LIVE UPDATES: Man who fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery testifies at trial

Travis McMichael, center, listens to his attorney Bob Rubin, right, during his trial in the Glynn County Courthouse, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and William "Roddie" Bryan are charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool)
Caption
Travis McMichael, center, listens to his attorney Bob Rubin, right, during his trial in the Glynn County Courthouse, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and William "Roddie" Bryan are charged with the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

The trial related to the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery stretches into its ninth day on Wednesday, with the attorneys defending the three men accused of murder in his death making their case.

Travis McMichael, the man who fired the shots that killed Arbery, took the stand on Wednesday as the defense team’s first witness. McMichael, his father Greg McMichael, and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, face murder and other charges in the Feb. 23, 2020 shooting of the 25-year-old in the Satilla Shores neighborhood outside Brunswick. The three men contend they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest because they suspected Arbery of entering English’s vacant home following a string of neighborhood break-ins. State prosecutors have said while Arbery was seen inside the unsecured home on several occasions, he never stole anything or damaged any property.

The state on Tuesday rested its case in chief after calling upon 23 witnesses to testify. Among the witnesses were numerous police officers who responded to the scene of the shooting and GBI agents who investigated Arbery’s death.

Kevin Gough, the attorney defending Bryan, gave his opening statement on Wednesday, having deferred until after the state had presented its evidence.

WARNING: Viewer discretion advised.

Here is the latest from the courtroom in Glynn County:

[5:05 p.m.]: Court is in recess for the day. Cross-examination of Travis McMichael will continue at 9 a.m. Thursday.

[4:58 p.m.]: McMichael says he doesn’t remember exactly what he told police during his interview.

“This was two hours after the most traumatic experience of my life,” McMichael says.

[4:55 p.m.]: Dunikoski has provided McMichael with a transcript of the interview he gave to police shortly after Arbery was fatally shot.

[4:48 p.m.]: McMichael tells the state prosecutor his goal on Feb. 23 was to help police to identify the man who had been seen breaking into the house at 220 Satilla Drive.

[4:48 p.m.]: Dunikoski then asks McMichael about the events of Feb. 23, 2020. He says his father ran into the house saying the man who had been breaking into the house down the street was running down the road.

“I want to be real clear, he didn’t say that he’d seen him breaking into the house?” she asks.

“No,” McMichael replies.

[4:39 p.m.]: Dunikoski asks McMichael about the interaction he had with the homeless man who was staying under the Fancy Bluff Creek bridge. She notes that McMichael did not display his gun to the homeless man.

She then asks about McMichael’s time in the Coast Guard.

“You learned in the military that you can’t force people to speak with you?” Dunikoski asks.

“Correct.”

“And if someone walks away, you have to let them walk away?”

“Yes.”

“In fact, you were trained that displaying a weapon may be considered ‘psychological coercion’ which is prohibited by the courts and, as a law enforcement, may be grounds for suppressing evidence? Is that what you were taught?” Dunikoski asks.

“Under certain situations, yes ma’am,” McMichael responds.

“In addition, you were also taught that the best weapon retention technique is to not let your weapon be accessible to anyone, correct?”

“Under certain situations, yes ma’am,” McMichael responds.

[4:33 p.m.]: Dunikoski introduces herself to McMichael and asks: “You just testified under oath that you’re not going to chase or investigate someone who is armed, correct?”

McMichael confirms.

“And 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?”

“Yes,” he replies.

Dunikoski asks several questions about the crime in the neighborhood, pointing out that of all the 911 calls that had been made in 2019, only one was related to burglary and it was discovered to be a false alarm. She asks McMichael how he learned about the crime in the neighborhood, and he replies that he learned over Facebook and through his mother.

“So it’s fair to say you had incomplete information about who was committing the crime in Satilla Shores?”

“Yes,” McMichael says.

[4:31 p.m.]: Linda Dunikoski has begun cross-examining Travis McMichael.

[4:27 p.m.]: Court is back in session.

[4:02 p.m.]: McMichael describes the moments leading up to the fatal shooting. He says Arbery was “on me” almost immediately.

“He grabs the shotgun and I believe I was struck on that first instance that we made,” he says.

“What were you thinking at that moment?” Sheffield asks.

“I was thinking of my son,” McMichael says. “I know, it sounds weird, but it was the first thing, the first thing that hit me.” His voice breaks with emotion.

“What did you do?” Sheffield asks.

McMichael pauses, his cheeks growing red. He looks down at his hands, then back up at his attorney.

“I shot him.”

“Why?”

