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Defense rests in trial over killing of Ahmaud Arbery

Closing arguments in the case will begin Monday.

(CN) — After just two days of testimony, the defense rested its case Thursday afternoon in the Georgia trial of three white men charged with Ahmaud Arbery’s fatal shooting.

The panel of jurors – 11 white and one Black – were dismissed and asked to return Monday to hear closing arguments.

The defense’s case focused primarily on testimony from one of the defendants, Travis McMichael, who took the stand for nearly five hours across the two days.

McMichael, along with his father Greg McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, have been charged with murder, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment for chasing Arbery, who was Black, in their pickup trucks as he jogged through their coastal Georgia neighborhood last February.

Bryan filmed the chase on his phone, capturing the moment Travis McMichael fired three shotgun blasts at Arbery as the men grappled for control of the gun. Arbery died at the scene from injuries caused by two of the gunshots.

Attorneys for the defense have argued that Travis McMichael acted in self-defense.

The younger McMichael testified Thursday that at the time he pointed his Remington 12-gauge shotgun at Arbery, the 25-year-old jogger had not spoken a word to him, showed him a weapon or verbally threatened him.

But McMichael said he was still “under the impression” that Arbery was a threat because the man was running at him. McMichael also testified that he saw Arbery “attacking” Bryan’s truck.

Bryan, who joined the McMichaels in pursuing Arbery using his own pick-up truck, told police at the crime scene that he tried to use his vehicle to “corner” and “block in” Arbery five times.

During questioning by prosecutor Linda Dunikoski, McMichael said he felt he had “probable cause” to chase Arbery based on surveillance videos he had seen of the jogger walking around inside a nearby unfinished home and an interaction he had with Arbery 12 days before the shooting.

Bob Rubin, one of the attorneys representing McMichael, told jurors during opening statements that McMichael saw a man he later identified as Arbery “lurking in the shadows” outside the unfinished house. McMichael called 911 to report the incident, telling the dispatcher that he saw the man reach into his waistband or pocket for what might have been a gun.

McMichael said Thursday it was this incident, combined with “the totality of everything,” that caused him to chase Arbery.

Confronted by Dunikoski with discrepancies between his testimony and the statement he initially gave police, McMichael said he was nervous and under stress when he gave his police statement.

Dunikoski pointed out that McMichael never told police that he and his father were trying to make a citizen’s arrest on Arbery.

The argument that the defendants were merely trying to detain Arbery for police based on their suspicions that he had committed a burglary has become central to the defense.

McMichael said he was “scattered” and “mixed up” immediately after the shooting.

“I just killed a man. I had blood on me still. It was the most traumatic moment of my life. I was scared to death,” McMichael said. “It was horrible.”

The prosecutor also asked McMichael about “some of the things you chose not to do” on the day of the shooting.

“You could’ve just driven behind [Arbery] and not spoken to or confronted him at all,” Dunikoski said. “You could’ve let him go.”

McMichael said, “Yes.”

Asked by Dunikoski about his “attitudes toward vigilantism,” McMichael admitted that he responded to a Facebook post about local crime with the comment, “Arm up.”

McMichael acknowledged praising a woman on Facebook who said she felt the need “to make examples out of somebody if they steal stuff.” After his memory was refreshed by documents, McMichael admitted he replied to the woman: “That’s right, hope y’all catch the vermin.”

Before court adjourned for the day, jurors heard from six additional defense witnesses who live in the McMichaels' neighborhood. The testimony centered around their perception of crime in the area and a neighborhood Facebook page where people complained about crime.

While questioning resident Lindy Cofer, who said she had not been the victim of a crime since 1976, prosecutor Larissa Ollivierre asked, “Do you believe that someone stealing is deserving of the death penalty?”

The question garnered immediate objections from defense attorneys. Ollivierre withdrew the question and was admonished by the judge.

A motion for mistrial raised by Bryan's attorney Kevin Gough in response to the question – his fifth mistrial motion during the 10 days of testimony – was denied by the judge.

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