Judge finds probable cause against 3 suspects in Ahmaud Arbery case

The cases against three murder suspects have been bound over to Superior Court after an all-day hearing in Glynn County
From left, Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William Bryan have been charged with murder in the death of Ahmaud Arbery. (Photos: Glynn County jail)

Credit: Glynn County Jail

Credit: Glynn County Jail

From left, Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William Bryan have been charged with murder in the death of Ahmaud Arbery. (Photos: Glynn County jail)

The three men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery are scheduled for probable cause hearings in Brunswick today amid nationwide protests over the killing of another unarmed black man — George Floyd — in Minneapolis.

Travis and Greg McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan have each been charged with felony murder in the Arbery case, which has drawn national attention and sparked demonstrations. Because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, the McMichaels and Bryan will appear by video for their hearings from the Glynn County Detention Center.

Greg McMichael told police he suspected Arbery, 25, of committing break-ins. A video Bryan shot shows Travis McMichael briefly tussling with Arbery in the Satilla Shores neighborhood before firing three shots at him. Family and friends say Arbery was an avid runner who was out for a jog. The McMichaels and Bryan are white. Arbery was black.

In-Depth: Ahmaud Arbery case suspects due in court today

Protests are expected in Brunswick throughout the day. Similar demonstrations have rocked cities across the country in the wake of a video showing Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody. In the video, an officer is seen pinning Floyd to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Two autopsies released Monday say Floyd’s death was a homicide.

Photos: Ahmaud Arbery probable cause hearing and protests

Stay here for minute-by-minute updates on Thursday’s events from inside and outside the Glynn County courthouse, where a team of Atlanta Journal-Constitution journalists is on the scene.

4:27 p.m.: Judge says all three cases will be bound over to Superior Court. The hearing has concluded.

4:23 p.m.: Evans disputes a defense attorney's claim that any American would have done the same thing in trying to stop Arbery. "Any American would pick up the phone and call 911," Evans said.

4:20 p.m.: Prosecutor Evans says that there is no evidence that the three suspects saw anything to authorize them to gun down Arbery.

4:10 p.m.: The defense attorneys for all three suspects are asking that the charges be dismissed. Jason Sheffield, an attorney representing Travis McMichael, says he acted in self-defense.

4:07 p.m.: Dial is stepping down from the witness stand. Closing arguments will begin next.

3:59 p.m.: During cross-examination by prosecutor Jesse Evans, Dial says the entire incident involving Arbery last roughly 7 minutes.

3:58 p.m.: Gough has wrapped up questioning.

3:53 p.m.: Dial says Bryan was charged with murder because he contributed to the death of Arbery by attempting to block him..

3:43 p.m.: Dial testifies that Bryan said he tried numerous times to stop Arbery when he saw him in the neighborhood.

3:25 p.m.: Dial says Bryan has cooperated with the investigation and invited GBI agents to his home and offered security camera footage.

3:21 p.m.: Dial testifies that there is no evidence that Bryan was armed.

3:13 p.m.: Dial says Bryan found various racist comments during a search of his cellphone and on his social media posts. Dial said he had never before come across some of the racist terms Bryan used.

3:10 p.m.: Kevin Gough, the attorney for William "Roddie" Bryan, is now questioning Dial.

2:54 p.m.: Dial testifies that when Gregory McMichael is interviewed by an officer at the scene, he said he would have shot Arbery if he had wrestled the gun away from Travis. "Greg said Travis had no choice but to shoot him," Dial testified.

2:42 p.m.: Attorney Franklin Hogue, who is representing Gregory McMichael, is questioning Dial about the wording in the arrest warrants.

2:31 p.m.: The hearing has resumed. GBI Special Agent Dial is back on the witness stand.

2:24 p.m.: The judge has announced the recess will be extended an additional 15 minutes.

1:45 p.m.: Outside the courthouse, Attorney Lee Merritt takes questions from the media following a break in the proceedings. Lee mentioned that Ahmaud's mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, left the proceedings early because some of the information being brought up was upsetting to her.

The family was aware that it had been alleged that Travis McMichael had used a racial epithet after shooting Arbery, Merritt said.

“It was still very difficult to hear in the context of this prolonged chase - this hunt - that after he successfully murdered Ahmaud Arbery he stood over his body and proclaimed a racial epithet like that.”

Merritt also said that Dial’s testimony undermines the argument that the McMichaels acted in self defense. Dial contradicted Greg McMichael’s statement to police that the first shot by his son Travis McMichael was to Arbery’s hand.

“The first shot was to the chest - what that indicates to us was that was nit a defensive shot, it was an offensive shot,” Merritt said. “He planned to kill Ahmaud Arbery by shooting him body center mass in the chest.

“It wasn’t in response to an assault on him. It helps us establish the intent requisite for murder.”

