Arbery case: Defense seeks to exclude phone calls made by McMichaels

“No good deed goes unpunished,” says Greg McMichael

The defense on Thursday asked a judge to exclude thousands of hours of jailhouse phone calls made by the father and son charged with murder in the 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

Prosecutors have made it clear they intend to use select phone calls, including one in which Greg McMichael disputes the suggestion that race may have played a role in Arbery’s death, calling it “bull****.” Arbery was Black, while the defendants, including neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, are white.

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“You’ve heard the saying that no good deed goes unpunished?” McMichael said in a phone call to his brother.

“Yeah, that’s the shining example right there,” the brother responds.

The motion to exclude the phone calls was one of 12 argued by attorneys over the two-day hearing. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Oct. 18.

On Feb. 23, 2020, the McMichaels, in their pickup truck, pursued Arbery, who was on foot, through their Brunswick neighborhood. Bryan, who lived nearby, joined in the chase and at one point tried to block Arbery with his pickup.

Cornered, Arbery lunged at Travis McMichael, the son, who had his Remington shotgun trained on Arbery and fired three gunshots.

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Attorney Franklin Hogue, who represents Greg McMichael, said his client’s comment about good deeds going unpunished would be taken out of context by prosecutors.

“The state believes he is saying the good deed was killing Ahmaud Arbery, but that is not what he meant,” Hogue said. “He meant the good deed was patrolling his neighborhood and the punishment is him now being in jail charged with his death.”

Hogue argued that admitting the phone calls into evidence would violate his client’s right to due process.

“It’s not illegal activity to talk about your case with a family member,” he said.

The state countered that jail phone calls were a privilege, not a right.

Attorneys also resumed their debate over admitting Arbery’s mental health records. Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley says he will review them under seal to determine whether they should be used during the trial.

Attorney Jason Sheffield, representing Travis McMichael, argued Wednesday that Arbery’s mental illness “caused him to do and say and behave in very particularized ways.” Because of that, Arbery was the actual aggressor, Sheffield said, even though the McMichaels were armed and Arbery was not.

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski questioned the quality of Arbery’s diagnosis, noting it was made by a registered nurse following a two-hour assessment.

Arbery should have an expectation of privacy about those records, even in death, Dunikoski said.

The judge was also asked to decide whether evidence of Arbery’s past run-ins with law enforcement should be admissible. The defense says the information would give jurors a better read on Arbery’s mindset. The state says the defense’s interest lies more in smearing the victim’s name and reputation.

Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper Jones, attended the two-day hearing. Her lawyer, Lee Merritt, told reporters Thursday that “it’s been a difficult process, a draining process for the family.”