Travis McMichael takes stand in Ahmaud Arbery murder trial

Published: Nov. 17, 2021 at 2:52 PM EST
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BRUNSWICK, Ga. (WTOC) - Wednesday was day nine in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial.

Just a day after the state rested their case, attorneys for Greg and Travis McMichael asked for a directed verdict on counts one through five, while William Bryan’s attorney asked for a directed verdict on all of his counts.

A motion for a directed verdict asks for the court to make a directed verdict because they believe a jury cannot reasonably find their party guilty.

Judge Timothy Walmsley denied the directed verdict request for both McMichaels and Bryan.

After the motion was denied, Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney, delivered his opening statements to the jury. Attorney for both McMichaels gave their opening statements on day one of the trial.

After a lunch recess, the defense called Travis McMichael to the stand. Travis says he wanted to give his recollection of what happened that day.

“I want to give my side of the story. I want to explain what happened and to be able to say what happened from the way I see it,” Travis McMichael said.

As Travis McMichael began answering questions from his attorney, Jason Sheffield, he appeared calm and confident in his responses for the most part. He told jurors a lot of information they’ve heard already in previous testimony, but from his first hand perspective.

Sheffield began asking his client general questions about the Satilla Shores neighborhood where he lived with his mother and father, and then shifted to asking Travis about his experience and training in the U.S. Coast Guard. That included use of force training and how to deescalate situations with firearms, as well as keeping a gun from being taken away by an attacker.

“How to keep it away from going into the hands of who’s trying to take it from me,” Travis said.

“Is this something that you would practice,” asked Sheffield.

“Yes, absolutely,” Travis replied.

“What is the concern about not retaining your weapon,” asked Sheffield.

“One, that you would not be able to protect yourself in a deadly force situation, and also that someone would take it away from you and use it on you or others,” Travis responded.

Travis McMichael also testified about what happened the day he shot Ahmaud Arbery and why.

“He grabs the shotgun and I believe I was struck. On that, that first instance that we made contact,” Travis McMichael said.

In reference to his encounter with Ahmaud Arbery, Sheffield asks, “What were you thinking in that moment?”

“I was thinking of my son. I know that sounds weird, that was... the first thing that hit me,” Travis responded.

“What did you do,” Sheffield asked.

“I shot him,” replied Travis.

“Why,” Sheffield asked.

“He, he had my gun. He struck me. It was obvious that he was, it was obvious that, that he was attacking me. That if he would have got the shotgun from me, then it was, it’s a life or death situation and I’m going to have to, to stop him from doing this. So I shot.” Travis responded.

Travis later said, “The second shot, I shot again because I was still fighting. He was all over me. He was still all over the shotgun and he was not relenting. So I shot him again to stop him.”

McMichael gave his account of how the pursuit of Arbery began, saying his father Greg McMichael saw Arbery run by their house in Satilla Shores, believing he was the same person caught on camera going into a house under construction down the street. Travis McMichael described how he tried to get Arbery to stop multiple times, and ultimately used his shotgun when he said Arbery charged toward him.

“Knowing that there was stuff stolen out of that house, that he has been continually breaking into this house and he just ran into the neighborhood with the neighbor pointing down the road, that led me to believe there’s probable cause that something has happened down there. Something has happened with this guy again. Let’s see what happened, let me make sure everybody is okay and identify him,” Travis said.

The prosecution pressed Travis on his version of events, pointing out that what he told police on the day of the shooting was different. Travis said he wasn’t thinking clearly after the shooting.

“I was all over the place in this statement,” Travis said. “I said that to Officer Noheely but at the time, I was still, what’s the best way to, I was still under the influence of what happened. This was only two hours after the most traumatic experience of my life. I’m trying to give them as much information as I can, so from reading these transcripts I realize I was scatter brained everywhere. "

The prosecution pointed out Travis never called the police.

Cross examination of Travis McMichael will continue Thursday morning.

The Arbery family and their attorneys came out and spoke with WTOC about Travis McMichael’s testimony. Ahmaud’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said she he killed her son based on assumptions and took matters into his own hands.

We saw McMichael get emotional on the stand and cried at some moments during testimony.

“Travis was on the stand wiping tears from his eyes, but again Travis is alive. I mean the tears he sheded today, was no, can you imagine the tears that we have shed,” said Wanda Cooper-Jones.

She says she feels Travis killed her son based purely on assumptions he made.

“He had no real facts or where Ahmaud was coming from. What Ahmaud had done. He just took actions into his own hands,” she said.

The family also spoke about the support they’ve received during the trial. Thursday, Rev. Al Sharpton is leading a march with pastors who are coming to Brunswick. WTOC will be there.

Greta Van Susteren on defense teams putting clients on the stand

Based on the possibility that Travis McMichael would testify Wednesday, WTOC asked legal analyst and broadcaster Greta Van Susteren about defense teams putting their clients on the witness stand.

“Would it benefit any of the defense teams to put their client on the stand, whether it be Travis, Greg McMichael or William Bryan,” WTOC asked.

“Well those are decisions made by the actual clients with the advice of counsel. Now, I can tell you that in general, we defense lawyers don’t always like to put our clients on the stand, because they don’t make the best witness, and you put your client, no matter how much you work with your client, and the client puts his best foot forward on the witness stand, the prosecution gets a chance to do cross-examination, and that’s of course when your client may say some things that are very unhelpful to his or her case. So, typically defense don’t like to put their clients on the witness stand, look I’ve tried cases and thoroughly prepared my client and my client gets up on the stand and I hear something I’ve never heard before. Because all of a sudden the client starts improvising. Now, there’s a big difference between a lawyer telling a client what to say, that’s inappropriate, but it’s not inappropriate to rehearse your client because clients are not used to testifying or talking in front of groups of people, and you just want the client to know if you know pretty much about what’s going to happen at trial. If the client, the client needs to know that he or she has a Constitutional right to testify and a Constitutional right not to testify, so that’s why the judge goes through that procedure, informing the, informing all the defendants now of that right, because the last thing that this judge wants or that anybody else wants is that should these defendants be convicted, if they go to the Court of Appeals and say look, I want to testify, and nobody told me that I could, so you put it on the record at this stage they have a right to testify, they can exercise it, and they have a right not to testify, and of course they can exercise that by not speaking, too.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson continues to show Arbery family support

Happening outside of the court house Wednesday, Reverend Jesse Jackson continuing to show his support for the Arbery family speaking during the lunch break about the trial.

“We hope that this case will be one where the jury will condemn the killers. The judge will convict the killers but not capitol punishment. We don’t want to kill nobody... We don’t want to go to that level again,” said Rev. Jackson.

Community Meeting

Glynn Unified Command is working with the Department of Justice and local community members as the trial continues.

They will be looking at how they can safely and peacefully march. The Community Coordination Center, located within the Rise Risley Community Center, will serve as a neutral venue for community members, leaders, and organizations to engage in peaceful dialogue, collaboration, and events marshal training.

The building has historic significance, too. Officials say it was the first place African-Americans were able to be educated in Glynn County.

It will serve as a place for demonstrators to meet and organize their efforts. That’s also where they can get information and request permits.

“With Unified Command being here and us partnering with them to open up this space for it, then it allows our community and those coming in the residents to feel very comfortable coming here because this is something that they know. This is a place that they know they are all welcome,” said Tres Hamilton, Chief Executive Officer of Coastal Georgia Area Community Action Authority.

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