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Defense fails to get black pastors banned from Ahmaud Arbery trial as 100 preachers prepare to rally

A group of 100 pastors plans to rally outside a Georgia courthouse in support of Ahmaud Arbery’s (pictured) family

The white man accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery returned to the witness stand Thursday after the defense failed again to block religious leaders from sitting in the courtroom. 

Accused gunman Travis McMichael, 35, recalled what he said was the most traumatic event of his life.

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski, during cross-examination, asked the defendant why he was nervous when he gave his statement at police headquarters following the February 2020 shooting.

‘I just killed a man. I had blood on me still. It was the most dramatic moment in my life,’ Travis McMichael told the jury. 

Attorney Kevin Gough, appearing for William ‘Roddie’ Bryan Jr, made a third attempt to convince Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley to ban black pastors and civil rights activists – previously claiming they could intimidating for the 11 white jurors on the panel.

‘The court has already ruled on the motion at least twice,’ Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said. ‘I’m looking in the gallery and I don’t even see the two individuals that, Mr. Gough, you have raised as issues and the court is not going to address this matter this morning.’ 

The bid came as 100 black pastors from across the United States are due to mass at the courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia around 11am – in response to Gough’s first incendiary attempt when he said ‘we don’t any more black pastors here’. 

A small group of faith leaders were spotted getting breakfast together at a local restaurant before court resumed Thursday. By 10am many of the black pastors were in the overflow room of the court, sitting quietly and watching the trial being livestreamed.

Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton have both attended the trial, sitting with Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones.  

Gough last week asked Walmsley to remove Sharpton from the court, citing similar reasonings. The judge refused, and later called Gough’s remarks ‘reprehensible.’  

Accused Travis McMichael, 35, was cross examined Thursday by prosecutor Linda Dunikoski after a dramatic previous day’s evidence when he broke down in court as he relived the moment that he said Arbery forced him to make a split-second ‘life-or-death’ decision by attacking him and grabbing his shotgun. 

Travis McMichael is accused with his ex-cop father Gregory McMichael, 65, and Bryan, 52 – who took the cell phone footage of Arbery’s death. They all deny malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. 

Judge Walmsley will decide on Thursday before the younger McMichael steps down from the witness stand whether a jury can hear from him about a racial slur officials say he uttered as Arbery lay dying on the pavement.

On Wednesday, McMichael’s attorney Jason Sheffield asked the court to prevent prosecutors from asking about the reported slur unless they could give a ‘good faith’ reason why it was relevant.  

Accused Travis McMichael now returns to the witness stand a day after testifying that Arbery forced him to make a split-second ‘life-or-death’ decision by attacking him and grabbing his shotgun

Walmsley will decide on Thursday before Travis McMichael steps down from the witness stand whether a jury can hear from him about a racial slur officials say he uttered as Arbery lay dying on the pavement

Walmsley will decide on Thursday before Travis McMichael steps down from the witness stand whether a jury can hear from him about a racial slur officials say he uttered as Arbery lay dying on the pavement

A small group of faith leaders were spotted getting breakfast together at a local restaurant before court resumed Thursday

A small group of faith leaders were spotted getting breakfast together at a local restaurant before court resumed Thursday

Travis McMichael, a former US Coast Guard petty officer, took the stand on day nine of the trial, telling jurors: ‘I want to give my side of the story.’

He said the deadly tussle began after Arbery grabbed the shotgun he was holding. Tearing up, he told the court: ‘I was thinking of my son. It sounds weird, but that’s the first thing that hit me.’

Travis McMichael confirmed he and father Gregory McMichael had followed Arbery in his white pick-up truck after suspecting him of being behind thefts in their neighborhood.

Arbery, 25, had switched back three times and the pair had interacted as Travis said he had repeatedly asked him to stop, at one point yelling.

Eventually Arbery went out of sight around a dogleg bend in the mainly-white community of Satilla Shores in Brunswick, Georgia, the court heard.

Travis McMichael parked his pick-up, with his father in the flatbed, telling jurors at that point he did not want to ‘escalate’ the situation. But just then Arbery ran back into sight and towards the younger McMichael, jurors heard.

He said: ‘He turns and he’s on me.. in a flash. He grabs the shotgun and I believe I was struck on that first instance that we made contact.

‘I shot him. He had my gun. It was a life or death situation.’ 

Travis McMichael then started to tear up as he said: ‘I was thinking of my son, it sounds weird but it’s the first thing…’ His voice tailed off as he fought back sobs.

Asked by his attorney Jason Sheffield what he did next, McMichael said: ‘I shot. He had my gun. He struck me. It was obvious that he was attacking me, that he would have got the shotgun from me, it’s a life or death situation.

‘I wanted to stop him from doing this so I shot.’ Asked if Arbery stopped when he was shot, McMichael replied: ‘He did not.’ 

