Their own words may have doomed men who killed Ahmaud Arbery
The video of Ahmaud Arbery's shotgun death was shocking evidence that suddenly brought the black man's murder to national consciousness.
But the murder convictions of the three white men who pursued him may have been backed up by their own words to investigators on the day of the shooting.
Greg McMichael, who was lying in the back of a pickup truck when his son killed Arbery, told the police the black guy was "trapped like a rat" and said to Arbery, "Hold on, or I'll blow your fucking head off!"
Statements like these allowed prosecutors to give context to the short video that did not show the entire shootout and had little of the five minutes the men chased Arbery.
“It is these statements that screwed up the defense more than the video. If they had never spoken to the police and they said we saw him take something off the property and run away - there is an OK shot, the jury might have acquitted them, ”said appellate attorney Andrew Fleischman, who started the trial from Atlanta.
WHAT YOU SAID:
Gunman Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael, and his neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan all spoke at length and frankly with Glynn County investigators just hours after Arbery was killed in their Brunswick, Georgia neighborhood in February 2020.
They told police they were not sure what Arbery had done wrong, which would later be a major blow to their defense, that they would arrest a citizen.
The Act on the Arrest of Citizens, which was overturned by lawmakers after Arbery's death, requires a person to see or be immediately aware of a crime being committed, or to have a reasonable suspicion that someone is fleeing a crime justify the arrest of a citizen.
“I don't think the guy actually stole anything there, or if he did, it was at the beginning of the process. But he goes back to that damn house over and over again, "Greg McMichael said, according to a transcript of the interview Sgt. Roderic Nohilly read to the Glynn County Police Department in court.
Bryan was on his porch when he saw Arbery running past close behind in the McMichaels truck. He told the police he didn't know any of them or what started the persecution, but still joined them after shouting, "You all have him?"
In an interview with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Bryan said he wanted to snap a picture of Arbery to show the police but couldn't point to any crimes Arbery had committed.
"I thought he did something wrong," said Bryan. "I didn't know exactly."
The testimony enabled prosecutor Linda Dunikoski to methodically disassemble the defense’s arguments.
“Nobody spoke of the arrest of a citizen. And by that I don't mean the magic words' civil arrest ',' said Atlanta attorney Page Godfather.
This made it difficult for the men's lawyers to explain away their statements.
"The evidence suggests that Roddie Bryan is legitimately struggling to find the right words," said Bryan's attorney Kevin Gough in his closing argument to the jury on Monday.
Travis McMichael, who testified in his own defense, said he was shocked when he first spoke to the police and called the shooting the most traumatic event of his life.
Greg McMichael's attorney suggested that he may never have yelled at Arbery, "Hold up or I'll blow your head off," as he told police because the remark wasn't recorded on the cell phone video of the shooting or the 911 call Greg McMichael sent Police taken Both shots covered only a small part of the five-minute chase that ended with Arbery's death.
"You only have a handful of defenses to deal with what is essentially a confession," said Page.
Greg McMichael was a former investigator in the Glynn County office and perhaps felt he could navigate the troubles between his acquaintances and friends.
It worked for a while. The men were not charged for more than two months - only after the video of the shooting was exposed and the case was referred to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. State agents charged the men two days later.
"This is just one case of a customer who talked himself out of trouble and those statements turned out to be what drove him back into the business," said Fleischman.
Phone records show Greg McMichael called his former boss, District Attorney Jackie Johnson, shortly after the shooting. Johnson transferred the case to an out-of-town prosecutor who relied on the citizen's arrest law by not recommending charges. A third prosecutor was reviewing the case when the video surfaced and handed over to the state.
Johnson has been charged with violating her oath of office and obstructing the police force in their role in the investigation. Authorities have released little information about Johnson's actions other than never disclosing that she asked the second prosecutor to advise police immediately after the murder of Arbery.
Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report.
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