What we learned from testimony in the trial over Ahmaud Arbery’s killing

What we learned from testimony in the trial over Ahmaud Arbery’s killing
Stephen B. Morton/Pool/AP

Closing arguments are expected to begin Monday morning in the trial of Ahmaud Arbery’s killing, after jurors heard from more than 20 witnesses, including the man who shot and killed the 25-year-old jogger.

Travis McMichael, who took the stand last week, his father Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William Bryan Jr., face charges including malice murder and felony murder in the death of Arbery, a Black man who was chased by the trio on February 23, 2020, in the Satilla Shores neighborhood near Brunswick, Georgia.

Defense attorneys contend the McMichaels were trying to conduct a lawful citizen’s arrest of Arbery, whom they suspected of burglary after they and several neighbors became concerned about individuals entering a nearby home under construction. Bryan, after seeing the McMichaels chase Arbery, attempted to cut Arbery off, followed and recorded cell phone video of the pursuit and shooting, the defense said. The younger McMichael testified he shot Arbery in self-defense as they wrestled over McMichael’s shotgun. All three defendants have pleaded not guilty.

Arbery’s family has said he was out for a jog when he was killed, and authorities said he was unarmed. Prosecutors said the defendants tracked down and killed Arbery “based on assumptions.

With jurors soon expected to begin deliberating the fate of the three White men charged in the killing, here’s a look back at what we heard during testimony.

Travis McMichael said he was attacked by Arbery

The younger McMichael took the stand as the defense’s first witness and told the court he felt he was in a “life or death situation” when he shot Arbery.

Early in his testimony, he said there was a rising level of crime, including vehicle break-ins, in the neighborhood where he lived with his parents in the 18 months leading up to Arbery’s killing there.

Other residents testified they were aware of petty crime incidents in the neighborhood. One said those started more than 15 years ago. Another neighbor, Sube Lawrence, said she kept up with crime on a neighborhood Facebook page and a neighbor would alert her if there was a “suspicious person lurking” at the nearby home under construction, so Lawrence could get her children inside.

Travis McMichael testified that on February 11, 2020, he saw someone ‘”creeping through the shadows” in the neighborhood, got out of his truck, and confronted a Black male, who he said seemed to reach into his pocket. Travis McMichael assumed the man was armed, jumped back in his vehicle and the person ran to the house under construction, he testified. The younger McMichael said he called the police and went back to the home with his father. Authorities never saw, talked to, or caught the person he said he saw that night, he testified.

On the day of the shooting, the elder McMichael came in their home and said, “the guy that has been breaking in down the road just ran by the house, something’s happened,” Travis McMichael testified.

The father and son got in their truck and eventually caught up to Arbery, who was running in the neighborhood, and Travis McMichael made at least two attempts to talk to him while still in their vehicle. He testified Arbery did not speak to him, but took off running again once Travis McMichael mentioned police were coming.

The younger McMichael testified about the path they took through the neighborhood as they kept up with Arbery, adding at one point he noticed another truck near Arbery, and saw the runner seemingly “grabbing” the vehicle. Prosecutors contend Bryan, the third defendant, got in his truck and joined the pursuit without knowing what was going on and struck Arbery with his vehicle.

Under questioning from prosecutor Linda Dunikoski, the defendant acknowledged he never saw Arbery armed during the pursuit, never heard Arbery verbally threaten him and Arbery never responded or showed any interest in conversing with McMichael.

By the end of the pursuit, and after Travis McMichael got out and pointed his weapon at Arbery as the latter ran in his direction, he testified he made it to the front of his truck, where he first made contact with Arbery. Travis McMichael testified Arbery grabbed the shotgun and struck him.

“I shot him,” he told the court. “He had my gun, he struck me, it was obvious … that he was attacking me, that if he would have gotten the shotgun from me, then it was a life or death situation.”

Investigators share what defendants said in interviews after shooting

Detective Parker Marcy, a Glynn County Police Department, testified Gregory McMichael told him he never saw Arbery commit a crime.

The detective read a transcript of an interview he conducted with the elder McMichael after the shooting, in which he quoted him as saying he had seen videos of the home under construction and saw a person who appeared to be Arbery “breaking into, or being, or wandering around” the site, adding the house had no doors or windows for “well over a year.”

“I don’t think the guy has actually stolen anything out of there or if he did, it was early in this process,” the detective quoted McMichael as saying. The detective testified Gregory McMichael told him he used his son’s phone during the pursuit on the day of the shooting to call 911 and said if Arbery had stopped running they planned to hold him, but he didn’t use the words “arrest,” “citizen’s arrest” or “detain,” or say what Arbery would be arrested for.

Glynn County police officer Jeff Brandeberry, who also interviewed Gregory McMichael, said the latter never used the words “arrest,” “detain” or “trespass” when they spoke at the scene of the shooting.

Roderic Nohilly, a police sergeant in Georgia’s Glynn County, also testified Gregory McMichael did not know during police interviews whether Arbery had committed a crime prior to their pursuit of him.

Homeowner said he didn’t ask McMichaels to secure site

Central to the case has been a home under construction in the Satilla Shores neighborhood, which residents had allegedly grown worried over people entering. One resident testified she saw a “very tall” Black man standing in the doorway of the home sometime in late 2019 or early 2020. For a long time, the house had no doors or windows, witnesses testified.

The owner of the home, Larry English Jr., testified in a September 24 deposition (he previously told the court a serious medical condition prevented him from testifying in person) surveillance footage at his property captured people several times in late 2019 and early 2020, and in some cases, he called 911.

English testified he called authorities in October 2019 to report an individual he described as “a colored guy” with curly hair and tattoos who was “pondering around.” He called again in November 2019 when he saw a White couple entering his property, telling police “We had … some stuff stolen about a week and a half, two weeks ago there.” He called authorities a day later and said he saw at the construction site the “same guy that was over there about a week and a half, two weeks ago.”

English was asked whether anything was ever taken from his construction site, to which he responded, “Not that I know of.”

He testified he never authorized the McMichaels to confront anyone on his site. He said while he did not post the surveillance footage on social media, he may have shown it to Matt Albenze, a resident of the neighborhood.

Albenze testified during the trial that on the day of the shooting, he called police from his home after noticing Arbery “standing there, looking around” the yard of the home under construction, saying the man in the yard made him think of the video English showed him.

He said he went in his home to retrieve his firearm and phone, called the non-emergency police line, and when he went back outside, he could see Arbery in the under-construction home but could not see what he was doing.

He testified Arbery then took off, and Albenze went inside his home without talking to anyone else. He said he heard gunshots a few minutes later.

Bryan told agent he had ‘instinct’ Arbery did something wrong

Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, said during a delayed opening statement his client joined the pursuit with no intent to harm Arbery and he did not try to assault the runner with his vehicle. The attorney pointed to surveillance video showing Bryan on his front porch when he noticed Arbery running by, with the McMichaels chasing, saying Bryan calmly walked inside his home and retrieved his cell phone and vehicle keys, not his rifle.

Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jason Seacrist testified earlier in the trial Bryan told him during a May 2020 interview he was on his porch when the sound of someone running and a vehicle engine caught his attention.

Bryan told the agent he said, “You got him? You need help?” and then grabbed his keys to go see what was going on and if he could help, according to an interview transcript read by the agent.

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. The agent asked Bryan what made him think Arbery had done something wrong.

“It was just instinct man, I don’t know,” Bryan said, according to the interview transcript. “I figured he stole something,” he later added.

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