Defense attorneys rest in trial over Ahmaud Arbery’s death

Travis McMichael testifies Arbery never threatened him

Defendant Travis McMichael testifies under cross-examination by prosecutor Linda Dunikoski at the Glynn County Courthouse on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021 in Brunswick, Ga. . Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael, and a neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan are charged charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (Sean Rayford/Pool Photo via AP) (Sean Rayford, 2021 Getty Images)

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – The man who killed Ahmaud Arbery testified Thursday that Arbery did not speak, show a weapon or threaten him in any way before he raised his shotgun and pointed it at the 25-year-old Black man.

Travis McMichael was among only seven total defense witnesses called to the witness stand before attorneys for all three of the white defendants rested Thursday afternoon. Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley scheduled closing arguments in the trial for Monday. The judge also called a charge conference for 10 a.m. Friday, when he will go over the jury duties and the court’s proposed charge.

Under cross-examination by the prosecution on his second day of testimony, McMichael said he was “under the impression” that Arbery could be a threat because he was running straight at him and he had seen Arbery trying to get into the truck of a neighbor who had joined in a pursuit of Arbery in their coastal Georgia neighborhood of Satilla Shores.

“All he’s done is run away from you,” prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said. “And you pulled out a shotgun and pointed it at him.”

The man who killed Ahmaud Arbery testified Thursday that Arbery did not speak, show a weapon or threaten him in any way before he raised his shotgun and pointed it at the 25-year-old Black man.

RELATED: Black pastors lead hundreds in rally to support Ahmaud Arbery’s family in Glynn County | COMPLETE COVERAGE: The Ahmaud Arbery case

Cellphone video from the Feb. 23, 2020, shooting — replayed in court Thursday — shows Arbery running around the back of McMichael’s pickup truck after McMichael first points the shotgun while standing next to the open driver’s side door. Arbery then runs around the passenger side as McMichael moves to the front and the two come face to face. The truck blocks any view of them until the first gunshot sounds.

McMichael’s testimony Wednesday marked the first time any of the three men charged with murder in Arbery’s death has spoken publicly about the killing. He said that Arbery forced him to make a split-second “life-or-death” decision by attacking him and grabbing his shotgun.

Dunikoski noted Thursday that’s not what McMichael told police in an interview about two hours after the shooting occurred.

“So you didn’t shoot him because he grabbed the barrel of your shotgun,” Dunikoski said. “You shot him because he came around that corner and you were right there and you just pulled the trigger immediately.”

“No, I was struck,” McMichael replied. “We were face to face, I’m being struck and that’s when I shot.”

McMichael said he had approached Arbery because neighbors indicated something had happened down the road and he wanted to ask Arbery about it. Arbery was running in the Brunswick neighborhood at the time. He said Arbery stopped, then took off running when McMichael told him police were on the way.

Asked how many times he had previously pulled up behind strangers in the neighborhood to ask them what they were doing there, McMichael said never.

“You know that no one has to talk to anyone they don’t want to talk to, right?” Dunikoski said.

The prosecutor also pressed McMichael on why he didn’t include some details of his testimony Wednesday in his written statement to police, namely the part about his telling Arbery police were on the way.

McMichael said he was “under stress, nervous, scared” at the time of his police interview and “probably being choppy.”

“What were you nervous about?” Dunikoski asked.

“I just killed a man,” McMichael responded. “I had blood on myself. It was the most traumatic event of my life.”

“You were nervous because you thought you were going to jail, right?” Dunikoski asked.

“No. I gave them a statement,” McMichael said.

Dunikoski repeatedly challenged McMichael, asking why he chased Arbery.

“He never yelled at you guys,” Dunikoski said.

“No ma’am,” McMichael replied.

“Never threatened you at all,” Dunikoski said.

“No ma’am,” McMichael replied.

“Never brandished any weapons,” Dunikoski said.

“Ah, no ma’am,” McMichael replied.

“Didn’t pull out any guns,” Dunikoski said.

“No ma’am,” McMichael replied.

“Didn’t pull out any knife,” Dunikoski said.

“No ma’am,” McMichael replied.

“Never reached for anything did he?” Dunikoski asked.

“Ah, no,” McMichael replied.

“He just ran,” Dunikoski said.

Local attorney Gene Nichols, not affiliated with this case, said the prosecution zeroed in on challenging every move that McMichael made.

“And to pinpoint every single time he had the opportunity to retreat, every single time he had the opportunity to back away and to keep this incident from happening,” Nichols said.

McMichael and his father, Greg McMichael, armed themselves and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck after he ran past their home from the house under construction. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase in his own truck and recorded cellphone video. Arbery’s killing deepened a national outcry over racial injustice after the video of his death leaked online.

Greg McMichael and Bryan did not testify.

“I’m surprise that we didn’t see both McMichaels get up on the stand,” Nichols said.

The defense spent Thursday afternoon calling witnesses who live in Satilla Shores.

One of them was Diego Perez’s wife, Brooke. Larry English, the owner of the house under construction, would call Diego Perez when he saw someone on his cameras. Brooke Perez told the court that it frustrated them, but her husband went over anyway.

Satilla Shores resident Sube Lawrence said she relied on other neighbors to confront suspicious people she saw on her home surveillance. She said she believed the story the McMichaels told her about the shooting. Lawrence also told the court she believed the story the McMichaels family told them even though they didn’t tell her they chased Arbery before the shooting.

One of the prosecutors asked a witness if she believed someone stealing deserved a death penalty. Just about all of the defense attorneys objected and Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney, called for a mistrial. The judge instructed the jury to disregard that comment, and the state was admonished.

The judge was also asked to reconsider motions that he already denied about Arbery’s mental health, him being on probation and previous interactions with law enforcement. The state said that all of this was known beforehand, that his mental health is irrelevant and that they didn’t know Arbery before this happened. The judge denied the motion to reconsider this evidence.

Before this the judge was asked to reconsider motions he already denied about Arbery’s mental health, him being on probation and previous interactions with police.

Outside the Glynn County courthouse Thursday, hundreds of pastors gathered in response to a defense lawyer’s bid to keep Black ministers out of the courtroom.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson again joined Arbery’s family in the courtroom, even as Bryan attorney Kevin Gough renewed his request to keep pastors like Jackson out. The issue was brought up outside the jury’s presence, and Judge Walmsley declined to take it up again, noting he’d already rejected the same motion twice.

“The court’s position is already in the record,” Walmsley said.

Gough first asked the judge last week to remove the Rev. Al Sharpton from the court, saying the civil rights activist was trying to influence the jury, which is disproportionately white. The judge later called Gough’s remarks “reprehensible.”

After the defense attorneys rested Thursday, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said she was disappointed that neither Greg McMichael nor Bryan took the stand.

“I really wanted to hear from Gregory since he’s the father, parent to parent, mother to father, and see where his mindset was as well,” she said. “Very disappointed.”

Prosecutors contend there was no justification for McMichael and his father to arm themselves and chase Arbery when he ran past their Georgia home. The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery was a burglar because security cameras had recorded him several times in the unfinished house on their street.

Prosecutors say the men chased Arbery for five minutes and used their trucks to prevent him from fleeing their neighborhood before Travis McMichael shot him. They say there’s no evidence that Arbery — who had enrolled at a technical college to study to become an electrician like his uncles — had committed any crimes.

About the Authors:

A Florida girl and North Carolina A&T SU grad who thrives in breaking news.

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.