“He had my gun. He struck me. It was obvious that he was attacking me, that if would have got the shotgun from me that it was a life or death situation. And I’m going to have to stop him from doing this. So, I shot.”

“Did he stop when you shot him?” Sheffield asks.

“He did not.”

McMichael says he tried to free the gun from Arbery’s grasp using what he calls that “push-pull method.”

“When somebody’s got a weapon, you go to port arms and you push out and you pull down is what you’re taught,” McMichael says. “I was a stickler with it with everybody we trained.”

McMichael says he pushed but when he pulled, he was hit in the top of his head. He says he didn’t get the gun free.

“We were together. We were locked up. He was on that shotgun,” McMichael says.

McMichael says he was under the impression that he had fired two shots. He says he learned later that he had fired three times.

“I was still fighting,” McMichael says. “He was not relenting.”

McMichael, now red-faced, wipes tears from his eyes. The defense has passed the witness to the state.

The court has entered a 10-minute recess.

[3:55 p.m.]: McMichael says in his mind, there were places Arbery could have run to other than toward him.

“There’s yards. There’s a ditch,” he says.

When Sheffield asks why McMichael raised his shotgun, the defendant replies: “he was closing in.”

[3:49 p.m.]: Out of the corner of his eye, McMichael sees Arbery running. McMichael says Arbery was poised on his toes as if he were ready to bolt. Seconds later, McMichael realized that Arbery was running at him, he says.

Arbery runs away.

After that interaction, McMichael says he asked his father when the police were coming. His father replied that he didn’t have his phone on him.

The defendant says he retrieved his own phone and dialed 911 and gave the phone to his father. Then, he says, Arbery came back.

“As he’s running toward you in this moment, what are you thinking? " Sheffield asks.

“I’m pretty sure that he’s going to attack,” McMicheal says.

[3:43 p.m.]: McMichael says when he next saw Arbery, the man was running in his direction. He soon realized Arbery was being pursued by the black pickup truck he had seen earlier. Arbery seems to be interacting with the truck.

“My first thought was ‘why is he attacking a truck? Why is he hitting a truck?’” McMichael says.

[3:29 p.m.]: McMichael says he stopped his truck and went to secure his gun. His father climbed out of the car seat and into the bed of the truck.

McMichael says when he looked up, he saw a black pickup truck going by. He says he wasn’t sure who the truck belonged to, but it was following Arbery.

McMichael says he got back into his own truck. He says he heard his father shouting to “go down there” and began following Arbery once again.

“My goal is to let the police know where he’s at and just see where he’s going,” McMichael says.

He says he continued down the road trying to get his bearings. He adds he’s going 10 miles per hour due to his father being in the bed of the truck.

McMichael says he continued down the road and started driving toward the front of the neighborhood. He soon sees Arbery again.

[3:22 p.m.]: Sheffield says meanwhile, Roddie Bryan was outside of his own house observing the pursuit.

“Were you aware of Roddie Bryan at that moment?” Shefffield asks.

“No,” McMichael reponds.

Sheffield asks if McMichael had spoken to Bryan. The defendant again says no. When Sheffield asks if McMichael asked Bryan for any help, McMichael again says no.

[3:08 p.m.]: McMichael says Arbery seemed angry as he was following him down the road in his pickup truck.

“It wasn’t what I was expecting for just coming up and talking to him,” McMichael says. “He was angry. Clenched teeth. Raised brow. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all.”

McMichael says he tried repeatedly to ask Arbery what was going on and to stop running, but Arbery kept going.

[3:15 p.m.]: McMichael says he and his father climbed into his pickup truck. His father was “stuffed” into a carseat that was in the front of the truck.

McMichael says he began driving down the road “trying to find out what was going on, analyzing the situation, looking for whoever it was that ran by.” He says he asked his father if he had called the police, and his father replied “yes, yes.”

At a certain point, the McMichaels got closer to Arbery. Travis McMichael says he “recognized his haircut.”

The truck pulled up next to Arbery, McMichael says.

“At that moment, I recognized it is him. It is the same guy I saw on the 11th (of February),” McMichael says, adding that he told Arbery to stop.

“I’m trying to de-escalate. I know this can go any way, but I’m trying to figure out what’s going on,” McMichael says.

[3:08 p.m.]: Sheffield begins asking McMichael about where he was on Feb. 23, 2020. The man replies he was in the house trying to put his son down for a nap when his father ran in and started talking excitedly.

“He was moving pretty quick,” he says.

