(CN) — The Georgia man who fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery took the stand Wednesday, growing red-faced and eventually tearful as he told jurors that he was locked in a “life or death” struggle for control of his shotgun with the 25-year-old jogger.
Travis McMichael testified for more than three hours on the ninth day of the murder trial, his voice shaking as he walked jurors through the moments before he fired the shots that killed Arbery.
“He had my gun. He struck me,” McMichael said. “It was obvious he was attacking me, that if he would have gotten the shotgun from me then this was a life or death situation and I’m going to have to stop him from doing this so I shot.”
McMichael said he was acting in self-defense. “I shot again because I was still fighting. He was still all over me and he was not relenting,” he testified.
McMichael is one of three defendants, along with his father Greg McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, charged with murder, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment in connection with Arbery’s death.
The three white men chased Arbery, who was Black, in their pickup trucks after they saw him jogging through their coastal Georgia neighborhood last February. McMichael fired three shotgun blasts at Arbery as the two men grappled for control of the gun, hitting him twice.
Arbery, who was unarmed, died at the scene. The defendants have all pleaded not guilty.
McMichael is the first witness called by defense attorneys after the prosecution rested its case Tuesday. The defense team has argued throughout the trial that their clients acted out of concerns about burglaries in their neighborhood and only intended to detain Arbery under Georgia’s now-repealed citizen’s arrest law.
Prosecutors have argued that the men cornered Arbery and left him no choice but to fight.
McMichael testified Wednesday that on the day of the shooting he was in the living room of his parents’ home when his dad came in “almost in a frantic state” and told him to “get your gun.”
Greg McMichael told him that he had seen Arbery run by the house and believed Arbery was the same man who had been spotted several times walking around inside a nearby unfinished home. Their intention, McMichael said, was to follow Arbery until police could arrive.
During cross-examination, McMichael told prosecutor Linda Dunikoski that he assumed something had happened at the unfinished home based on his father’s reaction but he did not know for sure.
McMichael grabbed his Remington 12-gauge shotgun, got in his pickup truck with Greg McMichael, and tracked Arbery down as he ran on the side of the road. Bryan also joined the pursuit in his own truck.
Bryan later told police that he tried to use his truck to “corner” and “block in” Arbery five times.
McMichael testified that he pulled his truck alongside Arbery and asked him to stop, telling jurors he was trying to “de-escalate” the situation.
“I say, ‘Stop for a minute, stop please, stop.’ I’m trying to keep this as non-volatile as possible,” Travis said, adding that Arbery looked “very angry” and had his teeth clenched.
He testified that Arbery did not stop and never said anything to him.
“It made me think something’s happened,” McMichael said.
After several minutes, McMichael stopped the truck and got out. He told jurors he called 911 on his phone, handed the phone to his father and then grabbed his gun when he saw Arbery running at him.
Asked by his attorney Jason Sheffield whether pointing a gun at someone can de-escalate a situation, McMichael said his training in the U.S. Coast Guard taught him that “if you pull a weapon on someone … that usually causes someone to back off or realize what’s happening.”
But McMichael said Arbery continued to advance on him and was "on me" almost immediately.
When Sheffield asked what happened next, McMichael said, “I shot.”
McMichael fired a second shot but said Arbery was still “fighting” and “overpowering me.” A medical examiner testified Tuesday that the second shot missed Arbery.
After the third shot, Arbery let go of the gun and stumbled away before collapsing to the asphalt. Once he realized Arbery was dead, McMichael said he put his shotgun down on the ground and “after that, it was a blur.”
Video of the shooting was recorded by Bryan, who shared it with police who arrived at the scene less than a minute after Arbery fell to the ground.
During opening statements Wednesday, Bryan’s attorney Kevin Gough told jurors that Bryan never wanted to harm Arbery and never denied his involvement in the pursuit. Bryan was trying to act as a witness to the shooting rather than a participant when he filmed Arbery’s death, Gough has argued.
The prosecution’s cross-examination of McMichael is expected to continue Thursday morning.
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