He continued: ‘I know that I got hit… I got struck, I got hit on the top of the head. And he had the weapon in his hands so I pushed and pulled. Still getting hit.’

His lawyer Jason Sheffield asked him: ‘Did you get it free from his grip?’

Defense lawyers have said the men were trying to stop Arbery under a now-repealed Georgia citizen's arrest law, and the younger McMichael shot him in self defense (Pictured: Struggle between McMichael and Arbery)

Defense lawyers have said the men were trying to stop Arbery under a now-repealed Georgia citizen’s arrest law, and the younger McMichael shot him in self defense (Pictured: Struggle between McMichael and Arbery)

The above map shows Ahmaud Arbery's approximate path and locations of the events that occurred on February 23, 2020

The above map shows Ahmaud Arbery’s approximate path and locations of the events that occurred on February 23, 2020

McMichael: ‘I don’t believe I did. I don’t know if and when and where he continued grabbing but we were together, we were locked up. He was on that shotgun.

Asked about the positions of each man at the time, McMichael said: ‘I didn’t know where I was at but I knew that he was on me. I knew that I was losing this.

‘I knew that if I was getting tripped, or he would have got a lucky strike on my head, or if I would have lost that grip on that shotgun that I would have been shot or in serious trouble.

‘I knew that he was overpowering me. But I didn’t know which direction or what mechanics he was doing to overpower me.’

He continued: ‘I thought I shot twice until later on speaking with the investigator that I realized it was three shots. The first shot, I knew I shot.

‘But then the second shot, I shot again because I was still fighting, I was still.. .he was all over he, he was still all over the shotgun. And he was not relenting. So I shot again to stop him.’

McMichael said after the third shot ‘he (Arbery) disengaged’. He added: ‘At that point he let go, he turned and continued to run down Satilla (Drive). I was in shock. I turned around, I don’t know where I was going. My dad came out and he was yelling that he’s (Arbery) has got his hand under him.

‘I turned around, we got over there and pulled his hand out from under him and realized that he was deceased. The police were right there. I stood up, realized that I got a gun here and that he has passed away. So I walked over to the side and put my shotgun down.

‘After that it was a blur.’

The McMichaels told police that they chased Arbery in a pickup truck because they thought he looked like a burglar, and Bryan joined the chase after they went by his driveway.

Defense lawyers have said the men were trying to stop Arbery under a now-repealed Georgia citizen’s arrest law, and the younger McMichael shot him in self defense. The McMichaels and Bryan face life in prison if convicted of murder.

Cellphone video of the shooting taken by Bryan was widely seen on the internet about two months after Arbery’s death and caused a national uproar before charges were ultimately brought. 

McMichael told jurors his decision to grab a gun and chase Arbery was driven by an encounter 12 days before, when he saw the black man ‘creeping in the shadows’ at night around a house under construction nearby. McMichael stated he thought Arbery was armed at that time. 

Grainy video footage of Ahmaud Arbery roaming around a partly-constructed home on five occasions in the months before he was shot dead last year was played in front of the jury Thursday

Grainy video footage of Ahmaud Arbery roaming around a partly-constructed home on five occasions in the months before he was shot dead last year was played in front of the jury Thursday

The 25-year-old is seen above at the same home on February 23, 2020 - the day he was chased and killed

The 25-year-old is seen above at the same home on February 23, 2020 – the day he was chased and killed

Prosecution vs. Defense: The arguments in Ahmaud Arbery’s murder trial

Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William Bryan are all charged with malice and felony murder in the February 2020 shooting death of black jogger Ahmaud Arbery.  

The McMichaels armed themselves and jumped in a pickup truck to pursue Arbery after he ran past their home from a nearby house under construction.

Their neighbor, Bryan, joined the chase in his own truck, telling police that he tried to run Arbery off the road and then recorded cellphone video as Travis McMichael fired three shotgun blasts before Arbery fell facedown in the street. 

The defendants also face charges of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony. 

During the trial, the prosecution aimed to prove that the defendants wrongly assumed the worst about Arbery.

The state also sought to rebut arguments that the defendants were attempting a valid citizen’s arrest, which required that someone have ‘reasonable and probable’ suspicion that a person is fleeing a serious crime they committed.

The defense argues that Travis McMichael shot Arbery three times in self-defense, as the McMichaels and Bryan attempted to conduct a citizen’s arrest of Arbery under their suspicion that he committed a burglary at a nearby property.

They also argued that the chasing of Arbery was justified under Georgia’s 19th-century citizen’s arrest law that was repealed after an outcry over the killing. 

Police have said nothing was taken on that day. The property’s owner has said through his lawyer that Arbery probably stopped to drink from a water faucet. 

Arbery had nothing on him besides his running clothes and shoes on the day he was shot. 