Merritt also said that Jones believed that the defense attorney had taken shots at her son’s memory that had nothing to do with anything relevant to this case

“Mr. Arbery’s mental health, his kindergarten records, has high school basketball records, his football stats had nothing to do with this trial and was inappropriate in this case.”

1:08 p.m.: The judge announces the court will be in recess until 2:15 p.m.

1:04 p.m.: Sheffield asks Dial to explain the aggravated assault charge against Travis McMichael. Dial: The charge stems from Travis McMichael pointing his shotgun at Arbery. Under questioning from Sheffield, Dial says Travis McMichael told Arbery to stop and to get on the ground before he shot him.

12:59 p.m.: Dial on Arbery: "He ran until he could not anymore... When he felt like he could not escape, he chose to fight."

12:57 p.m.: Sheffield asks if Travis McMichael told police that Arbery placed his hands on Travis McMichael's gun prior to him shooting it the first time. Dial: No. "He was very inconsistent about what occurred during that time frame."

12:53 p.m.: Dial: Travis McMichael said that as Arbery was coming at him he could tell he "was going to fight."

12:46 p.m.: Dial: Bryan told police that when he saw Arbery and pursued him he asked Travis McMichael, "Do you got him?" Arbery stepped into a ditch to avoid the trucks pursuing him.

12:45 p.m.: Ahmaud Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, leaves the courtroom. Bystanders cheer, some yelling, "We love you Wanda."

   Bystanders cheer, some yelling, “We love you Wanda,” as Ahmaud Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, left, is led out the Glynn County Courthouse by attorney Lee Merritt.

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12:38 p.m.: Sheffield: Was Arbery trying to use Bryan's truck to flee? Dial: He was trying to escape.

12:37 p.m. Dial: Bryan said he observed Arbery apparently trying to get into his truck at one point during the pursuit. Dial: "I would say he is trying to get away."

12:31 p.m.: Sheffield questions Dial on his assertion that Arbery was trying to run away from Bryan's truck. Dial: "He is trying to escape the truck."

12:23 p.m.: Sheffield: Larry English told Greg McMichael that he had thousands of dollars in fishing and electronic equipment stolen from his boat before the McMichaels pursued Arbery in the neighborhood.

12:19 p.m.: Sheffield asks Dial to look at the magnified photo of the Satilla Shores neighborhood.

12:17 p.m.: Outside the courthouse, Kaisha Givens and others chant: "Hands up, Don't shoot."

Kaisha Givens, center, 33, kneels as she and others chant “Hands up, Don’t shoot” outside of the Glynn County Courthouse.

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12:15 p.m.: Judge: The court hearing will continue until a break at 1 p.m.

12:12 p.m.: Sheffield is asking whether the McMichaels were acting in self defense. Dial: Travis McMichael said that after shooting Arbery once Arbery struck him. Dial said he did not spot any visible injuries on Travis McMichael.

12:10 p.m.: Sheffield: Was Arbery's mental illness still being treated in February? Dial: He was not currently under treatment then.

12:08 p.m. Sheffield is asking about Arbery's "mental history." Dial: Arbery had been diagnosed with a mental illness that caused hallucinations.

12:04 p.m.: Travis McMichael's attorney is asking Dial whether the McMichaels were attempting to act under a citizen's arrest law.

12:02 p.m.: Dial: Travis McMichael was concerned Arbery had a firearm because he said he saw Arbery "grabbing his pants, his pocket."

Noon: Dial referring to the McMichaels pursuing Arbery: "They decided he was someplace he wasn't supposed to be and they were trying to catch him."

11:57 a.m.:  Dial: Travis McMichael chose not to talk to Dial. Though Travis McMichael told Glynn County police burglaries had happened in the neighborhood in the previous six months.

11:54 a.m.: Dial: Arbery previously entered the home under construction.

11:52 a.m. Dial: Travis McMichael has used the N-word many other times. He once said he loved his job because he was on a boat and there were not any N-words anywhere.

11:50 a.m.: Dial said he looked into Travis McMichael's background, obtaining his U.S. Coast Guard training records. McMichael told the police that he could tell from 30 to 40 yards away that Arbery was "not going to surrender and would keep coming."

11:45 a.m.: Dial said he learned on May 13 that Travis McMichael had said: Expletive N-word at the crime scene.

11:42 a.m.: Dial: Arbery had previously run through the Satilla Shores neighborhood, according to neighbors.

11:38 a.m.: Dial: Arbery did not take anything from the house under construction.

11:34 a.m.: Jason Sheffield, an attorney representing Travis McMichael, is questioning Dial.

11:20 a.m. The hearing has resumed.

10:46 a.m.: Evans is done asking Dial questions. The judge calls for a 15-minute break.

10:43 a.m.: Dial: Travis McMichael said at the crime scene after the fatal shooting and before the police arrived, according to Bryan: Expletive N-word.

