Travis McMichael testifies Ahmaud Arbery was "just running" and did not threaten him before fatal encounter
The defense has rested its case in the murder trial of the three men charged with killing Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia, last year. The judge told the jury they were free to go until Monday morning, when closing arguments are expected to begin.
Travis McMichael, the man who fired the fatal shots, spent several hours on the stand Thursday testifying in his own defense and answering questions from prosecutors.
McMichael, 35, is on trial alongside his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan. All three are charged with murder and other counts for the death of Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was jogging in the neighborhood in February 2020, The three defendants, who are all White, have separately been charged by the Justice Department with federal hate crimes. They have pleaded not guilty and claim they were acting in self-defense.
On cross examination, Cobb County senior assistant district attorney Linda Dunikoski questioned Travis McMichael about differences between his statement to police in the hours after the shooting and his explanation to the jury regarding details surrounding the chase leading up to Arbery's death.
"I just killed a man, I still had blood on me still. That was the most traumatic event of my life. I was scared to death," McMichael explained.
McMichael testified that he and his father pursued Arbery in their pickup truck because they thought he might have had something to do with burglaries in the neighborhood, though prosecutors said that was based on "assumptions — not on facts."
He acknowledged that when he pursued Arbery he did not see a firearm and that Arbery did not threaten him.
"He has not threatened you in any way, verbally or physically?" Dunikoski asked. "No ma'am," McMichael replied.
McMichael said he saw Arbery "just running" when they approached and said, "I want to talk to you."
He testified that when Arbery turned around, he reversed his truck to "go along with him." When Dunikoski asked if he had ordered Arbery to stop, he said, "I wouldn't say ordered, I was asking him," adding that he was trying to keep "the situation calm."
"All he's done is run away from you," Dunikoski said at one point. "And you pulled out a shotgun and pointed it at him."
McMichael first took the stand Wednesday, a day after the prosecution rested its case. He testified about his side of the story of the minutes before Arbery was killed, calling it a "life-or-death situation."
On direct examination from his legal team, McMichael explained that about two weeks before Arbery's death, he had seen a Black man "lurking" and "creeping" around a neighbor's house that was under construction, which he had heard had been the subject of burglaries. McMichael told the jury that on February 11, he went to confront this person, who appeared to reach into his waistband, which McMichael assumed meant he may be armed. McMichael said he got back into his car and left the scene and the man entered the house.
Then when his father saw Arbery on February 23, McMichael testified he wasn't sure it was the same person but that he wanted to figure out what was going on.
Surveillance footage does show Arbery inside the construction site on the date of the shooting but there's no evidence showing anything was taken. In court last spring, Dunikoski argued the defendants falsely imprisoned Arbery and weren't legally entitled to make a citizen's arrest because they didn't witness Arbery committing a crime.
McMichael told the court that when he went outside, one of his neighbors was pointing down the street, which he assumed meant that the man had run in that direction. He and his father, both of whom were armed, got into Travis McMichael's white pickup truck. He said he believed his father had called 911.
The pair spotted Arbery running down the road and McMichael said they repeatedly pulled up alongside him and asked him to stop and talk.
However, Arbery continued to run without saying a word to them, McMichael testified, adding that he looked "angry."
"It made me think something's happened," McMichael said.
McMichael said they tried to "deescalate" the situation, but that Arbery ran for their truck. McMichael said he grabbed his shotgun and told Arbery to stop as he got closer to the truck. But Arbery ran to the other side of the truck, McMichael said. The two met at the front of the truck and he said Arbery grabbed for McMichael's shotgun.
"It was obvious that he was attacking me," McMichael testified through tears, calling it a "life-or-death situation."
Jason Sheffield, Travis McMichael's defense attorney, has argued that the McMichaels had a right to pursue Arbery under Georgia's "citizen's arrest" law, which allowed citizens to detain people who had committed felonies, and that they had right to self-defense when Arbery attacked them. Governor Brian Kemp has since signed a repeal of the Civil War-era citizen's arrest law in the wake of Arbery's death.
Bryan, who joined in the chase and filmed the shooting with his cellphone, told investigators he heard Travis McMichael use a racial slur as Arbery lay dying, though McMichael has denied it.
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