Defense lawyers have said the men were legally trying to stop Arbery under a now-repealed Georgia citizen’s arrest law.

McMichael, however, repeatedly said he chased Arbery only to ask him questions and that he wrongly believed his father had called 911.

‘I ask him: ‘Hey, what are you doing? What’s going on?” McMichael testified, saying he pulled alongside Arbery running in the road. Arbery never spoke a word in reply and looked angry with clenched teeth, McMichael said.

‘He was mad, which made me think something’s happened,’ McMichael said.  

Travis also described the build up to the deadly moment. He prefaced this by telling jurors he had considerable law enforcement training while in the US Coast Guard, which included extensive drills on de-escalating potentially dangerous situations such as boarding suspect vessels.

This included a specific program that went from level one, which would be entirely verbal, to level six which was deadly force – which he had never has to use in his service.

The former veteran – who told jurors ‘I carry a weapon everywhere’ – described how the tragedy unfolded on February 23 last year.

He said he lived with his parents in Satilla Drive – and his father Gregory had come into the house ‘in a frantic state’ saying: ‘The guy who has been breaking in has run by the house’.

The court has already heard Arbery was filmed on home security video on night-time visits to a partly-constructed home two houses away being built by Larry English, 51 – who believed he was having items stolen from it.

Defense lawyers have also painted a picture of Satilla Shores being an community on edge, fearful of an increasing crime wave sweeping over it.

Arbery was spotted at the unfinished house again at lunch time on that fateful Sunday, with neighbor Matt Albenze calling the non-emergency police line to report him.

Travis, who had his two-year-old son staying with him for a weekend visit, said his father grabbed a weapon – which the jury has been told was a Magnum .357 handgun. Travis picked up a shotgun.

He said he went outside the family home ‘to see what was going on’ and Albenze made an arm gesture down the road in the direction Arbery had run. Then Gregory McMichael came out of the house and he and his son set off.

Travis wedged his shotgun in a crease in the truck’s bench front seat, with the barrel facing down, with his dad sitting next to him.

They proceeded fairly slowly down Satilla Drive and eventually came across Arbery in adjoining Burford Road. ‘When I first see him, I’m trying to see if I recognize him,’ Travis told jurors. Both McMichaels had seen videos in the English property.

‘He’s running, he’s got long strides, he’s athletic,’ added Travis. ‘I continued to drive up to him as I get closer I recognize his haircut. At that point I was probably riding the brake. I got closer to him.

‘At this point I’m realizing this is most likely the same guy I saw. I watched his hands, make sure he’s not armed. I don’t know what I’m going to be into. If this is the same guy… I have suspicions he may be armed.’

McMichael said he pulled alongside and definitely recognized Arbery from the videos. He said he told the jogger: ‘Hey, what are you doing, what’s going on? I’m coasting, I’m staying with him, he’s right there at my door. I’m trying to de-escalate. I know this can go any way.’

The accused said he repeated his request for Arbery to stop, telling him ‘I want to talk to you… at this point he is still running but I notice he looks very angry. It wasn’t what I expected for just coming up and talking to him. Clenched teeth, closed brow. He was mad. Which made me think, something’s happened.

Travis McMichael then started to tear up Wednesday as he said: 'I was thinking of my son, it sounds weird but it's the first thing…' His voice tailed off as he fought back sobs. Asked by his attorney Jason Sheffield what he did next, McMichael said: 'I shot him. He had my gun. He struck me. It was obvious that he was attacking me, that he would have got the shotgun from me, it's a life or death situation

Travis McMichael then started to tear up Wednesday as he said: ‘I was thinking of my son, it sounds weird but it’s the first thing…’ His voice tailed off as he fought back sobs. Asked by his attorney Jason Sheffield what he did next, McMichael said: ‘I shot him. He had my gun. He struck me. It was obvious that he was attacking me, that he would have got the shotgun from me, it’s a life or death situation

Prosecutors allege jury in Arbery trial is ‘disproportionately white’

Prosecutors claim the jury seated for Ahmaud Arbery’s murder trial is disproportionately white.

Of the 12 members, one juror is black while the other 11 are white.

Defense lawyers struck all but one black person from the jury panel, drawn from a county where about a quarter of residents are black, but told the court the strikes were for reasons that had nothing to do with race. 

Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley previously said he found that ‘intentional discrimination’ by defense attorneys appeared to have shaped jury selection, but argued Georgia law limited his authority to intervene.

He also alleged that the defense had race-neutral arguments for dismissing those potential jurors.

‘They have been able to explain to the court why besides race those individuals were struck from the panel,’ Walmsley said.

Summons were sent to 1,000 potential jurors and attorneys questioned these individuals for more than two weeks before selecting the current panel.

‘I ask him again, hey will you stop for a second. He turns and starts jogging back. I back up and match up with him again. As I come up to him, I started asking what’s going on? He turns and runs.’

