BRUNSWICK, Ga. — One of the three men charged with murder in the death of Ahmaud Arbery took the stand Wednesday to tell his “side of the story.”
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.
“I want to get my side of the story,” McMichael said. “I want to explain what happened and to be able to say what happened from the way I seen it.”
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 began installing surveillance cameras on their houses, and his family, including father Greg McMichael, who is also facing murder charges in Arbery’s death.
“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 detailed his attempt to find out who was responsible and said surveillance video at neighbor Larry English’s home led him to believe the same person or people was repeatedly entering the property under construction and that items had been stolen.
Two weeks before the fatal shooting, 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, adding that he told his father and then called police. “I’m not going to chase someone who may be armed.”
Defense attorneys again played 911 calls made by Travis and Greg McMichael prior to Arbery’s death.
The McMichaels’ attorneys have argued that Satilla Shores was a neighborhood “on edge” prior to Arbery’s killing. They said in their opening statements Nov. 5 that the McMichaels chased Arbery in their pickup truck to detain him for police because they believed he was responsible for break-ins and that Travis McMichael shot him in self-defense.
McMichael also testified about the training he received in the U.S. Coast Guard, describing six levels on the use-of-force continuum. He was a mechanic in the Coast Guard, did search and rescue work and sometimes worked with local law enforcement between 2007 and 2016.
McMichael’s attorneys have argued that 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.
He also told defense attorneys he had been trained to show his weapon as a way to deescalate a situation and get compliance. He recounted two times he showed a weapon as a civilian, including during an attempted car-jacking.
“You pull a weapon on someone, from what I’ve learned in my training, usually that causes people to back off,” he said.
McMichael said the concern of losing a weapon is that you “would not be able to protect yourself” and that someone would “use it on you or others.”
William ‘Roddie’ Bryan ‘did not intend to harm Mr. Arbery,’ attorney says
In his opening statement earlier Wednesday, defense attorney Kevin Gough told jurors that evidence will show his client did not intend to hurt Ahmaud Arbery the day he was killed.
Gough said that while William “Roddie” Bryan has admitted to 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.
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“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.
He said that Arbery did not call out to Bryan for help as he was being chased by the McMichaels despite the fact that Bryan’s home looked like “something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.”
Gough also told the jury that Bryan did not arm himself before getting into his pickup truck and pursuing Arbery. He said Bryan followed Arbery to document his path for the police.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Jason Secrist testified Friday that Bryan “minimized” his involvement in the events leading up to Arbery’s death by changing “the descriptive words” he used between an initial interview with Glynn County Police and an interview with Secrist months later.
Gough said Wednesday that if Bryan wanted to minimize his involvement, he would have gotten rid of his cellphone and the video, which he called “key evidence in the case.”
“Mr. Bryan is the reason we have that evidence,” he said.
Gough’s opening statement came a day after the state rested its case. Prosecutors called 23 witnesses over eight days to support their argument that Arbery was attacked by men who had no way of knowing if he had committed a crime.