Man who shot Ahmaud Arbery admits he was not under any threat

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Travis McMichael speaks from the witness stand during his trial Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga. McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, are charged with the February 2020 death of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, Pool)

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — The man who fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery testified Thursday that the 25-year-old Black man’s demeanor struck him as suspicious when he first approached to question him about a possible crime in his coastal Georgia neighborhood, but he acknowledged that Arbery did not threaten him in any way.

Travis McMichael said neighbors indicated something had happened down the road and he wanted to ask Arbery, who was running there, about it. He testified he pulled alongside Arbery in his pickup truck with a shotgun pointed to the floor beside him. He said Arbery stopped but then took off running when McMichael told him police were on the way.

Testifying under cross-examination, McMichael acknowledged that Arbery didn’t 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,” Michael said.

Asked how many times he had previously pulled up behind strangers in the neighborhood to ask them what they were doing there, McMichael said never.

“You know that no one has to talk to anyone they don’t want to talk to, right?” Dunikoski said.

The prosecutor also pressed McMichael on why he didn’t include some details of his testimony Wednesday in his written statement to police, namely the part about his telling Arbery police were on the way.

McMichael said he was “under stress, nervous, scared” at the time of his police interview and “probably being choppy.”

“What were you nervous about?” Dunikoski asked.

“I just killed a man,” McMichael responded. “I had blood on myself. It was the most traumatic event of my life.”

“You were nervous because you thought you were going to jail, right?” Dunikoski asked.

“No. I gave them a statement,” McMichael said.

It was McMichael’s second day of testimony. On Wednesday, he said Arbery forced him to make a split-second “life-or-death” decision by attacking him and grabbing his shotgun. His remarks marked the first time any of the three white men charged with murder in Arbery’s death has spoken publicly about the killing.

Prosecutors contend there was no justification for McMichael and his father to arm themselves and chase Arbery when he ran past their Georgia home on Feb. 23, 2020.

Testimony resumed Thursday as well over 100 pastors gathered outside the Glynn County courthouse, displaying a sea of dark suits and white collars about an hour before a scheduled rally led by the Rev. Al Sharpton was about to begin. Sharpton announced the rally after a defense attorney intensified frustrations in the coastal Georgia community of Brunswick when he said he didn’t want “any more Black pastors” sitting in the Glynn County courtroom with Arbery’s family.

Many carried signs that said “Black pastors matter.” Some wore buttons with Arbery’s picture and the hashtag they were using for the case, “#JusticeForAhmaud.”

A vendor sold T-shirts under a tent, while under another, a woman offered water and snacks and asked people to put donations in a pickle jar.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson once again joined Arbery’s family in the courtroom on Thursday.

The Feb. 23, 2020, shooting deepened a national outcry over racial injustice after cellphone video of Arbery’s death leaked online two months later.

McMichael and his father, Greg McMichael, armed themselves and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck after he ran past their home from a nearby house under construction. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the chase in his own truck and recorded the video.

The McMichaels told police they suspected Arbery was a burglar because security cameras had recorded him several times in the unfinished house on their street.

Prosecutors say the men chased Arbery for five minutes and used their trucks to prevent him from fleeing their neighborhood before Travis McMichael shot him. They say there’s no evidence that Arbery — who had enrolled at a technical college to study to become an electrician like his uncles — had committed any crimes.

Bryan attorney Kevin Gough once again made a motion before the jury was brought in for the judge to keep prominent Black pastors like Jackson and Sharpton out of the courtroom. Judge Timothy Walmsley declined to take it up again.

“The court is not going to address the matter,” Walmsley said, noting he’d already rejected the same motion twice. He added: “The court’s position is already in the record.”

Gough first asked the judge last week to remove Sharpton from the court, saying the civil rights activist was trying to influence the jury, which is disproportionately white. The judge refused, and later called Gough’s remarks “reprehensible.”

By RUSS BYNUM and JEFFREY COLLINS, Associated Press

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