McMichael said he and Arbery ‘made eye contact’ the first time he asked the jogger to stop. ‘Second time, I’m not sure, I was watching his hands,’ he said, emphasizing that he never tried to block Arbery with his truck.

The Coast Guard veteran, who served from 2008 to 2016, said he followed and was ‘trying to figure out what was happening, watching his demeanour’. He added: ‘I decided to come up to him again and try one more time.

‘I want to talk to you, I want to know what’s going on. And he finally stops. He never says anything to me… this could be volatile. He’s not squaring up, he’s just standing. And I said hey, the police are on the way. As soon as I said police, he turned and ran straight back down Burford (Road) towards Holmes (Road)… sprinted.’

McMichael said at no point during these interactions with Arbery did he brandish the shotgun, which remained in the truck cab. 

William ‘Roddie’ Bryan – who would eventually take the shocking video of Arbery’s death – then comes into play. McMichael, who said he did not know Bryan before this incident, next spotted his black Chevrolet Silverado shadowing the young black man.

He said at one point it appeared Arbery was trying to get into the vehicle and thought: ‘Why is he attacking a truck?’ He added he was thinking: ‘Once again this is getting out of hand. Looks like this guy is trying to get in this vehicle.

Eventually Arbery and Bryan in his truck headed in McMichael’s direction as they dodged back and forth among the neighborhood roads. Arbery split away and ran past McMichael’s passenger side. Then he and Bryan vanished around a dogleg in the road.

McMichael parked, saying he was under the impression the police were on their way and ‘this guy, he seems dangerous to me… I can give them a good description of what’s happening’.

He said he got out of his truck and asked his father ‘where are the police?’ Gregory McMichael’s answer indicated he hadn’t called them. Travis continued: ‘I go to reach for my phone and look back and I see Mr Arbery running back towards me.

‘I yell at him to stop, stop where you’re at. He’s continuing. He’s getting closer and I’m thinking he’s not looking left, he’s not looking right… not a sprint not a jog. I need to do something about this.

‘I’m at my truck, the door’s open, I’m on the inside of my door. I see he’s coming and I go to grab my shotgun. As soon as I turn to get my shotgun, her turns.. about 10ft form the back of my truck. My dad yells at him and he runs back. My action going into my truck is what made him turn.. back down Satilla (Drive).

‘I pulled the shotgun out and I started going down there to see what’s happening.’ McMichael then decided against it, adding ‘I need to stay where I’m at. My dad’s up here in the back of the truck.

‘I put the shotgun right back, pick up the phone, call 911. As I dial, the phone up to the ear, I see Mr. Arbery come back (down Holmes Road).

‘He was like a running back, ready to bolt. He was focused on me. This is that moment. I am pretty sure that he is going to attack… his eye contact on me.’

The jury was shown images of Arbery's clothing on Tuesday, torn apart by bullet holes

The jury was shown images of Arbery’s clothing on Tuesday, torn apart by bullet holes

According to the medical examiner's Tuesday testimony, the shot that struck Arbery's left chest and armpit (pictured) alone was lethal enough to kill the jogger

According to the medical examiner’s Tuesday testimony, the shot that struck Arbery’s left chest and armpit (pictured) alone was lethal enough to kill the jogger

An x-ray image presented to the jury Tuesday showed Arbery's injuries

An x-ray image presented to the jury Tuesday showed Arbery’s injuries

McMichael had his shotgun in his hands again and this time raised it, jurors heard. ‘He was closing in. At this point I had yelled at him to stop several times,’ he said.

‘He is focused in on me. I wouldn’t have time to react if he wanted to get on me, or to pull the gun. This is when I needed to show him, to deter him, to state “do not come at me”.’ He said he knew this because of his previous Coast Guard training.

‘Mr. Arbery is running at a pretty good clip, he’s directed at me. He sees that I have a weapon, I’m yelling at him to stop. And he’s continuing. I had the weapon down at this point.’

McMichael then raised the weapon, the court heard. ‘As soon as I drew a weapon on him, you can see in the video, that he darts to the left, darts to the right.’ He added he would have been happy for Arbery to run across a nearby yard to clear out of the area at that point. ‘At this point I know the police are coming now.

But Arbery returned in the direction of the truck, with McMichael’s father in the open on the flatbed. ‘At this point I am a little past my door,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what he’s going to do. I moved to the front of my truck… this is the point that is critical.’ Travis said he feared Arbery could get in his truck or put his father in peril.

‘Still under the impression that he might be armed, he’s close to my father,’ said McMichael, who said he had his shotgun pointed downwards. ‘I was going to get to the front, the center of the vehicle. By the time I get to the front of the truck he is at the front quarter panel on the right hand side.

‘And he turns and is on me.. in a flash.’

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