Salem Radio Network News Thursday, December 2, 2021

U.S.

Travis McMichael tells jury he thought Ahmaud Arbery was a burglar

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) -Travis McMichael, who shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery when the Black man ran through McMichael’s mostly white south Georgia neighborhood, took the stand on Wednesday in his own defense and testified that he thought Arbery was a burglar.

Three white men — McMichael, his 65-year-old father Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52 — have pleaded not guilty to murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment in the case.

McMichael’s decision to testify was a risky legal maneuver as it opened him up to questioning by prosecutors, who have said they might ask him about evidence he had “racial animus” against Black people if he took the stand.

The three men pursued Arbery in pickup trucks on Feb. 23, 2020 before the younger McMichael fired his shotgun three times at close range as Arbery ran toward him and appeared to reach for the weapon.

Defense lawyers have argued that the defendants thought Arbery, 25, might have committed a crime before they chased him and were trying to make a legal citizen’s arrest.

Testifying on Wednesday, McMichael, 35, said there had been thefts in Satilla Shores, his neighborhood outside the small coastal Georgia city of Brunswick, that put residents on edge.

He recalled a prior encounter with Arbery on the night of Feb. 11, 2020, less than two weeks before the Sunday afternoon shooting that killed Arbery.

That night, he said, he saw Arbery outside an unoccupied, half-built house in the neighborhood. Prosecutors said Arbery was an avid runner out for one of his regular jogs.

McMichael said Arbery, was “creeping through the shadows” and then seemed to put his hand in the waistband or pocket of his shorts.

“It freaked me out,” he said. “I’m under the assumption that he’s armed.” He ran home to grab his gun and called the police, but Arbery had vanished by then.

McMichael testified that he believed Arbery might have stolen fishing equipment that had been reported missing by the owner of the half-built house and was returning on Feb. 11 to take more things.

No evidence has emerged that Arbery took anything from the house. The property owner has previously said through a lawyer that Arbery may have stopped at the construction site to drink from a water faucet. Arbery had nothing on him besides his running clothes and shoes the day he was shot.

McMichael’s lawyers have said he shot Arbery in self-defense as Arbery tried to grab McMichael’s pump-action shotgun. The three men face life in prison if convicted of murder.

On Wednesday, McMichael described law-enforcement training he had during nine years he worked as a U.S. Coast Guard mechanic.

Speaking calmly and often turning to address the jurors directly, McMichael said he had arrest powers and was trained on using force and the need for reasonable suspicion of a crime. Although he never used physical force in his Coast Guard duties, he said had been taught that aiming a gun at someone can be used to deescalate a situation.

“When you pull a weapon on someone, from what I’ve learned in my training, usually that tells people to back off” and comply with orders, he told the jury.

Prosecutors say the defendants had unfairly assumed the worst about a Black man out for a Sunday run, and that none of the defendants were working as law-enforcement officers when they chased Arbery.

Bryan recorded cellphone video of Arbery being killed by Travis McMichael. The video caused outrage when it was published more than two months later.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Ross Colvin and Cynthia Osterman)

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