BRUNSWICK, Georgia — Closing arguments in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial are expected to begin Monday following the defense resting its case Thursday.
Travis McMichael, who admitted to pulling the trigger on Arbery, testified Tuesday and Wednesday; his father, Greg McMichael, and neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, did not take the stand in their defense.
The three white men are accused of chasing and following Arbery, a Black man, for approximately five minutes throughout the Satilla Shores neighborhood Feb. 23, 2020.
Attorneys for the McMichaels said they were attempting to perform a citizen’s arrest on Arbery, who they’d seen on a surveillance video on several occasions entering a home under construction a few houses down at 220 Satilla Drive.
More than a handful of witnesses testified on behalf of the defense — all residents of the Satilla Shores neighborhood. They were questioned about concerns they’d had on thefts or suspicious persons in the neighborhood.
Resident Sube Lawrence testified that her three boys became afraid to play outside after hearing of car break-ins and suspicious persons in the neighborhood.
“It was kinda disappointing” that her children weren’t getting an opportunity to grow up in a safe neighborhood, Lawrence said, holding back tears.
Lawrence was an administrator of a Facebook page that residents in the neighborhood used to report crimes or incidents, or get ideas or recommendation for various services in the area, she said.
Several defense witnesses testified to learning of car break-ins or thefts that had occurred in the neighborhood through that Facebook page.
On one Facebook post on the page reporting a theft, resident Brooke Perez recalled asking if the suspect was a Black man, with short hair and tattoos on his arm — matching Arbery’s description.
Perez had recalled seeing a man fitting that description from surveillance video she’d seen from 220 Satilla Drive.
The man was seen on video surveillance on several occasions “plundering around,” homeowner Larry English previously testified. English also testified that other people had been seen on his surveillance camera on occasions, and while he did report tools missing from his boat on the property, no one is seen on surveillance leaving with any items.
On Feb. 11, Travis McMichael called police to report a Black man running into English’s doorless home. He told the 911 operator he was unsure if the man was armed, as he’d seen the man reach into his pocket before running into the home.
By the time police arrived, the man could not be found. An officer on the scene showed the McMichaels and others the man seen on video surveillance from inside the home, according to testimony.
During his testimony, Travis McMichael recalled his father running into their home Feb. 23, 2020 telling him to grab his gun, because “the guy that had broken into the house down the street” was running down the street.
The McMichaels grabbed their guns and followed Arbery to “try to hold him for the police and talk to him,” according to Travis McMichael’s testimony.
Travis McMichael said he attempted to get Arbery to stop at least three times.
Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, said during his opening statements Wednesday that Bryan was on his front porch minding his own business when Arbery ran by his house with the McMichaels following behind; Bryan “acted instinctively” when he got in his truck “unarmed” to help with what was taking place, Gough said.
In the final minutes of the pursuit, Bryan began recording Arbery in the event that he was able to get away, so police could identify him, Gough said.
Final seconds of the video captures Travis McMichael and Arbery tussling over Travis McMichael’s gun. Three shots were fired during the altercation — two of them striking Arbery. Arbery attempted to run after the third shot but falls dead in the street shortly after, as seen on Bryan’s video.
Travis McMichael said he was thinking about his young son when he decided to pull the trigger during the fight.
“[Arbery] was on that shotgun. … I knew that I was losing this,” McMichael explained. “If I would’ve lost grip on the shotgun I would’ve been shot. I don’t know what mechanics he was doing to overpower me.”
Prosecutors argued that no stolen items or weapons were found on Arbery at the time of his death and he had committed no crime to the defendants’ knowledge when they decided to pursue him to perform a citizen’s arrest.
Following Arbery's death, Georgia lawmakers weakened the state's citizen's arrest laws, which now prohibits bystanders from detaining anyone and from using deadly force. However, owners of retail and food service establishments are the only non-law enforcement personnel allowed to make citizen's arrests if there is suspicion of theft. Each state still has some form of citizen’s arrest laws.
The McMichaels and Bryan were not immediately arrested for Arbery's death. It wasn't until Bryan's video was made public and after protests ensued that the three men were charged in Glynn County Superior Court with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony in May 2020.
They are also federally charged with federal hate crimes — interference with rights and attempted kidnapping, alleging that the trio used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race.
The defense is planning to ask for a directed verdict Friday, arguing that the state's case failed to present sufficient evidence in the charges against the defendants.