Defence rests in Ahmaud Arbery trial

One of the accused on trial for murder acknowledged not feeling threatened by black jogger when he fatally shot him

Travis McMichael speaks from the witness stand during the trial over the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia. Reuters
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The defence team for the three men on trial for the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed after he ran through a mostly white neighbourhood in Georgia last year, rested on Thursday and prosecutors said they would not call any rebuttal witnesses.

The jury was told to return on Monday morning to the Glynn County Superior Court in Brunswick for closing arguments.

The people who spoke on behalf of the accused included six neighbors who shared their concerns over crime in the neighbourhood.

One of the accused, Travis McMichael, taking the stand for a second day on Thursday, acknowledged that he had not felt threatened by the black jogger when he shot him in February 2020.

Mr McMichael stated when gave evidence on Wednesday that he felt he was under attack from Arbery after he and two others chased the black jogger through a mostly white neighbourhood.

Under cross-examination, Mr McMichael acknowledged that Arbery did not yell at him, threaten him or show any weapons. Instead, he remained silent and kept moving.

“He just ran?” prosecutor Linda Dunikoski asked.

“Yes, he was just running,” Mr McMichael said.

But Mr McMichael said at one point he did perceive Arbery to be a threat.

“He was coming straight to me that first time. I was thinking, alright he’s going to try to get in this truck or he’s going to try to attack me or my dad or who knows what," he said.

"He was acting weird. He was acting funny when I was trying to talk to him prior so I’m on alert. He turns, runs off. Comes back. I don’t - I’m sure I saw Mr Bryan’s truck in this instance, but I was focused on what I perceived as a threat,” Mr McMichael said on Thursday.

The deadly encounter occurred outside the coastal city of Brunswick on February 23, 2020. Phone footage of the killing sparked outrage when it emerged two months later.

Mr McMichael has pleaded not guilty to murder and other crimes alongside two other accused: his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbour, William “Roddie” Bryan.

The prosecution asked on Thursday: "Do you think that Mr Arbery's crime deserved the death penalty?" This question led the defence to request a mistrial, which was denied.

It was the second time a mistrial request was denied in the proceedings.

“I shot him,” Mr McMichael, who is white, said on Wednesday in a trembling voice as he held back tears.

“It was a life or death situation.”

He said that in the final moments, he feared for his life when Arbery grabbed at the shotgun Mr McMichael pointed in his direction.

They grappled, with both men holding on to the weapon, and Mr McMichael pulled the trigger, he said.

The younger Mr McMichael's decision to take the stand was a risky legal manoeuvre as it opened him up to questioning by prosecutors, who have said they might ask him about evidence that he had “racial animus” against black people.

Mr McMichael said that he and his father thought Arbery was a burglar because he had been seen “creeping in the shadows” around a house under construction near by on the night of February 11, less than two weeks before the shooting.

Police had told him that nothing had been stolen from the site on that day, but Mr McMichael said he suspected Arbery may have committed theft on a different occasion, and that he may have been armed.

He and his father grabbed their weapons after Arbery ran past their driveway. They chased him in a pickup truck for five minutes.

“I ask him: 'Hey, what are you doing? What's going on?'" Mr McMichael said. He said he pulled alongside Arbery as he ran on the road.

He said Arbery did not spoke a word in reply and looked angry, with clenched teeth.

“He was mad, which made me think something's happened,” Mr McMichael said.

Prosecutors say the accused had unfairly assumed the worst about a black man out for a Sunday afternoon run.

Defence lawyers have said the men were legally trying to stop Arbery under a now-repealed Georgia citizen's arrest law, and the younger Mr McMichael shot him in self-defence.

They face life in prison if convicted of murder.

The owner of the half-built house where Arbery was seen on several nights in the months before February 2020 has said through a lawyer that the jogger may have stopped there to drink from a tap.

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

Mr McMichael earlier described law-enforcement training he had during nine years as a US Coast Guard mechanic.

Speaking calmly and often turning to address the jurors directly, he said he had arrest powers, was trained on using force and had reasonable suspicion of a crime.

He never used physical force in his military duties but Mr McMichael said he had been taught that aiming a gun at someone can be used to de-escalate a situation.

Updated: November 18, 2021, 10:24 PM