this week, sitting with the victim’s family trying to influence a jury in this case.”
In a statement Friday, Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has not yet attended the trial, said he will be “in court next week,” adding “Gough does not have a right to overrule family decisions as to who can and who can’t attend their son’s accuser’s trial.”
At Friday’s lunch break, Jason Sheffield, attorney for Travis McMichael, called Gough’s comment “totally asinine. Ridiculous,” and said, “In no way do we want to exclude anybody from this process.”
Multiple calls about trespassing
Robert Rash, a Glynn County police officer who interacted with homeowner Larry English Jr., also testified earlier Friday about his contact with English and his response to calls of trespassing at the property.
Rash said he responded to at least three calls from English about trespassers on his property but was never able to locate the individuals the homeowner saw on his surveillance cameras. Rash said he talked to 10 to 20 people in the neighborhood as he attempted to find out who was entering English’s home and said he had no knowledge of Arbery stealing anything from the site.
In late October, English sent him video of an individual entering his property and told the officer he wanted the person found, the officer testified.
Rash talked to Gregory McMichael while responding to a call about another trespassing incident reported at the English home, just a few days before Christmas 2020. The officer was aware of Gregory McMichael’s law enforcement experience and said he thought McMichael could help identify the person going into the home. McMichael asked the officer to pass on his contact information to English.
On February 11, 2020, Rash responded to a burglary in progress call in the neighborhood, called in by Travis McMichael. Body camera video presented to the jury showed both Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael were present at the construction site while officers searched the area. Rash testified the call ended up being classified as a trespassing call.
At the beginning of the video, officers can be seen going into the dark home with their flashlights yelling “Glynn County Police” with their weapons drawn. The deputies had their guns out because dispatch had alerted them the person in the house may be armed, Rash said during cross-examination.
Gregory McMichael is heard in the video telling Rash “Travis just walked down there; he’s going in from our back yard to check back this way. (OK) He’s armed by the way.”
Frank Hogue, Gregory McMichael’s defense attorney, showed the jury a text between Rash and Gregory McMichael where Rash told the elder McMichael to “please call him day or night when you get action on your cameras.”
The state asked the officer, “Was it your intent to deputize them when you sent the message?”
Rash responded, “never.”
Homeowner testified he did not ask McMichaels to secure his property
In English’s prerecorded deposition played Thursday in court, he said surveillance footage at his home under construction near Brunswick captured people several times in late 2019 and early 2020, and in some instances he called 911 about the intrusions.
The confrontation between the McMichaels and Arbery on the day of the shooting came minutes after a neighbor called police to say Arbery was at English’s property that afternoon. Gregory McMichael, investigators testified, said he initiated the pursuit after seeing Arbery speedily run by McMichael’s home and he believed Arbery matched the description of someone who’d been recorded at the construction site in the past.
But prosecution witnesses have testified McMichael did not know at the time Arbery was at the site that day or whether the man in English’s surveillance videos had ever stolen anything.
The prosecution has said surveillance videos show Arbery at the site multiple times but always without breaking in and without incident. In his deposition, English denied he ever authorized the McMichaels to confront anybody on the construction site.
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