Travis McMichael, one of the three white men charged in the killing of 25-year-old Black man Ahmaud Arbery, took the stand in a high-stakes gamble to explain the fatal shooting that sparked national outrage and protests last year.
He was the first defense witness to testify in a case in which his father Gregory McMichael, 65, and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 53, also face murder charges; none of them are under any obligation to give testimony. The men are claiming self-defense and asserting that they believed Arbery had just committed a burglary in their neighborhood, but evidence presented earlier in the trial undercut some of those claims.
Arbery’s killing ignited a national conversation about racial profiling, and the trial of the men who pursued and killed him has been often fraught. It began with the controversial selection of a jury of 11 white people and only one Black person, and last week, one of the defense lawyers objected to the presence of “Black pastors” in the courtroom.
Travis McMichael’s risky testimony could be aimed at swaying the nearly all-white jurors with tales of a neighborhood endangered by crime.
He also claimed that brandishing a gun was his attempt to somehow de-escalate the confrontation with Arbery, which he and his father initiated.
“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,” he said.
The 35-year-old attempted to paint a portrait of a neighborhood that lived in fear of break-ins. He said people would talk about things being broken into near their homes and said his mother had pointed out things she saw going on in the neighborhood. It was concerning for him, he said, when more patrol cars appeared in the community. He said his car was burglarized multiple times and that he reported a stolen Smith & Wesson pistol from his truck.
Travis McMichael’s lawyer, Jason Sheffield, stipulated off the bat that his client had previously pulled his gun on two other people long before killing Arbery.
In one instance, the attorney said, his client did so when he was approached by someone at an ATM, who then ran away. The second time, he said, the defendant was sitting in his truck and a person was allegedly attempting to carjack him. He pulled out his gun, leading the person to run away, according to Sheffield.
“This has now informed him of how using his gun can de-escalate situations,” Sheffield said.
The defendant also described an incident not long before Arbery’s killing in which he went to get gas and saw a man “creeping through the shadows” outside a residential construction site just down the street from his parents’ home. In a 911 call that was played back to the court on Wednesday, he could be heard telling the operator that “when I turned around, he took off running into the house.”
Just a week before Travis McMichael’s testimony, construction site owner Larry English had said in a deposition that he never authorized Travis McMichael or his father to help secure his property. English also never reported any stolen items, despite the McMichaels claiming there were thefts at the site.
Prosecutor Paul Camarillo asked English what was going on at his site over the course of months that would have had the McMichaels so concerned.
Video footage showed multiple people entering and leaving the site, including two young white kids on a bicycle and a white man and woman. Footage from the day Arbery was shot and killed also showed him inside of the site.
“At this point, to your knowledge, had anything ever been taken or disturbed?” Camarillo asked English.
“Nope,” English replied.
Arbery’s killing sparked national outrage and protests for months across the country. The McMichaels, along with Bryan, are charged with felony murder, malice murder, aggravated assault and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. The three also face federal hate crime charges.