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Travis McMichael, man who shot Ahmaud Arbery, testifies in murder trial: "This was a life-or-death situation"

Man who shot Ahmaud Arbery testifies
Man who shot Ahmaud Arbery testifies 03:07

One day after the prosecution rested its case, one of the men charged in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery took the stand to testify. Travis McMichael, who shot Arbery in February 2020, walked the courtroom through his version of the minutes before the 25-year-old unarmed Black man was killed, calling it a "life-or-death situation."

McMichael said he was at his home with his son and his mother on February 23 when his father walked into the house and told him that a man they suspected of breaking into a house in their Georgia neighborhood earlier that month had just run past their house.

McMichael had previously told the court that on February 11 he saw someone "lurking" and "creeping" around his neighbor's house, which was under construction. McMichael had heard that some people were entering the house and that some things had been stolen. When McMichael went to confront this person, who he described as a Black man, the person appeared to reach into his waistband, leading McMichael to assume he may be armed. McMichael said he got back into his car and left the scene and the man entered the house. Surveillance video from the construction sight showed a man briefly walk through the house but not take anything.

McMichael said he wasn't sure the man his father saw on February 23 was the same he had seen a few weeks prior, but that he wanted to figure out what was going on. McMichael told the court on Tuesday 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. McMichael and his father, both of whom were armed, got into McMichael's white pickup truck. McMichael said he believed his father had called 911.

The pair spotted Arbery running down the road and identified him as the same person they'd seen at their neighbor's home. McMichael said they repeatedly pulled up parallel to Arbery and asked him to stop and talk.

But Arbery continued to run without saying a word to them, McMichael claimed. McMichael described him as looking angry, saying, "It made me think something's happened." McMichael was concerned Arbery may be armed because of the incident from a few weeks prior.

Travis McMichael takes the stand in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial on November 17, 2021.

After several attempts to talk to him and "deescalate" the situation, McMichael said, Arbery started running towards their truck. At that point, McMichael was standing next to his truck with the door open and Greg McMichael, his father, was in the back of the truck.

McMichael said he grabbed his shotgun and told Arbery to stop as he got nearer to the truck, fearing Arbery would attack his father or that he may be armed. But Arbery ran to the other side of the truck, McMichael said. Then, Arbery and McMichael met at the front of the truck and Arbery grabbed McMichael's shotgun, he said.

"It was obvious that he was attacking me," he said through tears, adding that it was a "life-or-death situation."

McMichael said he fired a shot but that Arbery did not stop. He then tried to push the shotgun toward Arbery and then back down to free the gun from his grip, but failed. McMichael added "I knew that he was on me" and was worried that if he tripped or something else happened Arbery would overpower him.

Ahmaud Arbery
Ahmaud Arbery Handout

McMichael said he fired again, but said Arbery was "still fighting" and "not relenting." After the third shot, Arbery "disengaged," let go of the gun and ran off. Arbery was shot three times, but McMichael said that at the time he thought he'd shot him twice.

McMichael and his father then ran over and realized that Arbery was dead, McMichael testified. At that time, the police  —  who McMichael said he'd called just prior to Arbery approaching his truck — had arrived at the scene.

With authorities at the scene, McMichael said he put his shotgun down and "after that it was a blur."

McMichael, 35, is on trial alongside of his 65-year-old father and their neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, 51. All three are charged with murder and other crimes, including federal hate crimes. They have pleaded not guilty.

Since they were charged last year, the McMichaels have maintained that they believed Arbery was the burglary suspect who had been stealing items from the neighborhood in the months prior to the shooting, leaving the community "on edge." Travis McMichael's defense attorney, Jason Sheffield, has argued 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. Governor Brian Kemp repealed the Civil War-era law in the wake of Arbery's death. The defense has argued that Travis McMichael shot Arbery in self-defense when Arbery attacked him.

Arbery's family, however, believes he was gunned down because of his race. Bryan, who joined in the chase and filmed the shooting with his cellphone, told investigators Travis McMichael used a racial slur as Arbery lay dying.

Prosecutors have not contested that Arbery went inside the home under construction in the McMichaels' neighborhood four times, including on the day of the fatal pursuit. But they said there is no evidence Arbery stole anything. In court last spring, Cobb County senior assistant district attorney Linda Dunikoski argued the defendants falsely imprisoned Arbery and weren't legally allowed to make a citizen's arrest because they didn't witness Arbery committing a crime.

The prosecution is scheduled to continue its cross-examination of McMichael on Thursday morning.

Erin Donaghue contributed reporting.

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