GBI: Arbery’s killer uttered racial epithet after firing fatal shots

Travis McMichael in court on June 4

Credit: WSB-TV

Credit: WSB-TV

Travis McMichael in court on June 4

Moments after Ahmaud Arbery collapsed to the ground, felled by three gunshots, his killer blurted out, “(expletive) N-word,” one of his co-defendants told the GBI.

Travis McMichael, 34, fired the fatal shots. William “Roddie” Bryan, who used his pick-up truck to help trap Arbery inside the Satilla Shores neighborhood on Feb. 23, said he overheard McMichael use the racial epithet, according to Rick Dial, the GBI’s lead investigator in the case.

That admission will almost certainly factor into the Justice Department’s decision whether to pursue federal hate crime charges against Arbery’s accused killers. Dial said there were other examples of Travis McMichael using the N-word, on social media and elsewhere.

Jason Sheffield, Travis McMichael’s co-counsel, noted Bryan didn’t tell law enforcement about the epithet until May 13 -- eight days before his arrest.

Dial, testifying Thursday at a probable cause hearing for the three defendants charged with Arbery’s murder, said the 25-year-old victim was killed after he was trapped a second time between the vehicles driven by Travis McMichael and Bryan, 50.

Arbery, according to Dial, was running toward  the McMichaels truck. Greg McMichael, Travis’ father, was in the bed of the pick-up; Travis McMichael was aiming his shotgun at Arbery from outside the driver’s side door.

Arbery changed direction and tried to pass the truck on the passenger’s side, where he encountered Travis McMichael again and, this time, “makes a decision to engage,” Dial testified.

Lead prosecutor Jesse Evans said Arbery was “chased, hunted down and ultimately executed.”

Greg McMichael, 64, told police at the scene he had advised his son not to shoot at Arbery, Dial testified.

The first shot hit him in the chest, according to Dial, who said Arbery’s white shirt was instantly soaked with blood.

He was shot two more times, near the left armpit and on the wrist.

Jason Sheffield, Travis McMichael’s co-counsel, said the McMichaels were responding to concerns from many in the neighborhood about a rash of burglaries.

Arbery had been identified as a prime suspect by the neighborhood, Sheffield said.

"They decided he was somewhere he shouldn't be and they decided to catch him,” Dial said.

Sheffield asked about Arbery’s mental health. Dial said Arbery had been diagnosed with a mental illness that manifested itself in “auditory hallucinations.”

At the time of his death, Arbery had stopped taking medication for his illness. Sheffield defended the relevance of that line of questioning, saying it could be the difference between self-defense and felony murder.

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