Their words may have been doomed for the men who murdered Ahmud Arbery
The video showing Ahmaud Arbery being shot dead was shocking evidence that suddenly brought the killing of the black man into the national consciousness.
But the murder convictions of the three white men who pursued him may have been secured by their own words to investigators on the day of the shootings.
Greg McMichael, who was in the bed of a pickup truck when his son Arbery was killed, told police that the black man “was trapped like a rat” and told Arbery, “Stop, or I’ll blow your head off!”
Statements like this allowed prosecutors to give context to the short video that did not show the entire shooting and only had the five minutes that the Arbery men chased.
It is these statements that spoiled the defense more than the video. If they never spoke to the police and said we saw him take something and run away — there’s a good chance the jury might have acquitted them,” said appellate attorney Andrew Fleishman, who followed the trial from Atlanta.
What did they say:
Shooter, Travis McMichael, his father, Greg McMichael, and neighbor William “Rudy” Brian all spoke intensely and candidly with Glen County detectives just hours after Arbery was murdered in the Brunswick, Georgia, neighborhood in February 2020.
They told the police that they weren’t sure exactly what Arbery had done wrong, which would later be a huge blow to their defense that they were carrying out a citizen arrest.
The Citizen Arrest Act, which legislators largely rescinded after Arbery’s death, requires a person to see or have immediate knowledge of a crime that has been committed or have a reasonable suspicion that someone is fleeing a felony in order to justify the arrest of a citizen.
“I don’t think the man actually stole anything from there, or if he did so early on in the process,” said Greg McMichael, according to a transcript of the interview that Glenn County Police Sgt. Roderick Newley read in court, “but he keeps coming back time and time again to This damned house.
Brian was on the front porch when he saw Arbery pass a McMichaels truck not far from the back. He told the police that he didn’t recognize any of them, or know what prompted the chase, but still joined after a plea: “Do you understand?”
In an interview with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Bryan said he wanted to take a picture of Arbery to expose her to the police, but could not point to any crimes Arbery had committed.
“I thought he made a mistake,” Brian said. “I didn’t know for sure.”
These statements allowed Attorney General Linda Donekowski to systematically filter defense arguments.
No one talked about the arrest of a citizen. And I don’t mean to use the magic words “citizen arrest”. I don’t mean anyone says, ‘We saw the guy commit a burglary and we were going to catch him so we could turn him over to the police because he committed this crime,’ Atlanta defense attorney Big Pat said.
This left the men’s lawyers struggling to interpret their statements.
“Evidence indicates that Rudy Bryan is legitimately struggling to find the right words,” Brian’s attorney, Kevin Gough, told jurors in his closing arguments Monday.
Testifying in his own defense, Travis McMichael said he was shocked when he first spoke to the police, describing the shooting as the most traumatic event of his life.
Greg McMichael’s attorney suggested he probably never yelled at Arbery: “Stop, or I’ll blow your head off,” he told police because the note was not recorded in the mobile video of the shooting or the 911 call Greg McMichael gave to the police, and both recordings covered only a small portion of the The five-minute stalking that ended with Arbery’s death.
“You only have a few defenses to deal with what is basically a confession,” Pat said.
Greg McMichael was a former investigator in the Glenn County District Attorney’s Office and may have felt he could work around problems among his acquaintances and friends.
I worked for a while. The men had not been charged for more than two months – only after a video of the shooting emerged and the case was referred to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. State agents charged the men two days later.
“This is just a case of a client who himself spoke about the problems, and those statements later turned out to be brought back to her,” Fleischmann said.
Phone records show that Greg McMichael called his former boss, District Attorney Jackie Johnson, right after the shooting. Johnson turned the case over to an out-of-town attorney general, who cited the Citizen Arrest Act in recommending that no charges be brought. A third prosecutor was reviewing the case when the video surfaced and handed it over to the state.
Johnson has been charged with a felony breach of oath of office and misdemeanor obstruction of police for her role in the investigation. Authorities have released little information about Johnson’s actions other than saying they never said she had asked the second attorney general to advise police in the immediate aftermath of Arbery’s murder.
Jeffrey Collins contributed to this report.