(CN) — One of the three white Georgia men charged with the fatal shooting of Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery “minimized” his involvement in the killing during state investigators’ questioning, an agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation testified Friday during the sixth day of the murder trial.
GBI agent Jason Seacrist told jurors that the answers he got from William “Roddie” Bryan during two May 2020 interviews were very different than the answers Bryan gave to county police who questioned him on the day of the February 2020 shooting.
Bryan, along with Travis McMichael and his father Greg McMichael, have all pleaded not guilty to charges including murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment.
The three men pursued Arbery in their pick-up trucks after spotting him jogging through their coastal Georgia neighborhood last February. Bryan used his phone to film the chase, which ended with Travis McMichael fatally shooting Arbery twice with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Seacrist said Friday that Bryan “changed the descriptive words” he used to describe his involvement in the chase and the moments leading to Arbery’s death.
“His choice of words changed drastically from the point of the Glynn County [police] interview to the point of his interview with me,” Seacrist said.
The defendants were interviewed by county police on the day of the shooting but no one was arrested. All three men were charged days after the video of the shooting leaked and the GBI took over the case.
According to testimony on Monday from Ricky Minshew, a former patrol officer for the Glynn County police department and the first officer on the scene of the shooting, Bryan admitted to trying to use his truck to “block in” and “corner” Arbery five times.
Minshew said Bryan told him, “I’d cut him off pretty good.”
Glynn County criminal investigator Stephan Lowrey testified Wednesday that Bryan also told him he tried to use his truck to corner Arbery. Lowrey told the jury that Bryan said: “I didn’t hit him. Wish I would have. Might have took him out and not get him shot.”
But on Friday, Seacrist said Bryan never said he tried to corner Arbery with his pickup truck. Instead, Bryan said he “angled” his vehicle toward Arbery so he could “see” and take a photo of him.
When Seacrist confronted Bryan with the discrepancies in his statements, Bryan told him, “I figured if I slowed him down and got a picture than maybe something would happen other than him just get away.”
Reading the transcript of his interview with Bryan, Seacrist said the defendant told him he joined the chase “just to go see what was going on, if anything needed to be done, if I could help.”
“I figured he had done something wrong. I didn’t know for sure,” Bryan told the agent.
Asked by Seacrist why he thought Arbery had done something wrong, Bryan said, “It was just instinct, man. I don’t know.”
“His statements to the Glynn County police department were more direct in his involvement to corral and box in Mr. Arbery during the event,” Seacrist said. “His statements to me minimized his involvement in that process that led to Mr. Arbery’s death.”
The defense team has repeatedly invoked the image of what Bryan’s attorney Kevin Gough described Friday as a “neighborhood on edge” and argued that the three defendants were merely acting to protect against a rash of recent criminal activity.
But Seacrist said Bryan could not point to any specific incidents of theft in the area when asked.
Jurors also heard testimony Friday from Glynn County police officer Robert Rash, who responded to trespassing calls at a nearby unfinished home owned by Larry English.
English sent Rash security videos of a man later identified as Arbery trespassing on his property several times between October 2019 and the day of the shooting.
Rash said if he had ever met Arbery, his intent would have been to identify him and warn him not to return to the property. The officer said he had no evidence Arbery ever stole anything from the unfinished house.
Rash enlisted the help of Greg McMichael, who lived nearby, to keep an eye out for the trespasser.
The officer testified that he knew McMichael and thought he could be an “expert witness” to call 911 based on his law enforcement experience. Rash said he believed McMichael, who is a retired investigator for the local district attorney, would be able to give police a good description of the intruder.
Rash passed McMichael’s phone number along to English, telling English in a text message to call McMichael “day or night when you get action on your [security] camera.”
Asked by prosecutor Linda Dunikoski whether he meant to “deputize” McMichael when he sent the text to English, Rash said, “No, ma’am. Never.”
The defendants have argued that they planned to detain Arbery under Georgia’s now-repealed citizen’s arrest law, claiming that they believed Arbery was responsible for burglaries in the area.
An officer who interviewed McMichael at the crime scene testified Tuesday that when Greg McMichael saw Arbery running through the neighborhood last February, he recognized him from the security footage and immediately ran to his bedroom to get his .357 Magnum.
Audio of the 911 call McMichael placed while he chased Arbery was played for the jury Wednesday. He can be heard saying, “There’s a Black male running down the street. … Stop right there, damn it, stop!”
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