Over two days of courtroom testimony and legal arguments, Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley heard conflicting accounts of the February 23 shooting just outside the port city of Brunswick, in approximately 110 kilometers south of Savannah.
Defense attorneys for the McMichaels argued that they were legally justified in going after Arbery because they suspected he was a burglar. They also argued that Travis McMichael was defending himself when he blew up Arbery three times with a shotgun.
Video of the cell phone shoot shows Arbery trying to get around the McMichaels’ van. Arbery comes face to face with Travis McMichael in front of the truck. The video shows Arbery hitting him and grabbing the gun between shots. Arbery finally stumbles and falls after the third shot hits him at close range.
Prosecutors say Arbery was not a criminal but just joggers and the McMichaels acted as “vigilantes” motivated by racist views. They showed the judge photos of a house near the filming location that had been damaged by gunfire.
“You can interpret the video in different ways,” Walmsley said Friday from the Brunswick courthouse as the hearing was broadcast live online. “But the video tells me there is a significant risk and danger to the community. ”
The judge also agreed with prosecutors that Gregory McMichael not only seemed “willing to put the law in his hands” by pursuing Arbery without calling 911 first, but also appeared to be trying to influence investigators who arrived after the shooting.
A police body camera video released in court showed Gregory McMichael, 64, telling police he was a former law enforcement officer and “I know what you do. He also tells them that Arbery is suspected of burglaries during “frequent trips around the neighborhood.”
“This may be one of the reasons this case has taken so long to get to where it is now,” said Walmsley, apparently referring to the two-month delay between the shooting and the arrests of the McMichaels. .
The question of whether racism played a role in the murder was heightened during a June hearing when an investigator said a third accused, a neighbor who joined the prosecution and took video from the cell phone, authorities had told authorities he overheard Travis McMichael, 34, use a racial slur after filming Arbery.
In court on Thursday, prosecutor Jesse Evans read a message Travis McMichael posted on Facebook that used an offensive term for Asians, as well as a text message he sent last year to a friend who used a insult to blacks by referring to a “crackhead”. .. with gold teeth.
Defense attorneys for the two McMichaels have denied any racist motives in the shooting. Laura Hogue, one of Gregory McMichael’s attorneys, accused prosecutors of playing the race to distract from the evidence that the shooting was justified.
“You would think Ahmaud Arbery’s run is the one thing that worries the state of Georgia about a serious event on February 23,” Hogue said. She wondered if the murder would have attracted a lot of attention “if it was about Arnold Arbery, a white man”.
Robert Rubin, one of Travis McMichael’s lawyers, argued the McMichaels and other neighbors were at their wit’s end in February. He noted that a black man, believed to be Arbery, had been caught on security video in recent months at a nearby house under construction. And Travis McMichael reported to police someone stole a gun from his truck in January.
Travis McMichael never confronted people “unless he himself was put in danger,” Rubin said. “And that was once, by a man named Ahmaud Arbery.
A lawyer for the owner of the house under construction said nothing was stolen. Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Richard Dial said in June he had not seen any evidence Arbery committed crimes in the McMichaels neighborhood.
The McMichaels were not arrested until video of the cellphone shooting was leaked online and the GBI took over the case. A grand jury has indicted McMichaels and a neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, on charges of malicious murder, felony, aggravated assault and false imprisonment. Bryan had previously been denied bail.