Prosecutor Challenges Assailant on Whether Arbery Posed a Threat

Before Travis McMichael pointed his gun at Ahmaud Arbery, Mr. Arbery had not yelled at him or brandished a weapon, Mr. McMichael acknowledged under cross-examination.,


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BRUNSWICK, Ga. — A prosecutor’s cross-examination of Travis McMichael, the man who fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery, raised questions on Thursday about the defendant’s contention that Mr. Arbery presented a threat to him, and revealed social media posts that Mr. McMichael had made before the killing in which he described crime suspects as “vermin.”

The interrogation took place on the 10th and final day of testimony in the trial in the small coastal city of Brunswick, where scores of Black preachers and civil rights advocates gathered to support the family of Mr. Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was killed in February 2020. The demonstrators had also protested an effort launched by one of the defense lawyers, Kevin Gough, to ban from the courtroom high-profile Black activists, including Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson, who have at various times appeared alongside Mr. Arbery’s family members in the gallery.

Mr. McMichael, 35, was the only one of the three white men charged in the murder case to take the stand. His lawyers have argued that he was fulfilling a “duty and responsibility” to his family and neighborhood by pursuing Mr. Arbery, whom he believed to be a suspicious character in a neighborhood beset with concerns abut property crime.


The demonstrators gathered to protest an effort launched by one of the defense lawyers, Kevin Gough, to ban high-profile Black activists from the courtroom.Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

Defense lawyers contend that Mr. McMichael, along with the other two men — Travis’s father, Gregory McMichael, 65, and their neighbor William Bryan, 52 — were carrying out a legal citizen’s arrest and that Travis McMichael acted in self-defense in firing on Mr. Arbery with a shotgun at close range.

Linda Dunikoski, the lead prosecutor, began her interrogation on Thursday by handing Mr. McMichael a transcript of his initial testimony to the police. She proceeded to draw out a number of inconsistencies in his various tellings of the way the three men, who were in a pair of pickup trucks, chased Mr. Arbery as he ran through their neighborhood.

She unleashed a series of questions that appeared designed to raised doubts about whether Mr. Arbery, who was unarmed, posed a legitimate threat. “Did Mr. Arbery reach into his pockets?” she asked, and continued in that vein: Did he yell? Threaten you? Brandish weapons? Gun? Knife?

To each of these, Mr. McMichael answered no.

“He just ran?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied.

On Wednesday, Mr. McMichael had testified that Mr. Arbery had grabbed Mr. McMichael’s shotgun. But on Thursday, Ms. Dunikoski noted that he told an investigator in an earlier interview that he could not remember whether Mr. Arbery grabbed it or not.

Mr. McMichael’s lawyers have argued that his training, when he was in the U.S. Coast Guard, gave him a working understanding of the concept of “probable cause,” and that he had probable cause to believe Mr. Arbery was a burglar, even though Mr. Arbery, who had visited a partially built house in the neighborhood several times, was never seen taking anything from it.


The prosecutor’s cross-examination of Travis McMichael, the man who fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery, raised questions about the defendant’s contention that Mr. Arbery presented a threat to him.Credit…Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Ms. Dunikoski has argued that the three men had no “immediate knowledge” that a crime had been committed.

Understand the Killing of Ahmaud Arbery

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The shooting. On Feb. 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was shot and killed after being chased by three white men while jogging near his home on the outskirts of Brunswick, Ga. The slaying of Mr. Arbery was captured in a graphic video that was widely viewed by the public.

The victim. Mr. Arbery was a former high school football standout and an avid jogger. At the time of his death, he was living with his mother outside the small coastal city in Southern Georgia.

The suspects. Three white men — Gregory McMichael, 67, his 35-year-old son, Travis McMichael, and their neighbor William Bryan, 52 — stand accused of murdering Mr. Arbery. They have also been indicted on federal hate crime charges. The men told authorities they suspected Mr. Arbery of committing a series of break-ins.

The fallout. The release of the video of the shooting sparked nationwide protests and prompted Georgia lawmakers to make significant changes to the state’s criminal law, including passage of the state’s first hate crimes statute.

The trial. With an unsettling video set to play a starring role in court, the case bears similarities to that of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer found guilty of murdering George Floyd. The trial is likely to address issues such as vigilantism and the role racism played in the three defendants’ actions.

The jury. After an extraordinarily long process, 12 jurors in the case were selected. The jury, which is made up of residents of Glynn County, where more than a quarter of the population is Black, only includes one Black person.

“Isn’t it true from your training that you need two parts of probable cause?” she asked on Thursday. “You need probable cause that a crime has actually been committed — and that the person you’re arresting is actually the one who committed the crime.”

“That is correct,” Mr. McMichael replied.

Ms. Dunikoski also noted that Mr. McMichael had made a number of statements about crime and vigilantism on social media. In one online post, on the topic of neighborhood crime, he stated that his father “doesn’t care about going to jail.” He added, “Hell, I’m getting that way,” and told one neighbor that he hoped the perpetrators of a crime she described would be caught, calling the perpetrators “vermin.”

Outside the courthouse on Thursday afternoon, Black pastors and others from around the country, including Mr. Sharpton and Mr. Jackson, marched through the streets. When they arrived at a mural of Mr. Arbery, his aunt, Diane Arbery Jackson, addressed the group and asked the marchers to keep praying for her family.

Defense lawyers on Thursday also called six residents of the Satilla Shores neighborhood where Mr. Arbery was killed, each of whom described concerns about property crimes in the neighborhood, a key to the lawyers’ broader argument that the community was “on edge” when security cameras began capturing Mr. Arbery visiting the house under construction.

Sube Lawrence, one of the witnesses, testified that she felt “violated” by crime. Through tears, she said she was upset that her children were unable to grow up in a neighborhood as safe as the one she was raised in.

Earlier in the day, Ms. Dunikoski asked permission to tell the jury about Mr. Bryan’s contention that Mr. McMichael used a racist slur moments after his confrontation with Mr. Arbery. But before the judge could rule on the matter, the defense rested its case, and Ms. Dunikoski declined her right to present rebuttal witnesses.

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