Travis McMichael, the first witness for the defense, told jurors he wanted to testify to share “his side of the story” in the fatal Georgia shooting of Ahmaud Arbery.
— On his final confrontation with Arbery, McMichael testified, “I knew that he was on me, I knew that I was losing this. I knew that he was overpowering me.”
— In his opening statement, William “Roddie” Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, told jurors that evidence would show his client “did not intend to harm Mr. Arbery.”
One of the three men charged with murder in the death of Ahmaud Arbery began crying on the stand Wednesday as he described the final moments of his fatal confrontation with Arbery.
Travis McMichael, who was seen on video shooting and killing Arbery in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020, was the first witness for the defense. After about three hours of testimony, McMichael broke down as he described what he later called “the most traumatic experience of my life.”
“It was obvious that he was attacking me, that if he had gotten the shotgun from me, it was a life-or-death situation,” McMichael said.
McMichael told jurors he wanted to testify to share “his side of the story.” Prompted by his attorney, McMichael explained what led him to believe Arbery was “dangerous” and how he attempted to stop him that day. The prosecution, meanwhile, opened its cross-examination by emphasizing that McMichael made assumptions based on incomplete information.
“I want to explain what happened and to be able to say what happened from the way I seen it,” McMichael said.
McMichael said his father, Gregory, who also faces murder charges, was in a “frantic state” after spotting Arbery running in their neighborhood and identified him as “the same guy” seen entering a neighbor’s home under construction.
McMichael grabbed his shotgun and went outside, where he saw neighbor Matt Albenze pointing down the road. McMichael said he thought it was “reasonable” Albenze may have seen Arbery breaking in or stealing from the construction site.
“My father told me, ‘The guy, from the other night,'” McMichael said. “I assumed he was correct, but I wanted to verify.”
Asked during cross-examination if he told his father to calm down when he ran into the house, McMichael said no.
McMichael said he assumed his father had called the police as they pursued Arbery in a pickup.
Before he pulled up next to Arbery, McMichael said he recognized him based on his haircut. McMichael said he told Arbery to “please” stop three times.
On cross-examination, prosecutor Linda Dunikoski suggested McMichael did not intend to arrest Arbery.
“Not once during your direct examination did you state that your intention was to effectuate an arrest of Mr. Arbery until your attorney asked you that leading question. Isn’t that right?” Dunikoski asked.
“Yes,” McMichael said.
Dunikoski asked if he learned from his time in the military that “you can’t force people to speak to you,” and McMichael answered, “That’s correct.”
“And if someone walks away, you have to let them walk away?” Dunikoski said.
“Yes,” McMichael said.
McMichael described Arbery as “very angry” and said he suspected he may be armed.
Later, McMichael said he told Arbery the police were on the way, prompting Arbery to turn and run.
As his father climbed into the back of the pickup, McMichael said he saw Arbery interacting with a black pickup, which he learned belonged to William “Roddie” Bryan, the other defendant in the case.
At one point, he said it appeared Arbery was trying to get into Bryan’s truck, a claim Bryan also made to investigators.
McMichael said he lost sight of Arbery and Bryan’s truck, parked his vehicle near his home and got out. He saw Arbery coming toward him “like a running back,” grabbed his shotgun and dialed 911.
“I’m pretty sure he is going to attack,” McMichael said.
McMichael said Arbery grabbed the shotgun and struck him. He got emotional as he told jurors he was thinking about his son in the moments before firing the first shot.
“I knew that he was on me, I knew that I was losing this,” McMichael said. “I knew that he was overpowering me.”
McMichael said during cross-examination that he stored his shotguns with the safety on.
“When he was on top of me, I disengaged the safety and pulled the trigger,” McMichael said
McMichael said he initially believed he shot Arbery twice but learned he fired three shots. The medical examiner who performed Arbery’s autopsy said two shots struck Arbery.
“He was all over me, he was all over that shotgun, so I shot again to stop him,” he said. “That final shot, he disengaged, and at that point, he let go and turned and continue to run.”
After the shooting, McMichael said, the police arrived and he put his shotgun down.
“After that, it was all a blur,” McMichael said, breaking into tears.
McMichael told defense attorneys he moved into the neighborhood in 2018 and grew concerned about car break-ins, “suspicious persons” and the theft of his pistol. McMichael said he would often discuss crime with neighbors, some of whom installed surveillance cameras on their houses, and his family, including his father, Greg.
“It was a common occurrence at that point,” he said. “It was concerning that nothing was done … concerning that you have to have that constant presence.”
McMichael said surveillance video at neighbor Larry English’s home led him to believe the same person was repeatedly entering the property under construction and items had been stolen.
On Feb. 11, McMichael said, he saw a man “lurking” outside English’s home. He said the man reached into his pants, leading McMichael to assume he was armed, then ran inside the vacant home.
“It freaked me out,” he said, and he told his father, then called police. “I’m not going to chase someone who may be armed.”
Asked during cross-examination whether he had “incomplete information” about who was committing crimes in Satilla Shores, McMichael said “yes.”
“I did make assumptions at that point until February 11th, when I saw what I saw that evening,” McMichael said.
McMichael also testified about his U.S. Coast Guard training, describing six levels on the use-of-force continuum. He was a mechanic in the service, did search-and-rescue work and sometimes worked with law enforcement from 2007 to 2016.
McMichael’s attorneys said he had probable cause to suspect Arbery was a burglar and believed he was justified in firing his weapon in part because of his Coast Guard training.
In his opening statement earlier Wednesday, defense attorney Kevin Gough told jurors that evidence would show his client, William “Roddie” Bryan, did not intend to hurt Arbery the day he was killed.
Gough said that although Bryan admitted trying to block Arbery’s path, there is no physical evidence from the road where Arbery was killed to suggest Bryan was driving aggressively or attempting to assault him with his truck.
“The evidence will show Mr. Bryan did not intend to harm Mr. Arbery,” Gough said. “He regretted Mr. Arbery being injured.”
Gough began his opening statement by trying to separate his client from his co-defendants. All three defendants were arrested and charged with murder and other crimes two months after Arbery was killed when cellphone video of the shooting taken by Bryan was released.
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