One of the three men charged with murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was killed while jogging, allegedly used a racial slur as Arbery lay dying from gunshot wounds, a Georgia law enforcement agent said during a court hearing Thursday.
The revelation came during a preliminary hearing for Travis McMichael and his father Gregory McMichael, two men charged in Arbery’s murder. William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., who recorded the shooting on a cellphone and is also charged in Arbery’s murder, waived his right to appear Thursday.
In a statement to investigators, Bryan said Travis McMichael shot Arbery and then called him a “fucking nigger” prior to police arriving to the scene, Georgia Bureau of Investigation special agent Richard Dial testified.
Dial’s testimony marked the first court statement suggesting Arbery’s killing was about race, CBS 46 reported. The Justice Department is investigating whether to charge the three men with federal hate crimes, S. Lee Merritt, an attorney for Arbery’s family, said last month.
Arbery was killed on Feb. 23 after Travis McMichael, 34, and Gregory McMichael, 64 ― two white men ― confronted him with guns while he was jogging down a suburban street in Brunswick, Georgia. Video of the incident taken by Bryan shows Arbery attempting to run past the truck of the two men before being shot by Travis McMichael, who was armed with a shotgun.
The father and son said they believed him to be a burglar. Merritt has called Arbery’s death a “modern-day lynching.”
“If there were any doubt before this hearing— it is now clear the murder of #AhmaudArbery occurred almost entirely due to racial bias, actual animist and deep seeded hatred of blackness,” Merritt tweeted Thursday. The tweet has since been deleted.
Dial testified Thursday that Travis McMichael used the slur “many times” on social media prior to Arbery’s killing, and that the toolbox on the defendant’s truck had a Confederate flag sticker on it. Dial said Bryan also used the slur, writing it in text messages the agent described as “very disturbing.”
In describing Arbery’s slaying, Dial said the three men chased Arbery for about seven minutes and trapped him between their two trucks. During the pursuit, Bryan hit Arbery with his truck, the GBI agent testified.
Travis McMichael shot Arbery three times, hitting the jogger twice in the chest and then once in the wrist, according to Dial.
An attorney for Travis McMichael asked Dial if he believed Arbery had been trying to break into one of the trucks. Dial said no.
“I’d say Mr. Arbery was trying to escape,” Dial told the court.
Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael were arrested and each charged with felony murder and aggravated assault on May 7. Two weeks later, Bryan was arrested and charged with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
The three men remain in Glynn County jail. They have not yet been asked by a judge to plea. Attorneys for the defendants have said publicly that they committed no crimes.