10:42 a.m.: Outside the courthouse, Christian Goree, a member of the Brunswick NAACP and founder of the Build a Man Project, chants: "No bond."

Outside the courthouse, Christian Goree, a member of the Brunswick NAACP and founder of the Build a Man Project, chants: “No bond.”

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10:38 a.m.: Dial: Greg McMichael said he heard only two shots. He may not have heard the first shot. He was on the phone calling 911 at that moment. Greg McMichael told his son, Travis, not to shoot. Travis McMichael admitted to firing his shotgun three times, hitting Arbery each time. Bryan admitted to pursuing Arbery and trying to block and detain Arbery several times.

10:27 a.m.: Evans is holding a magnified photo of the Satilla Shores neighborhood as Dial describes the sequence of events, using a pointer.

Jesse Evans, a prosecutor with the Cobb County District Attorney’s Office, shows a magnified photo of the neighborhood where Ahmaud Arbery was fatally shot.

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10:20 a.m.: Dial: Arbery was shot in the center of the chest and upper left portion of his chest and his right wrist. Three spent shells from a shotgun were recovered at the scene. Travis McMichael told authorities he fired his shotgun.

10:19 a.m.: Demonstrators are lingering outside the courthouse.

Joy Graves holds a sign outside of the Glynn County Courthouse as the preliminary preceding take place inside, Thursday, June 4, 2020. Graves says she feels anxious about the proceedings.

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10:16 a.m.: Dial: Arbery is caught between the McMichaels' and Bryan's trucks. Bryan picks up the phone and holds it up to videotape Arbery. Travis McMichael is holding a firearm. Arbery runs and sees McMichael and then changes directions to go around the truck. A shot rings out. Travis McMichael and Arbery get involved in a struggle. Arbery strikes Travis McMichael. Two more shots are fired. Arbery falls.

10:11 a.m.: Dial: Bryan turns on his cellphone camera to videotape Arbery. The video shows Arbery trying to evade Bryan's truck. At one point, Bryan's truck made contact with Arbery.

10:09 a.m.: Dial: Arbery goes around Bryan's truck. Bryan tries several more times to block Arbery with his truck. Arbery kept jumping out of the way and tried to leave the neighborhood. Bryan then pursued Arbery down the road.

10:08 a.m.: Dial: At one point, Arbery runs a different direction in an attempt to avoid the McMichaels. Travis McMichael gets out of the truck to confront him. Bryan pulls out of his driveway and then tries to block Arbery in.

10:06 a.m.: Dial: Bryan did not call 911.

10:05 a.m.: Dial: Bryan is outside his residence and has a video camera. Arbery is trying to get away from the McMichaels. Bryan then gets into his truck with the intention of assisting with the pursuit of Arbery.

10:03 a.m.: Dial: Without calling 911, the McMichaels get firearms and climb into a pickup truck, heading toward Arbery.

10:01 a.m.:  Dial: Arbery came out of the home under construction, without taking anything, and ran down the street.

10 a.m.: Dial: Investigators have multiple videos showing the events of the day Arbery was shot.

9:57 a.m.:  Jesse Evans of the Cobb County District Attorney's office has begun questioning his first witness, Special Agent Richard Dial of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Dial: Other people visited the house under construction in the neighborhood where Arbery was fatally shot. He added that Arbery, who walked through the house, did not take anything from it, though some kids took pieces of wood from it.

Special Agent Richard Dial of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation

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9:49 a.m.: Some calls are emerging in the crowd outside the courthouse for violence if bond is granted. Others responded, "No, No."  Some are complaining the magistrate doesn't have authority to hear this case because it includes the possibility of life imprisonment.

9:39 a.m.: Travis and Greg McMichael are now appearing by video link from the Glynn County Detention Center. Travis McMichael is wearing a long-sleeved, striped shirt. His father is in a coat and tie. Both are wearing masks.

9:38 a.m.: The attorneys for the defendants have approached the judge for a private discussion.

9:30 a.m.: The probable cause hearings have begun. Many of those in the courtrooms are wearing masks in keeping with precautions for fighting the spread of the coronavirus disease.

9:27 a.m.: The crowd is growing outside the Brunswick courthouse.

9:10 a.m.: Joy Graves, Shirley Benson and Patricia Fields from Waycross have showed up outside the Glynn County Courthouse in support of Arbery. Graves: "We're just here for justice — Ahmaud could have been one of our sons."

Joy Graves, Shirley Benson and Patricia Fields from Waycross have showed up outside the Glynn County Courthouse in support of Arbery. Graves: "We're just here for justice — Ahmaud could have been one of our sons."

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9:07 a.m.:  Arbery's supporters are calling for people to show up for a peaceful protest at 5 p.m. at Piedmont Park in Atlanta today, despite the forecast for rain.