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Defense attorneys in Ahmaud Arbery murder trial rest their case

Travis McMichael is testifying in his murder trial in the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga. He, along with his father, Greg McMichael, and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, are charged in the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.
Stephen B. Morton
Pool / Getty Images
Travis McMichael is testifying in his murder trial in the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga. He, along with his father, Greg McMichael, and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, are charged in the February 2020 slaying of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.

Updated November 18, 2021 at 10:27 AM ET

Travis McMichael is testifying in his own defense in the murder trial over the February 2020 killing of Ahmaud Arbery on Thursday, with lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski cross-examining him.

The prosecution rested its case on Tuesday.

"I want to give my side of the story," McMichael said on Wednesday, telling the court that he wanted to explain what happened from his point of view.

McMichael is one of three white defendants in the case; all are facing murder charges in the Black man's death.

Two new details emerge in McMichael's testimony

McMichael introduced two new details on Thursday — first, by saying that during the chase, Arbery briefly stopped running and second, by saying that Arbery took off again after McMichael told him the police were coming.

Dunikowski questioned him about those details, saying McMichael had not relayed them in earlier statements to police. McMichael said he was nervous and traumatized after the shooting.

"I just killed a man," he said.

The prosecutor asked why he was nervous — but McMichael rejected the idea that he had feared he would be going to jail.

"You just killed somebody and you don't think you're going to jail? That's what you're saying?" Dunikowski asked McMichael.

Questions center on the chase of Arbery

Dunikoski reviewed McMichael's actions and statements about the chase he and his father initiated in McMichael's truck after Arbery was seen at an under-construction house nearby. She has previously said the pursuit lasted five minutes.

The prosecutor noted that McMichael told Arbery to stop; McMichael says it was a request, not an order. He also confirmed that when he was chasing Arbery, the man wasn't carrying anything — a bag, backpack or a weapon.

"Yes, he was just running," McMichael said.

He then said he didn't think he startled Arbery when he drove his pickup truck up alongside him.

"I want to talk to you," McMichael said he told Arbery.

At that point, Arbery stopped, turned, and started running back the way he came, he said.

McMichael says he reversed his truck to follow Arbery and asked him what had happened near the house where Arbery had been seen moments before.

Earlier, McMichael agreed there was no reason to suspect Arbery for the theft of a gun from his truck. He also said he didn't know who had stolen items from a boat belonging to Larry English — the owner of the under-construction house that Arbery was seen entering.

Under questioning from Dunikoski, McMichael said that when he ran out of his own home with his shotgun, he had not first gone to the English house to learn precisely what happened. Instead, he said, he pursued Arbery.

What are the charges McMichael faces?

A grand jury indicted Gregory and Travis McMichael and William Bryan on nine criminal counts in Georgia state court, including felony murder, aggravated assault and false imprisonment.

The June 2020 indictment accuses the men of using their pickup trucks to chase and assault Arbery before killing him with a 12-gauge shotgun.

Who are the defendants in the case?

Gregory McMichael, 65, worked in law enforcement for decades, including a long stint as an investigator for the district attorney's office in Brunswick. After spotting Arbery, McMichael later told police, he grabbed his .357 Magnum pistol and told his son, "Travis, the guy is running down the street. Let's go."

Travis McMichael, 35, shot and killed Arbery with a 12-gauge shotgun after chasing him in his Ford F-150 pickup. He is a former member of the Coast Guard.

William "Roddie" Bryan, 52, is the neighbor who jumped into his Chevrolet Silverado pickup to help chase Arbery. He used his cellphone to record video of the final moments of the confrontation.

Ten weeks passed between Arbery's death and the first arrests in the case, after a video of the killing became public.

Who are the judge, prosecutors and defense?

Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley is presiding over the trial at the Glynn County Courthouse. The Eastern Judicial Circuit judge was given the case after all five judges in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit recused themselves. Walmsley was appointed to the bench in February 2012.

Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski is the senior assistant district attorney in Cobb County, outside of Atlanta. She was put in charge of the case in April, after two local prosecutors recused themselves.

Defense attorney Kevin Gough of Brunswick has represented Bryan since his arrest. Attorney Jessica Burton of Atlanta is also on Bryan's defense team.

Defense attorneys Robert Rubin and Jason Sheffield represent Travis McMichael. They're from the same Atlanta-area law firm.

Defense attorneys Laura and Franklin Hogue, who are married, represent Greg McMichael. They're based in Macon, Ga., where they've handled numerous death-penalty cases in the past.

Along with the state charges, a federal grand jury indicted the McMichaels and Bryan on hate crime charges in April.

The federal charges also include the attempted kidnapping of Arbery, and the McMichaels are charged with using firearms during a violent crime. A February trial date has been slated for those charges.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.