BRUNSWICK, Ga. - All three defense attorneys rested their case on Thursday after collectively only calling seven witnesses, including the shooter, who testified that Arbery did not threaten him in any way before he pointed his shotgun at the 25-year-old Black man.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley scheduled closing arguments in the trial for Monday, setting up the possibility of verdicts before Thanksgiving for the three white men charged with murder in Arbery’s death.
Under cross-examination by the prosecution on his second day of testimony, Travis McMichael said that Arbery hadn’t shown a weapon or spoken to him at all before McMichael raised his shotgun. But, McMichael said, he was "under the impression" that Arbery could be a threat because he was running straight at him and he had seen Arbery trying to get into the truck of a neighbor who had joined in a pursuit of Arbery in their coastal Georgia neighborhood.
"All he’s done is run away from you," prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said. "And you pulled out a shotgun and pointed it at him."
Cellphone video from the Feb. 23, 2020, shooting — replayed in court Thursday — shows Arbery running around the back of McMichael’s pickup truck after McMichael first points the shotgun while standing next to the open driver’s side door. Arbery then runs around the passenger side as McMichael moves to the front and the two come face to face. After that, the truck blocks any view of them until the first gunshot sounds.
Outside the Glynn County courthouse, hundreds of pastors gathered, while a defense lawyer renewed his bid to keep Black ministers out of the courtroom. The Rev. Jesse Jackson again joined Arbery’s family in the courtroom, as he had on some other days this week. Walmsley declined to take the issue up again, noting he’d already rejected the same motion from Bryan attorney Kevin Gough twice.
Gough first asked the judge last week to remove the Rev. Al Sharpton from the court, saying the civil rights activist was trying to influence the disproportionately white jury. He also has complained that activists outside the courthouse are trying to influence the jury with banners and signs, and likewise objected to the pastors’ rally.
"We had a huge protest at lunchtime that was so loud, with bullhorns literally 20 feet from the front door of this courthouse, that you could literally hear what was being said at the doors of this courtroom," Gough told the judge.
Court will convene at 10 a.m. on Friday for a charges conference in preparation for closing arguments in the case.
What's known about Ahmaud Arbery's death
A police report from the Glynn County Police Department says a man and his son, frustrated by a string of burglaries and break-ins in their neighborhood, decided to take matters in their own hands.
The men saw Arbery running through the Satilla Shores subdivision and considered him suspicious, a report says. They armed themselves and pursued him. Gregory McMichael, who it was later discovered has ties to the Glynn County District Attorney's Office, told police that Arbery and Travis fought over his son’s shotgun and his son fired two shots, killing Arbery.
Information that unfolded after the incident revealed Arbery was unarmed.
It was later discovered a man named William "Roddie" Bryan allegedly joined the chase and eventually cut off Arbery's route in a vehicle before he was shot and killed.
No one was arrested or charged for months after the shooting occurred.
Suspects: Gregory and Travis McMichael, William "Roddie" Bryan
Greg McMichael is a retired investigator for former Brunswick District Attorney Jackie Johnson. He retired in 2019. Phone records introduced in court show he called Johnson and left her a voicemail after the shooting. Johnson said she recused her office from the case immediately because of its relationship with Greg McMichael.
The McMichaels’ attorneys' offered the explanation that their clients pursued Arbery because they suspected he was a burglar.
Security cameras had previously recorded Arbery entering a home under construction.
Attorneys for Travis McMichael shot Arbery while fearing for his life as they grappled over a shotgun.
Greg and Travis McMichael were arrested in May 2020, several months after the shooting took place after a GBI investigation concluded there was evidence for charges against them.
William "Roddie" Bryan followed the chase and recorded a video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery. Bryan was arrested weeks after the McMichaels.
Day 1: Opening statements
As opening statements were underway in the trial over Ahmaud Arbery's murder, some expressed concern over the composition of the jury.
Arbery’s mother said the selection shook her confidence.
"I was very shocked we only had one black African American man. That was devastating," Wanda Cooper-Jones said.
Day 2: Disturbing evidence sets tone
The first day of testimony saw Glynn County police Sgt. Sheila Ramos show jurors dozens of crime scene photos she took about an hour after the shooting.
Judge Timothy Walmsley warned the jury of graphic images and many of the images included Arbery’s body.
The defense also showed body camera video from officers that were first on the scene.
Glynn County Patrol Officer Ricky Minshew testified he arrived at the scene in the Satilla Shores subdivision about a minute after the gunshots sounded.
"The blood was exceeding the perimeter of his body. He was laying face down in the puddle of blood," Minshew said.
Minshew testified he radioed to send emergency medical responders but did not have the training or equipment to treat Arbery's serious injuries.
Day 3: More officers called as witnesses
Glynn County Police Officer Jeff Brandeberry said Greg McMichael never used the words burglary, trespass or citizens arrest at the scene of the shooting.
Bradberry was one of the officers who transcripts from a body-worn camera that detailed conversations with defendant Greg McMichael.
"I saw him, yes. I saw him and, to be honest, if I would have gotten a shot I would have shot him myself because he was that violent," Brandeberry said while reading from transcripts.
An investigator who spoke to Greg McMichael at the police station also took the stand.
