Since Ahmaud Arbery was killed in Georgia early last year, the men who chased down the 25-year-old Black man and fatally shot him have maintained they did so because they believed Arbery had previously burglarized homes in the area.
But one of the men changed his story on the day of the killing, according to body camera footage aired in Glynn County Court on Tuesday afternoon, as three men stand trial for Arbery’s murder.
In the courtroom on Tuesday, Jeff Brandeberry, a Glynn County police officer who responded to the scene, read from a transcript of his body camera footage that day.
Defendant Gregory McMichael, who had watched from the bed of a pickup truck as his son Travis McMichael killed Arbery with a shotgun, initially told Brandeberry that “[Arbery] makes frequent trips to the neighborhood and gets caught on video cameras every third or fourth night breaking into places, and no one’s been able to catch him.”
But hours later, Gregory McMichael told a detective that he believed Arbery had only targeted a single home under construction that had no doors or windows.
The discrepancy is important because the McMichaels are claiming self-defense, citing a Georgia law that, at the time, allowed citizens to detain people they suspected of criminality. The law was repealed in the wake of Arbery’s killing.
But Tuesday’s testimony calls into question the McMichaels’ fundamental assessment of the threat they say Arbery posed, particularly since Gregory McMichael seemed unsure of the details of the alleged break-ins. The men also never invoked a citizen’s arrest claim at the scene, according to testimony on Monday.
Following the shooting, Gregory McMichael told Brandeberry that he did not want to take any risks with Arbery, according to the body camera transcript, and that he had run quickly to get his .357 Magnum gun. The defendant did not know if Arbery was armed or not at the time, he told Brandeberry during the interview.
But that did not stop him.
“I haul ass to my bedroom to get my .357 Magnum,” Brandeberry quoted Gregory McMichael saying as Arbery’s body lay nearby. “Don’t know if the guy is armed because the other night the guy stuck his hands down his pants. I don’t take any chances.”
Gregory McMichael also told Brandeberry he would have shot Arbery had his son not done it. “I would be perfectly honest with you, if I could have got a shot at the guy [Arbery], I would have shot him myself.”
Brandeberry testified that police never told Gregory McMichael to sit in a law enforcement car nor on the curb, and did not take him away from the scene. The defendant also made calls while at the crime scene from his cellphone, according to the testimony.
Detective Parker Marcy, who was off-duty when Arbery was killed but helped at the scene, testified after Brandeberry on Tuesday. Marcy was questioned by state prosecutor Linda Dunikoski.
Marcy said Gregory McMichael told him that he didn’t believe Arbery stole anything, but that he might have at some point.
The detective said Gregory McMichael told him: “Well I’m think he’s either done something to somebody, somebody is chasing him, or you know, maybe I thought somebody drove up and found him in somebody’s house, or drove up to that particular house he likes to go up to over and over again.”
“So he [McMichael] doesn’t specifically tell you he saw him commit a crime that day?” Dunikoski asked Marcy.
“Correct,” he replied.
Reading to jurors from an interview transcript, Marcy quotes McMichael as having told him: “I don’t think the guy has actually stolen anything out of there, or if he did, it was earlier in the process. But he keeps going back over there, over and over and over again to this house.”
Marcy testified that McMichael later told him he’d called a warning to Arbery from the moving truck, but that Arbery ignored them and kept going ― so McMichael followed up with another statement.
“I said, ‘Stop,’ you know, ‘I’ll blow your fucking head off,’ or something,” McMichael told Marcy, according to Marcy. “I was trying to convey to this guy we’re not playing, you know?”
Jurors were shown photos of Travis McMichael’s bloody hands after the shooting.
Marcy indicated in his testimony that Gregory McMichael and William Bryan ― the neighbor who filmed Arbery’s pursuit and death, and who is now also on trial for murder ― already knew each other the day Arbery was killed. This caused some conflict between the defense and the prosecution.
Kevin Gough, Bryan’s attorney, did not want the information used as evidence in the trial. He asked the court for a mistrial as a result, which Judge Timothy Wamsley denied.
After a lunch break, the trial continued with security footage shown from neighbors and cross-examination from the defense.
Bryan and the McMichaels face charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment, plus federal hate crime charges and a count each of kidnapping.
Arbery’s death sparked national outrage and mass protests against police violence.