“He says ‘Travis, the guy that’s been breaking in down the road just ran by the house. Something’s happened,’” McMichael says.

McMichael says he came out of the house to see what was going on and saw Ahmaud Arbery running into the neighborhood. When he looked toward the home at 220 Satilla Drive, he saw his neighbor, Matt Albenze.

“When I saw Matt down the road, he saw me, and he pointed down the road,” McMichael says. McMichael says between what his father said, what he saw of Arbery, and what Albenze was doing, he felt it was “reasonable” to think that there had been a break-in at the house under construction.

McMichael says when his father came out of the house, they got into his truck. He says he put his shotgun between two seats with the muzzle touching the floorboards.

[3:04 p.m.]: The court is back in session. The jury is being brought back into the courtroom. Travis McMichael’s testimony will continue.

[2:45 p.m.]: The court has entered a 15-minute recess. Sheffield contends that upon their return, he will ask about the events of Feb. 23, 2020.

[2:39 p.m.]: McMichael says after the encounter at 220 Satilla Drive, he met with Officer Robert Rash from the Glynn County Police Department. He says other neighbors were there, including Matthew Albenze, who previously testified as a state’s witness.

ExploreNeighbor who called police on Arbery expresses regret

McMichael says Rash showed him a video of the man walking around inside the home. He says the man in the video seemed nonchalant and walked around the home calmly.

To McMichael, that was startling.

“I wouldn’t think anyone acting normal would do that, and someone who is willing to act like they have a gun ... is just, it just sets off the alarms for you,” McMichael says. “It’s just bold. It’s just very bold.”

[2:35 p.m.]: Sheffield plays a 911 call McMichael made on Feb. 11, 2020, shortly after he encountered the man now known as Ahmaud Arbery at 220 Satilla Drive.

McMichael says he was not sure if the person he had encountered was armed.

[2:20 p.m.]: McMichael says a handgun was stolen from his truck on Jan. 1, 2020. When he realized it was missing, he called 911 and reported the theft to the Glynn County Police Department.

McMichael says he was concerned that his gun was stolen.

“I don’t know who has the weapon,” he says. “I don’t know what they’re doing with the gun. They might harm themselves or harm someone else or use it in a crime.”

McMichael says the crime in Satilla Shores at this time was “steady.”

“At this point in January 2020, we have crime in the neighborhood, we’ve got suspicion in the neighborhood,” Sheffeild said. “Had that at all begun to narrow into a particular person.”

“It was starting to, yes,” McMichael says. “Having 220 constantly being broken into, and then they have videos of people.”

McMichael says people started to think the person responsible for the increase in crime was someone who had been captured on the video.

[2:19 p.m.]: McMichael says he had not personally talked to Larry English, the owner of the home under construction, about the thefts.

[2:17 p.m.]: Sheffield next asks McMichael about 220 Satilla Drive, the home that was under construction in the neighborhood. The defendant says he was aware that boating equipment had been stolen from the home.

[2:08 p.m.]: McMichael says he had learned that his neighbor’s purse had been stolen from her car in the Satilla Shores neighborhood. Days later, as he was returning from a fishing trip, he noticed a man living under a bridge over the nearby Fancy Bluff Creek. He says he went down to inspect the situation and saw the man had a machete or large knife.

He began speaking to the man and asked about the items that had been stolen, but the man said he had not had anything to do with it. McMichael says upon leaving, he and his father called a police non-emergency line to report the man.

McMichael says the man’s presence became relatively well-known in the neighborhood.

“It was always something that was on people’s mind,” he says. “You would see it on the Facebook page.”

[2:05 p.m.]: McMichael says while he was living in Pascagoula, Mississippi, he was the victim of an attempted robbery. He says he was outside a bank and saw two young men as he was going to an ATM. When he got to the ATM, one of them demanded his money.

McMichael says he lifted his shirt and displayed a handgun that was in his waistband, and both men ran away. McMichael says he was also the victim of an attempted carjacking, but fended off the would-be thief by pulling out a pistol.

[2:03 p.m.]: The jury is returning to the courtroom. The defense’s direct examination of Travis McMichael continues.

[1:59 p.m.]: The jury has been asked to leave the courtroom pending discussion between opposing counsels.

[1:50 p.m.]: McMichael says during his time in law enforcement, he only personally used the first level of response on the use of force continuum.

Sheffield asks if McMichael had any training in using a weapon to de-escalate a situation. McMichael says he was taught to have a weapon displayed, and if for any reason the weapon had to be drawn, deadly force may be authorized.

