The government and defense rest their case in federal hate crimes trial

Defense only called one witness

Witness testimony concluded Friday in the hate crimes trial of three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery with final prosecution witnesses saying they heard two of the defendants make racist statements, including crude sexual remarks directed at a woman who had dated a Black man.

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Late Friday afternoon, both sides in the federal hate crimes trial of Greg and Travis McMichael rest their case. The father and son were convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery.

The defense only called one witness, a woman who lived in Satilla Shores but didn’t know the defendants.

Earlier in the day, the government called witnesses who said they felt lied to, uncomfortable and even afraid of the defendants.

Two women who knew the white father and son convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery testified at their federal hate crimes trial Friday that they had heard both men make racist statements, including crude sexual remarks directed at one of the women who had dated a Black man.

Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves and chased Arbery in a pickup truck two years ago after spotting the 25-year-old Black man running in their coastal Georgia neighborhood. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael blasting Arbery with a shotgun.

All three men were convicted of murder last fall in a Georgia state court. They're now standing trial in a separate case in U.S. District Court, charged with violating Arbery's civil rights and targeting him because he was Black. The McMichaels and Bryan have pleaded not guilty.

A woman who served under Travis McMichael in the U.S. Coast Guard a decade ago testified Friday that he made crass jokes mocking “that I had been sexually active with an African American man” when he learned that she had previously dated a Black man.

“He called me an N-word lover,” Kristie Ronquille told the jury, saying she found his comments “infuriating and disrespectful.”

Ronquille said she never reported Travis McMichael's remarks, which he made while they were on duty at a Coast Guard station in Pascagoula, Mississippi, in part because he was a supervisor.

Travis McMichael's attorney, Amy Lee Copeland, noted that Ronquille had previously told the FBI in a recorded interview that she was “90% sure” he had called her a name using a racial slur. Copeland also noted Ronquille told the FBI how much she disliked Travis McMichael.

Also on the witness stand Friday, Kim Ballesteros testified that Greg McMichael once mocked a Black woman he rented a home to. Ballesteros and her husband lived across the street from the McMichaels roughly three years ago and were talking about their experiences as landlords.

Ballesteros said Greg Michael told her that he nicknamed his former Black tenant “the Walrus" because of her skin color and her size. He said he once disconnected her home air-conditioner during the summer when she was late paying rent.

“I was surprised,” Ballesteros said. “It was racist and uncomfortable, and I was frankly disappointed.”

Greg McMichael's attorney, A.J. Balbo, noted that Ballesteros continued to speak to Greg McMichael after that incident and that her testimony showed he had been willing to rent property to Black people.

Prosecutors’ 20th and final witness was Carole Sears, a real estate agent from Larchmont, New York, who met Greg McMichael in 2015 when she and her daughter traveled to Brunswick for a court hearing involving a man who had killed Sears’ husband in a drunken driving crash years earlier. Greg McMichael worked as an investigator for the local district attorney and had been tasked with driving Sears and her daughter to and from the airport.

Sears testified that on the return trip she mentioned she had just heard Julian Bond, a prominent civil rights activist from Georgia, had died and said she felt terrible.

She said Greg McMichael replied: “I wish that guy had been in the ground years ago. All those Blacks are nothing but trouble and I wish they’d all die.”

Sears said he continued to rant for a couple of minutes while she sat silent and stunned.

“I didn’t say a word,” she testified. “I was a little afraid. I had never heard anybody speak that way, before or since.”

Evidence that the McMichaels and Bryan held racist views of Black people is critical to prosecutors' case that Arbery's death was a hate crime.

On Wednesday, an FBI analyst testified that Travis McMichael repeatedly used the N-word and other racist slurs in text messages and social media in the months and years before the killing. They included posts describing violence against Black people.

Greg McMichael posted a Facebook meme stating “Irish slaves” in America were mistreated more than any group in the nation’s history. Bryan also used slurs in a number of electronic messages, including several sent on Martin Luther King Jr. Day that mocked the holiday devoted to the civil rights leader.

Defense attorneys denounced their clients’ racist messages as offensive and indefensible. But they also have said the deadly pursuit of Arbery was motivated by an earnest, though erroneous, suspicion that Arbery had committed crimes instead of his race.

About the Authors:

A Florida-born, Emmy Award winning journalist and proud NC A&T SU grad