Their own words may have condemned men who killed Ahmaud Arbery
The video of Ahmaud Arbery’s shotgun death was a shocking piece of evidence that suddenly brought the murder of the black man into the national consciousness.
But murders of the three white men who chased him may have been secured just as much by their own words to the investigators the day of the shooting.
Greg McMichael, who was sitting in bed on a pickup truck when his son killed Arbery, told police the black man “was caught like a rat” and he said to Arbery, “Stop, or I’ll blow your f — ing head off!”
Such statements allowed prosecutors to provide context for the short video, which did not show the entire shooting and had some of the five minutes the men chased Arbery.
“It’s those statements that screwed up the defense more than the video. If they had never talked to the police and they said we saw him take something from the property and run – there’s an OK shot the jury could have acquitted them,” said Appellate Attorney Andrew Fleischman, who was following the trial from Atlanta.
WHAT THEY SAID:
Sagittarius, Travis McMichael, his father, Greg McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan everyone talked a lot and honestly with Glynn County investigators just hours after Arbery was killed in their neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, in February 2020.
They told police they were not sure exactly what Arbery had done wrong, which would later be a major blow to their defense that they made a citizen arrest.
That the citizen’s arrest law, largely repealed by legislators after Arbery’s death required a person to see or have immediate knowledge of a crime committed, or to have reasonable suspicion that someone is fleeing a crime in order to justify the arrest of a citizen.
“I do not think the guy actually stole anything from there, or if he did, it was early in the process. But he keeps coming back again and again to this damn house, “said Greg McMichael, according to a transcript of the interview, as a politician. Roderic Nohilly read in court.
Bryan was on his porch when he saw Arbery run past with McMichaels’ truck close behind. He told police he did not recognize any of them or knew what prompted the chase, but he still joined in after shouting, “Do you have him?”
In an interview with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Bryan said he would take a picture of Arbery to show police, but he could not point to any crimes Arbery had committed.
“I thought he had done something wrong,” Bryan said. “I did not know for sure.”
The statements allowed prosecutor Linda Dunikoski to methodically separate defense arguments.
“No one was talking about arresting a citizen. And I do not mean to use the magic words ‘citizen arrest’. I mean, no one is saying, ‘We saw the man commit a burglary and we wanted to hold on to him so we could hand him over to the police because he committed this crime,’ said Atlanta defense attorney Page Pate.
That left the lawyers for the men to struggle to explain away their opinions.
“The evidence suggests that Roddie Bryan is legitimately struggling to find the right words,” Bryan’s lawyer says. Kevin Gough, told jurors in his closing argument Monday.
Travis McMichael, testified in his own defense, said he was in shock when he first spoke to police, calling the shooting the most traumatic event of his life.
Greg McMichael’s lawyer suggested he might never yell at Arbery, “Stop, or I’ll blow your head off,” he told police because the remark was not recorded on the cell phone video of the shooting or the 911 call Greg McMichael turned to police. Both of these footage covered only a small portion of the five-minute hunt that ended with Arbery’s death.
“You only have a handful of defenses to deal with what is basically a confession,” Pate said.
Greg McMichael was a former investigator in the Glynn County District Attorney’s Office and may have felt he could navigate problems among his acquaintances and friends.
It worked for a while. The men were not charged for more than two months – only after the video of the shooting appeared and the case was handed over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. State agents charged the men two days later.
“This is just a case of a client who spoke out of trouble, and those statements later turned out to put him back in it,” Fleischman said.
Phone records show Greg McMichael called his former boss, District Attorney Jackie Johnson, just after the shooting. Johnson handed the case to an out-of-town prosecutor, who cited the citizen’s arrest law by recommending no charges. A third prosecutor was reviewing the case when the video surfaced and handed it over to the state.
Johnson was indicted on a criminal charge of violating her office and a misdemeanor charge of obstructing the police for her role in the investigation. Authorities have released little information about Johnson’s actions other than saying she never revealed she asked the other prosecutor to advise police immediately after Arbery’s killing.
Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report.