“If you’re going into a situation and you don’t know if someone is armed or if they have made threats or made threatening gestures, and you have a weapon holstered and they come towards you, which is closing the ‘attack triangle,’ you are authorized to draw that weapon,” he said. The “attack triangle” references the “subject’s actions, weapon and opportunity,” he said.

Sheffield asks if pointing a gun at someone can de-escalate the situation.

“If you pull a weapon on someone, for what I’ve learned in my training, that usually causes someone to back off or realize what’s happening,” McMichael says.

[1:38 p.m.]: McMichael says there is a continuum that officers use to determine what sort of force should be used during an interaction with a civilian.

The first of the six levels on the continuum is officer presence, he said. Levels two through five are verbal commands, control techniques, aggressive commands and intermediate tactics. The sixth level is deadly force, he said.

“You want to keep it as minimal as possible,” he said. “You don’t want it to escalate.”

McMichael says his team on the coast guard was required to undergo use-of-force training four times a year. He adds

“It was probably, minimal, once a week,” he said.

[1:32 p.m.]: Sheffield continues asking McMichael about his law enforcement experience. McMichael explains he was trained in probable cause and use of force.

[1:23 p.m.]: During his testimony, McMichael told his attorney that he and his family had discussed what he described as an increase in crime in the neighborhood. He said it was also a topic of discussion with other neighbors.

“They were concerned, so they weren’t going out as much anymore,” he said.

McMichael said he received law enforcement training at the Maritime Training Center while serving in the U.S. Coast Guard. He said he had some mechanical duties and did some search and rescue operations.

[1:16 p.m.]: Jason Sheffield opened McMichael’s testimony by asking if he wanted to testify.

“I wanted to get my side of the story. I wanted to explain what happened and say what happened from the way I see it,” McMichael said.

Sheffield then asks McMichael about the Satilla Shores neighborhood, where he lived with his parents and sister. He described it as a quiet neighborhood and said he moved into his family home in 2018. His 2-year-old son lived in the house with him every other weekend.

“Satilla Shores is an older community,” he said. “You have a lot of retirees but you’ve started to see younger families as well,” he said.

McMichael told his attorney that he started seeing crime increase in the neighborhood soon after he moved there in 2018.

“It started building up,” he said. McMichael notes that his handgun was stolen from out of his car, and later his car was broken into again.

“It got to the point where I would just leave the thing unlocked, because they broke the door handle and broke the glove box,” he said.

[1:10 p.m.]: Court has returned from recess. Travis McMichael has been called to the stand as the defense’s first witness. McMichael is the man who fired the shots that killed Ahmaud Arbery.

[12:11 p.m.]: Gough has completed his opening statement. The court is entering a recess for lunch.

[11:50 a.m.]: Gough says the video of Arbery’s shooting death “from the perspective of Roddie Bryan is not conspiracy. It’s chaos.”

[11:30 a.m.]: “I’m going to begin from Roddie Bryan’s perspective,” Gough said during his opening statement. He continued on, saying Bryan was working to repair his front porch on the morning of Feb. 23, 2020.

“This could be something out of a Norman Rockwell painting,” Gough said, referencing a photo of Bryan’s home. “There’s nothing menacing. There’s nothing dangerous.”

Gough said his client was not speaking or communicating with anyone at the time, but out of the corner of his eye, he saw “something was different.” He then saw Ahmaud Arbery running toward his home.

“The evidence does not show that Mr. Arbery reached out to Mr. Bryan,” Gough said.

Gough contends that that indicates that Arbery had “assumed the worst” about Bryan.

“Mr. Arbery has the opportunity, before Mr. Bryan even knows what’s going on, to say and speak out ‘help, call 911, there’s crazy people after me.’ That doesn’t happen,” Gough said.

Gough then said the evidence of Bryan trying to hit Arbery with his pickup truck is “non-existent.”

“The physical evidence is inconsistent with what is being presented to you in this case,” Gough said. “Context is key here. What does the evidence show?”

[11:26 a.m.]: The jury has been brought into the courtroom. Kevin Gough, who defends Bryan, has begun delivering his opening statement.

[11 a.m.]: Judge Walmsley has denied the motion for a directed verdict for the McMichaels, as well as a second motion for a directed verdict for William “Roddie” Bryan.

[9:09 a.m.]: Court is in session. Defense attorney Frank Hogue is arguing a motion for a directed verdict on behalf of his client, Greg McMichael, and his client’s son, Travis McMichael. State prosecutor Linda Dunikoski is asking Judge Timothy Walmsley, who is presiding over the case, to deny the motion.