Ahmaud Arbery’s killer testifies that he waved a gun to ‘de-escalate’ situation

Travis McMichael, one of the three white men accused of killing 25-year-old black man Ahmaud Arbery, took a high stakes game to explain the fatal shooting that sparked national outrage and protests last year.

He was the first defense witness to testify in a case in which his father Gregory McMichael, 65, and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 53, are also facing murder charges; none of them are required to testify. The men claim self-defense and claim they believed Arbery had just committed a burglary in their neighborhood, but evidence presented earlier in the trial underwent some of those allegations.

Arbery’s killings ignited a national conversation about racial profiling, and the lawsuits against the men who persecuted and killed him have often been filled. It began with the controversial selection of a jury of 11 white people and only one black person, and last week one of the defense attorneys objected to the presence of “black priests” in the courtroom.

Travis McMichael’s risky testimony could be aimed at swaying the almost entirely white jurors with tales of a neighborhood threatened by crime.

He also claimed that waving a gun was his attempt to somehow de-escalate the confrontation with Arbery, which he and his father initiated.

“I want to give my side of the story. I want to explain what happened and be able to say what happened from the way I look at it,” he said.

Travis McMichael speaks from the witness stand during his trial on Wednesday, November 17, 2021 in Brunswick, Georgia.  McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and their neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, is charged with the death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020.
Travis McMichael speaks from the witness stand during his trial on Wednesday, November 17, 2021 in Brunswick, Georgia. McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, are charged with the death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020.

AP Photo / Stephen B. Morton, Pool

The 35-year-old tried to paint a portrait of a neighborhood that lived in fear of burglary. He said people would talk about things being broken into near their homes, and said his mother had pointed out things she saw happening in the neighborhood. It was worrying for him, he said, as several patrol cars appeared in the community. He said his car had been broken into several times and that he reported a stolen Smith & Wesson gun from his truck.

Travis McMichael’s attorney, Jason Sheffield, determined that his client had previously drawn his gun against two other people long before he killed Arbery.

In one case, the lawyer said, his client did so when he was contacted by a person at an ATM, who then ran away. The second time, he said, the defendant was sitting in his truck and someone allegedly tried to hijack him. He pulled out his gun, which led to the person running away, according to Sheffield.

“This has now informed him about how using his gun can de-escalate situations,” Sheffield said.

The defendant also described an incident not long before Arbery’s murder in which he went to fetch gas and saw a man “crawling through the shadows” outside a residential building just down the street from his parents’ home. In a 911 call played to the court on Wednesday, he could be heard telling the operator that “when I turned around, he hurried to run into the house.”

Just a week before Travis McMichael’s testimony, construction site owner Larry English had said in a deposit that he never gave Travis McMichael or his father permission to help secure his property. English also never reported stolen items, despite McMichaels claiming there were thefts at the scene.

Prosecutor Paul Camarillo asked English what was going on in his place during the months that would have made McMichaels so worried.

Video footage showed several people entering and leaving the place, including two young white children on a bicycle and a white man and woman. Footage from the day Arbery was shot and killed also showed him inside the scene.

“At this point, as far as you know, had anything ever been taken or disturbed?” Camarillo asked English.

“No,” replied English.

Arbery’s killings sparked national outrage and protests for months across the country. McMichaels, along with Bryan, is charged with murder, malicious murder, aggravated assault and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. The three are also facing federal charges of hate crimes.

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