BRUNSWICK, Ga. – The father and son accused of arming themselves, chasing and shooting a Black man running through their Satilla Shores neighborhood earlier this year will remain in jail while awaiting trial on charges including felony murder.
Travis McMichael, 34, and his father, Gregory McMichael, 64, have been held since their arrests in May, more than two months after Arbery was slain. The McMichaels, who are white, chased and fatally shot the 25-year-old Black man after they spotted him running in their neighborhood.
During two days of courtroom testimony and legal arguments, Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley heard conflicting accounts of the Feb. 23 shooting.
Defense attorneys for the McMichaels argued that they were legally justified to go after Arbery because they suspected he was a burglar. They also contended Travis McMichael was defending himself when he blasted Arbery three times with a shotgun.
Cellphone video of the shooting shows Arbery trying to run around the McMichaels' pickup truck. Arbery comes face-to-face with Travis McMichael in front of the truck. The video shows Arbery punching him and grappling for the gun in between gunshots. Arbery finally staggers and falls after the third gunshot hits him at point-blank range.
Prosecrosecutors say Arbery was no criminal but merely out jogging and the McMichaels acted as “vigilantes” motived by racist views. They showed the judge photos of a home near the shooting scene that was damaged by gunfire.
“You can interpret the video in a number of different ways,” Walmsley said Friday. “But the video tells me there’s a significant risk and danger to the community.”
The judge also agreed with prosecutors that Gregory McMichael not only appeared “willing to place the law in his own hands. He felt he had the ability to influence an ongoing investigation and, I think the facts are still developing on this, but there’s a possibility that it’s why this case took so long to get where it is right now."
Making the case
After several character witnesses for the defense testified Thursday, prosecutors on Friday told Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley examples they said showed the McMichaels trying to influence witness and obstruct the investigation. Prosecutors also laid out that minutes after the shooting, Greg McMichael, let the investigators he was a former officer, trying to insert himself into the investigation.
In body camera video, the elder McMichael kept dropping his connections to law enforcement.
“Glynn County issued, by the way,” he is heard saying.
“No good deed goes unpunished? Yeah, that’s the best example right there,” he said.
Prosecutors also played never-before-seen video and voicemails from the McMichales, including a message Greg McMichael left for the Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson, his former boss, after the shooting.
“My son and I are involved in a shooting ... and we need some advice right away. Please call me,” McMichael could be heard saying.
Defense teams for the McMichaels said they didn’t follow Arbery because of his race but out of their concern over recent burglaries in the neighborhood.
“This case isn’t about race, your honor. This case, in the indictment, is about whether or not the private citizen arrest law and justification statutes allowed Greg McMichael to do what he chose to do that day for the sole purpose of defending his family and his property and his community,” attorney Laura Hogue said.
Arbery’s mother said she is relieved the two will remain in jail.
“Today was a good day,” Wanda Cooper Jones said.
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The McMichaels weren’t arrested until the cellphone video of the shooting leaked online and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case. Prosecutors say Arbery was merely out jogging.
Travis and Gregory McMichael, and a third defendant, their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, are charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
The video shows the McMichaels' truck stopping in the middle of a residential street and Travis McMichael getting out before Arbery tries to run around the vehicle. Arbery can be seen grappling with Travis McMichael over the shotgun and punching him before being shot at point-blank range.
In June, a grand jury indicted both McMichaels and Bryan.
Travis McMichael’s attorneys, Robert Rubin and Jason Sheffield, wrote in court documents requesting bond that he lives with his parents, has a 3-year-old son and doesn’t have a passport. They cited his past service as a U.S. Coast Guard machine technician as proof of his character.
“In no way, shape or form is Travis hateful towards any group of people, nor does he look down on anyone based on race, religion or beliefs,” Curt Hall, a former Coast Guard roommate of Travis McMichael who described himself as multiracial wrote in a letter supporting bond for his friend.
Gregory McMichael is a retired investigator for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit district attorney’s office and a former Glynn County police officer. His lawyers said in a legal filing that they plan to present evidence in court to show why he should be freed on bond.
Bryan was previously denied bond. His attorney has argued in court motions that the entire indictment should be dismissed.
A video showing Arbery’s death, which was posted to a South Georgia radio station’s website, sparked nationwide outrage over the killing and brought new scrutiny to how the case was handled.
The killing stirred a national outcry in a year marked by protests over racial injustice. They weren’t arrested until the cellphone video of the shooting leaked online and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case. Prosecutors say Arbery was merely out jogging.
The video shows the truck stopping in the middle of a residential street and Travis McMichael getting out before Arbery tries to run around the vehicle. Arbery can be seen grappling with Travis McMichael over the shotgun and punching him before being shot at point-blank range.
In June, a grand jury indicted both McMichaels and a neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, on charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
The outside prosecutor assigned to the case, Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes, was defeated in the Nov. 3 election. Holmes' successor, Flynn Broady, will inherit the case, said Katie Byrd, spokeswoman for state Attorney General Chris Carr.
On Wednesday, as the public was anticipating the hearing, demonstrators gathered at the Glynn County Courthouse to demand the three men stay in jail.