Neighbor Says He Didn’t Tell Ahmaud Arbery’s Killers to Follow Him

Matthew Albenze, a neighbor of the McMichaels, said he never told the father and son to follow Ahmaud Arbery—and he deeply regrets what happened.
November 10, 2021, 7:42pm
Travis McMichael speaks to his attorney Robert Rubin during the trial for Ahmaud Arbery's shooting death at the Glynn County Courthouse on November 9, 2021 in Brunswick, Georgia.
Travis McMichael speaks to his attorney Robert Rubin during the trial for Ahmaud Arbery's shooting death at the Glynn County Courthouse on November 9, 2021, in Brunswick, Georgia. (Photo by Stephen B. Morton - Pool/Getty Images)

A neighbor of the men who chased down Ahmaud Arbery feels like he catalyzed the events that led to the 25-year-old Black man’s death—and he deeply regrets it. 

“I thought maybe if he hadn’t seen me, he wouldn’t have run away. I don’t know,” Matthew Albenze said, referring to Arbery running through his South Georgia neighborhood on the afternoon of February 23, 2020.

“And it still weighs heavy on your heart?” defense attorney Robert Rubin asked.

“Yes,” Albenze said.

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Albenze, the first non-law enforcement witness to take the stand in the murder trial, saw Arbery standing in front of a house under construction in Satilla Shores, where several burglaries had occurred earlier in 2020. Attorneys for Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory McMichael, say the two men saw their neighbor motion toward Arbery as he left the property and decided to follow him in their truck to conduct a “citizen’s arrest.” Minutes later—with their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan following in his vehicle—Travis would shoot and kill Arbery in what the trio of white men claim was self-defense. 

But Albenze testified Wednesday that he never signaled to the McMichaels. 

“At any point in time, did you call Greg or Travis McMichael?” Linda Dunikoski, the prosecutor representing the state of Georgia, asked Albenze.

“No,” Albenze said.

“Did you communicate with them in any way, shape, or form?”

“No,” Albenze said again.

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Albenze also didn’t think Arbery’s presence required a police response. In fact, he called a non-emergency line, instead of 911.

“Why didn’t you dial 911?” Dunikoski asked Albenze.

“I did not see an emergency,” Albenze said.

Albenze, however, did say he recognized Arbery from surveillance footage of people stopping by the property that the owner of the vacant house had shared with him, and he immediately decided to go into his home and collect his cellphone as well as a 9 mm pistol, which he placed in his pocket. 

During opening arguments, defense attorney Frank Hogue had argued that Albenze “conveyed a clear message” to the McMichaels: that Arbery was “the same guy” who stopped by the property before. 

“Speech occurs not only with the words that come from our mouths but the expressions on our face, the hand signals we give, many of which speak words,” Hogue said. “Matt Albenze who was walking up the street went like that [motioning a waving hand signal] to Travis and Greg.”

“He [Greg] walks out into the yard actually, and he sees Matt Albenze motioning down the street, the same direction Ahmaud Arbery was running in,” Rubin also added during opening statements.

At that moment, Albenze testified Wednesday that he was on the phone with the operator of the non-emergency line. He did motion in Arbery’s direction—but to no one in particular.

Minutes later, Albenze said he heard three gunshots. Hours later, Albenze said he saw police cars over by the home under construction. 

"I saw Mr. Arbery there, laying on the street. I saw Greg and Travis there,” he said. “I stopped and went home as it was kind of shocking, you know?"

The McMichaels and Bryan each face nine criminal charges, including murder, in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. They’ve all pleaded not guilty. If found guilty, they face up to life in prison.