"He said stop you know I will blow your f***** head off or something. I was trying to convey that I was not playing," Investigator Parker Marcy said while reading a portion of the transcript.
Day 4: Satilla Shores witness takes the stand
Matthew Albenze, one of McMichael's neighbors, said he went inside his house and put a handgun in his pocket before he called police from behind a tree at the curb. Arbery left the house running toward the McMichaels’ home while Albenze was on the phone.
Albenze told the jury he called the police non-emergency number.
The defense asked Glynn County police Sgt. Roderic Nohilly if raising a gun would be an appropriate response to a fleeing suspect who refused verbal commands to stop.
"You’ll sometimes draw your weapon, won’t you?" attorney Franklin Hogue asked.
Nohilly replied: "I don’t just pull my gun."
Hogue then asked him what if the attacker is trying to take his gun away.
"At that point, it might meet the threshold, yes," the police sergeant said.
Day 5: ‘We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here … trying to influence the jury'
Jurors heard more testimony from Satilla Shore residents and comments made by defense attorney Kevin Gough in response to the presence of pastor Al Sharpton in the courtroom.
"There’s only so many pastors they can have and if their pastor is Al Sharpton then that’s fine. That’s it. We don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here or Jesse Jackson or whoever that was earlier coming in here and sitting with the victim's family trying to influence the jury in this case," defense attorney Kevin Gough said.
"If we are going to start a precedent where we are going to have high profile members of the African-American community into the courtroom to sit with the family in the presence of the jury then I believe that’s intimidation and an attempt to pressure," Gough said.
Gough expressed his displeasure with Rev. Al Sharpton and other high-profile names sitting inside the courtroom throughout the trial.
"If folks came in here dressed as Colonel Sanders with white mask sitting in the back then…" Gough said before being stopped by the judge.
Judge Walmsley said he barely noticed Rev. Sharpton in the court and as long as there were no disruptions then he didn’t see an issue.
"I’m not going to blanketly exclude people from the public from this courtroom," Walmsley said.
The jury saw a recorded deposition with Larry English, who owned the unfinished home where many said they spotted Arbery before the shooting.
Day 6: Officers discusses Arbery's trespassing allegations
Glynn County police officer Robert Rash testified he planned to give Ahmaud Arbery a warning for trespassing for repeatedly entering a home under construction.
GBI Agent Jason Seacrist provided details of his interview with codefendant William Roddy Bryan.
"I asked what was it that made you decide to get your key and truck and see what’s going on. Mr. Bryan responded and said that he didn’t know," GBI Agent Jason Seacrist said.
Day 7: Defense attorney calls for mistrial
The state continued to call witnesses to begin the second week of the trial, including Seacrist.
Seacrist said Bryan's actions in his car did not match what he thought someone concerned for Arbery's safety would do.
"If Mr. Bryan was truly concerned about the safety of Mr. Arbery, he would have stayed to the right side of the road and stayed ahead instead of angling to the left to box him in," Seacrist said.
Rev. Jesse Jackson was present in the courtroom sitting next to Arbery's mother. One of the defense attorneys called for a mistrial, denied by Judge Timothy Walmsley.
Day 8: State rests, GBI medical examiner shows images of Arbery's autopsy
The state rested its case in Ahmaud Arbery's murder trial just before 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 16 after testimony picked up with the state showing images of Arbery's body while the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's medical examiner explained his findings.
Arbery's mother was in court but excused herself. Members of the defendants' families also seemed disturbed.
Dr. Edmund Donoghue said two of the three shotgun rounds hit Arbery and both caused severe bleeding.
"Is there anything law enforcement or EMS could have done to save his life at the scene?" prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said.
"I don’t think so. No," Donoghue said.
Day 9: Defendant Travis McMichael takes the stand
McMichael’s testimony Wednesday marked the first time any of the three defendants has spoken publicly about the killing. The other two defendants did not testify. McMichael said Arbery forced him to make a split-second "life-or-death" decision by attacking him and grabbing his shotgun.
Dunikoski noted Thursday that’s not what McMichael told police in an interview about two hours after the shooting occurred.
"So you didn’t shoot him because he grabbed the barrel of your shotgun," Dunikoski said. "You shot him because he came around that corner and you were right there and you just pulled the trigger immediately."
"No, I was struck," McMichael replied. "We were face to face, I’m being struck and that’s when I shot."
McMichael said he had approached Arbery because neighbors indicated something had happened down the road and he wanted to ask Arbery about it. Arbery was running in the Brunswick neighborhood at the time. He said Arbery stopped, then took off running when McMichael told him police were on the way.
Asked how many times he had previously pulled up behind strangers in the neighborhood to ask them what they were doing there, McMichael said never.
"You know that no one has to talk to anyone they don’t want to talk to, right?" Dunikoski said.
The prosecutor also pressed McMichael on why he didn’t include some details of his testimony Wednesday in his written statement to police, namely the part about his telling Arbery police were on the way.
McMichael said he was "under stress, nervous, scared" at the time of his police interview and "probably being choppy."
"What were you nervous about?" Dunikoski asked.
"I just killed a man," McMichael responded. "I had blood on myself. It was the most traumatic event of my life."
"You were nervous because you thought you were going to jail, right?" Dunikoski asked.
"No. I gave them a statement," McMichael said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.