Ahmaud Arbery did not threaten Travis McMichael or signal that he was armed in the moments before he was killed, but McMichael shot him dead during their struggle anyway, jurors in Glynn County court in Georgia heard Thursday.
“He didn’t threaten you in any way,” state prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said to McMichael during her cross-examination Thursday morning. “Didn’t verbally threaten you. Didn’t yell at you. Didn’t swear. Didn’t say anything. Didn’t pull out a gun. He turned around and ran away.”
“No,” McMichael responded to each of those questions.
Dunikowski repeatedly asked McMichael if Arbery did anything to threaten him, and each time McMichael said he hadn’t—that it was only the totality of the circumstances that led him to point his gun at Arbery and pull the trigger.
And Dunikowski wasn’t buying it.
“So you’re telling this jury that a man who has spent five minutes running away from you, you’re now thinking is somehow going to want to continue to engage with you, someone with a shotgun, and your father, a man who said, ‘Stop or I’ll blow your fucking head off,’ by trying to get in their truck?” Dunikowski asked.
“Yes, that’s what it shows, yes, ma’am,” McMichael responded.
McMichael, his father Gregory, and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., all white men, are each facing nine charges, including for murder, for chasing Arbery in their pickup trucks on Feb. 23, 2020, suspecting he’d burglarized a vacant home in their Brunswick, Georgia, neighborhood. The McMichaels eventually confronted Arbery, who was out for a jog, with Travis shooting him twice after a brief scuffle. If found guilty, each man could face life in prison.
Duniskoski spent three hours poking holes in McMichael’s recollection of the events that took place in the moments leading up to Arbery’s death, comparing the defendant’s testimony Wednesday to the statements he gave to police nearly two years ago.
For one, McMichael did not mention he and his dad were trying to carry out a citizen’s arrest in his oral statement and in his written statement to police, despite that being the crux of his defense.
McMichael also agreed with prosecutors that there were several moments that day where he could have gathered more information before chasing after Arbery. He could have made sure his dad called the police, or that neighbor Matt Albenze was signaling to him as he suspected. (Albenze testified last week he never did such a thing.)
McMichael could have also chosen not to engage Arbery at all, and instead tail him until police arrived.
Even in the seconds after pointing his gun at Arbery and before he’d pulled the trigger, McMichael decided to close in on Arbery instead of letting the 25-year-old Black jogger run away from the trucks that had been chasing after him.
Instead, McMichael made a series of assumptions, which prosecutors have been saying led to Arbery’s death since the first day of arguments.
McMichael’s testimony, which began on the ninth day of the murder trial, marked the first time any of the defendants involved in Arbery’s killing spoke publicly. On Wednesday, McMichael cried as he recounted the moment he shot Arbery twice with his shotgun. The defendant said he decided to testify so he could tell his side of the story.
“I want to explain what happened and to say what happened from the way I’d seen it,” McMichael told jurors.
As testimony continued inside Glynn County court Thursday, more than 100 Black pastors showed up outside in support of Arbery’s family. Organized by Rev. Al Sharpton, Ben Crump, Lee Merritt, and other civil rights leaders, the gathering was in response to defense attorney Kevin Gough’s comments in court last week requesting the judge ban Black pastors from the public gallery.
Sharpton told ABC News Thursday that Gough’s statements were outrageous, bigoted, and biased.
“I’ve been dealing in civil rights cases, racial violence cases for the last 35 years,” Sharpton said. “I’ve sat in many trials both as an observer or... as a minister. And I’ve never heard anyone say what he said, and the way that he said it.”
Thursday marked the final day of witness testimony. All three defense teams rested after calling several residents of Satilla Shores, the neighborhood where the McMichaels and Bryan lived at the time of the shooting, to the stand. Most of the witnesses spoke to the rash of property crimes that had escalated in the months prior to the Arbery shooting, giving jurors the general sense of unease in the neighborhood at the time.
The jury is expected to return to the courtroom Monday morning for closing arguments. Jury deliberations should get underway immediately after.