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Motion hearing to continue Thursday in Arbery murder case

FILE - This combo of booking photos provided by the Glynn County, Ga., Detention Center, shows...
FILE - This combo of booking photos provided by the Glynn County, Ga., Detention Center, shows from left, Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan Jr. The Justice Department announced federal hate crime charges against the three men Wednesday, April 28,2021, in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Georgia man who was killed while out for a run last year.(Glynn County Detention Center via AP)
Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 6:28 PM EDT
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GLYNN COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - The three men charged with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery made another appearance in court Wednesday in Glynn County.

Wednesday’s pre-trial motion hearing was for the state-level charges against the suspects. Lawyers made several motions about what evidence they believe should be presented at the trial.

The defendants - Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William “Roddie” Bryan - face murder, aggravated assault, and false imprisonment charges. Arbery was killed on Feb. 23, 2020. Three months after Arbery’s death, an attorney leaked the graphic video of Arbery’s killing. The video went viral and drew national attention.

All three suspects have pleaded not guilty in the state case and have said that they pursued Arbery because they thought he was a burglar.

Bryan’s attorney asked the judge to disqualify the Cobb County district attorney from prosecuting the Arbery case, saying former prosecutor Jesse Evans had an interaction with Greg McMichael during a trial for Justin Ross Harris. The judge denied that request. The judge ordered the State to produce any communication between Greg McMichael and the Cobb Co. DA’s office within 10 days.

The defense attorney for Travis McMichael asked the judge to consider presenting evidence of Arbery’s mental health and previous run-ins with law enforcement. The claim was that Arbery had a pattern of theft or attempted burglary crimes.

One of the first witnesses called to the stand was Glynn County Schools Police Chief Rodney Ellis. The defense asked Chief Ellis about a prior arrest of Arbery at the high school.

Chief Ellis testified that Arbery was arrested for carrying a weapon on school property, causing a disruption at an event, unlawful resisting and obstruction. He said he was alerted over dispatch about a person with a gun in his waistband at a basketball game.

Chief Ellis testified that an officer at the game asked Arbery about the gun and stated that Arbery ran, and officers joined in the chase.

The prosecution argued that this incident is not relevant to why the suspects chased and killed Arbery seven years later.

The defense’s second witness was Officer Robert Mydell. Officer Mydell was asked about a shoplifting incident in December 2017 that involved Arbery.

Officer Mydell testified that Arbery was trying to steal a TV from the Walmart. He said he asked Arbery and other men to stop walking before Arbery became confrontational. Officer Mydell testified that Arbery was in an agitated state and did not want to comply.

Arbery was convicted for felony shoplifting for this incident.

The third witness called was Officer Michael Kanago. Officer Kanago was a Glynn County Police Department officer at the time of an incident with Arbery in November 2017.

Body camera video of the incident was played in court. Officer Kanago testified he saw a car parked in an unfrequented area at Townsend Park. He stated the area is known for illegal drug activity. On the body camera video, Officer Kanago is heard asking Arbery what he is doing in the car. Arbery responds he was rapping in the vehicle.

Officer Kanago then asks for ID, and Arbery is seen in the video showing his ID to the officer.

Arbery is heard asking the officer why is he being messed with. Arbery uses expletives in his questions to the officer. Officer Kanago testified that Arbery’s verbal escalation and body language is seen as threatening.

Officer Kanago testified that he was looking for any weapons or drugs in the vehicle. Arbery and the officer continue a verbal exchange in the video, with Arbery questioning the officer about why he was “bothering him.”

Officer Kanago said that Arbery approached him quickly and he felt like Arbery was going to assault him. The officer asked for backup. Another officer arrives at the scene and brings his Taser out. Arbery is asked to get on his knees, and he complies.

The officer concluded that there was no other escalation after this and Arbery was let go.

An assistant manager of Love’s Travel Shop testified that Arbery was a regular customer and she claimed she saw Arbery shoplift eight times between 2018-2020.

The prosecution asked how the assistant manger knew it was Arbery and she said she saw his picture in the newspaper after his death and realized it was him. She says the store has no video of the alleged shoplifting incidents. The incidents were also never reported to police, according to the assistant manager.

The defense claimed that these incidents, several years ago, will speak to Arbery’s state of mind on the day he was killed.

The prosecution argued his state of mind was fight or flight because Bryan hit him with a car, and the McMichaels chased him with guns.

The prosecution argued that Arbery’s past did not contribute to why the suspects chased Arbery, then shot and killed him. The prosecution says the men had no knowledge of Arbery’s past or anything about his mindset.

As for the defense’s argument that the suspects were acting in self-defense, the prosecution said, “It’s not self-defense if you started it.”

Testimony was started about Arbery’s mental health. The defense argued that Arbery had schizoaffective disorder, which the defense attorney claimed contributed to how Arbery acted on the day he was killed.

The prosecution stated it was offended the defense was even trying to go down this road.

After the hearing, Arbery’s family and the attorney say the defense’s arguments were trying to ruin Arbery’s character, but no matter what was said inside the courtroom Wednesday, the family says their loved one did nothing wrong on that day.

The judge has yet to rule on many of Wednesday’s motions. The hearing continues Thursday.

Jury selection for the state-level case will start on Oct. 18, 2021.

The three defendants made an appearance in federal court on Tuesday as they are now facing federal hate crimes charges. All three pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.

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