BRUNSWICK, Ga. – The man who fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery took the witness stand to tell jurors he pulled the trigger fearing for his own life. But he also said Arbery didn’t threaten him during the five-minute chase before the shooting.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Black pastors rallied outside the Glynn County courthouse in coastal Georgia to show support for the slain 25-year-old Black man's family, compelled by a defense attorney's failed efforts to get prominent civil rights figures barred from the court.
The trial of father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan is nearing an end, with closing arguments by prosecutors and defense attorneys scheduled for Monday. Both sides rested after 10 days of trial testimony.
Each of the defendants is charged with murder and other crimes in the death of Arbery, who was fatally shot last year after he was spotted running in their neighborhood outside the port city of Brunswick. Bryan’s cellphone video of the shooting — leaked online two months after Arbery's death — dramatically raised the killing’s profile, making it part of a larger national outcry over racial injustice.
Here are some key moments from the trial's second week.
The star defense witness turned out to be the shooter himself. Travis McMichael gave his account of Arbery's death and the pursuit that led up to it for the first time. He choked up on the witness stand as he described making a split-second decision to pull the trigger as Arbery punched him and grabbed for his shotgun.
“It was obvious that he was attacking me," he testified. "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.”
Questioned on cross-examination by prosecutor Linda Dunikoski, McMichael admitted his testimony didn't always match up with what he told police the day of the shooting on Feb. 23, 2020. He said he had been scared and nervous after “the most traumatic event of my life.”
McMichael also acknowledged to Dunikoski that Arbery never threatened him or showed a weapon during the five-minute pursuit that ended in the shooting.
“All he’s done is run away from you,” Dunikoski said. “And you pulled out a shotgun and pointed it at him.”
BLACK PASTORS RALLY
A week after a defense attorney said he didn't want to see “any more Black pastors” in the courtroom, hundreds of them turned out on the courthouse steps.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III and the Rev. Jesse Jackson led a group of mostly Black ministers Thursday in a rally outside the Glynn County courthouse as trial testimony continued inside.
Dressed in dark suits and white collars, the clergymen flocked to the courthouse after defense attorney Kevin Gough objected to Sharpton and other prominent civil rights figures sitting with Arbery's parents in the courtroom. He said their presence could influence the jury. The judge at one point called his argument “reprehensible."
“No lawyer can knock us out. Because no matter where you are, God is there," Sharpton told the crowd outside the courthouse. “We are going to keep coming until we get justice.”
GAPING, FATAL WOUNDS
Jurors saw graphic, close-up photos of Arbery's shotgun wounds as the medical examiner who performed the autopsy testified that the injuries were so grievous no one could have saved him.
Dr. Edmund Donoghue of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said two of the three shotgun blasts fired struck Arbery. The first tore open his wrist and punched a gaping hole in his chest, unleashing severe bleeding. The second severed an artery near his left armpit and fractured his arm.
“Is there anything law enforcement or EMS could have done to save his life at the scene?” prosecutor Dunikoski asked.
“I don’t think so, no,” Donoghue replied.
A prosecutor's pointed question to a minor witness prompted outrage from defense attorneys and a rebuke from the judge.
Defense attorneys called Lindy Cofer to the witness stand Thursday to ask her about neighbors discussing crime on a Facebook page for residents of Satilla Shores, the subdivision where the defendants lived and Arbery was killed.
On cross-examination, prosecutor Larissa Ollivierre asked Cofer: “Do you believe that stealing is deserving of the death penalty?”
Defense attorneys objected loudly and the judge had the jury leave the courtroom. Bryan's attorney asked for a mistrial, which the judge rejected. But he agreed with a request from attorneys for the McMichaels to admonish Ollivierre, saying she should have known the question was out of bounds.
"The court does find that the question that was presented was inflammatory and irrelevant and completely unnecessary,” Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said.
When jurors returned, the judge instructed them to ignore her question.