While Travis fired two deadly shots at Arbery, his father, Gregory McMichael, a former prosecutorial investigator, was armed in Travis’ pickup truck nearby. Their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, recorded the shooting and the video was released to authorities the same day as Arbery’s death on Feb. 23, 2020 in coastal Georgia’s Satilla Shores community. Still, it took 74 days for an arrest to be made, with two prosecutors admitting conflicts of interest and one of them—former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson—indicted on obstruction charges.
The prosecution's closing arguments in the case followed more than three days of testimony and social media postings showing all three of the defendants held what Perras dubbed "racial hatred," according to the Times' coverage.
Perras said Travis targeted Arbery, who was running near a home under construction just before his death, based on an assumption that Arbery had earlier stolen a gun from Travis' truck. It was a crime the killer had no evidence that Arbery committed and that Arbery was accused of because of his race, Perras said. In fact, when a man believed to be white was spotted under a bridge near the McMichaels' neighborhood, Gregory opted to call the police's nonemergency line, Perras said in remarks the Times covered.
“I ask you to hold these defendants accountable,” Perras said. “Not only for what they did but why they did it.”
The McMichaels were each charged with one count of interference with rights and one count of attempted kidnapping, according to an announcement of their federal indictment. Officials stated in a news release:
“Travis and Gregory McMichael were also charged with one count each of using, carrying, and brandishing—and in Travis’s case, discharging—a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.
Counts One and Two of the indictment allege that the defendants used force and threats of force to intimidate and interfere with Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race.”
The federal government has maintained that Arbery was running on a public street when Travis and Gregory McMichael “armed themselves with firearms, got into a truck, and chased Arbery through the public streets of the neighborhood while yelling at him, using their truck to cut off his route, and threatening him with firearms.” Bryan was accused of joining the chase and using his truck to cut off Arbery’s route, according to the indictment.
Travis’ attorney Amy Lee Copeland said in a closing argument the Times covered that her client was defending himself. “Would Travis McMichael have grabbed a gun and done this to a white guy?” she asked. “The answer is yes.” Copeland said Travis believed Arbery was trying to take her client's shotgun.
Earlier in the case, Kristie Ronquille, who worked under Travis in the U.S. Coast Guard, testified that Travis called her "an N-word lover" after learning she had dated a Black man. Copeland called the actions alleged by Ronquille and the racist language cited in texts and Facebook messages bad, but not a crime.
Bryan’s attorney, J. Pete Theodocion, made a similar argument in his closing argument, according to The New York Times' coverage.
Despite Bryan allegedly writing a racist post in frustration about his daughter dating a Black man, Theodocion said Bryan only joined the chase assuming the McMichaels had good reasons to pursue Arbery. “His instincts told him people do not get chased like that,” Theodocion said, “people do not get chased like that unless they’ve done something wrong.”
Theodocion said his client's rhetoric, which in one posting included the n-word, is not evidence of an obsession with race. “The road had nothing to do with it,” the attorney said. “He happened to be on the road. He happened to be African American. This crime did not occur because of those two facts.”
A.J. Balbo, Gregory’s attorney, made a wholly different argument on his client’s behalf in closing statements The New York Times covered. Balbo said none of the evidence against Gregory proved that he had used racial slurs. He called a former Black tenant of his a “walrus” and turned off her air conditioner during a summer in which she was late paying rent, Kim Ballesteros, whose husband lived across the street from Gregory McMichael, testified.
Balbo said Gregory noticed Arbery from surveillance videos police showed him from inside the home under construction. “When he’s in his driveway and he looks up, he may not have known Mr. Arbery’s name, but he knew who he was,” Balbo said in remarks the Times covered. He argued that if Arbery had been a 350-pound Black man with a mohawk, Gregory would not have chased him.
The jury will ultimately decide what to make of the attorney’s words, but simply failing to use a racial slur before committing an alleged hate crime seems like a weak defense, considering what the jury was already exposed to.
Gregory was said to have called for Black people to die, according to earlier witness testimony. He was working in the local prosecutor’s office and was responsible for driving New York realtor Carole Sears and her daughter to and from the airport to attend a court hearing of a man convicted of killing Sears' husband in a drunk driving crash, according to testimony News 4 Jax covered. Gregory said to Sears that he wished the late Georgia state representative and civil rights leader Julien Bond died sooner, Sears testified.
“I wish that guy had been in the ground years ago,” he reportedly said. “All those Blacks are nothing but trouble and I wish they’d all die.”
Gregory, along with Bryan and Travis, went on to be convicted of murdering Arbery in the state case against them.
In a final word from the federal prosecution covered by The New York Times, Tara Lyons argued on rebuttal that the defendants targeted Arbery because of his race and that they didn't help him after the shooting because they didn't recognize “that in the middle of that pool of blood was an actual human being.”
“These defendants didn’t show Ahmaud Arbery the dignity that a dog deserves when it gets hit by a car,” Lyons said. “That’s because these defendants saw Ahmaud as less than human.
Warning: The below social media post contains profanity and racial slurs that may be triggering to some readers.
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