Travis McMichael, the Georgia man accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery last February, took the stand on Wednesday and told jurors he only shot the 25-year-old unarmed Black man because it was a “life or death situation.”
“He had my gun. It was obvious that he was attacking me and if he’d have gotten the shotgun from me, it’d be a life and death situation,” McMichael said while testifying on his own behalf in Glynn County court.
McMichael, his father, Gregory, and William “Roddie” Bryan face several charges after allegedly chasing and ultimately killing Arbery, who was known to jog in Satilla Shores, a neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, on the afternoon of Feb. 23, 2020. Travis McMichael was caught on a video filmed by Bryan firing the fatal shots.
The younger McMichael was the first defense witness to testify for the trio, who all allege they were trying to perform a citizen’s arrest on Arbery in connection with suspected break-ins in the area.
“I want to give my side of the story, explain what happened in the way I see it,” McMichael said on the stand.
He then walked jurors through the months leading up to the shooting, insisting that crime in Satilla Shores had become a “common occurrence” and that the whole neighborhood was on edge. On the day of the deadly incident, McMichael claimed he asked Arbery to stop multiple times during the chaotic chase and eventually reached for his firearm “to deter him to stay—to do not come by me.”
Choking up at times, McMichael claimed that Arbery grabbed his gun, spurring a struggle that ended with the latter being shot. Afterward, McMichael said he saw police had arrived and he immediately put his shotgun down on the side of the road.
“After that, it was a blur,” McMichael said.
The shooting, McMichael explained, came after a crime spree in the neighborhood that he felt qualified to help with because of his past law enforcement training in the Coast Guard. He added that his training focused on how to de-escalate situations, and claimed that one strategy he learned was to point a gun at a suspect to defuse a situation.
“If you pull a gun on someone...from what I’ve learned that usually caused people to back off or realize what’s happening. Compel compliance,” McMichael said, an idea that prosecutors are sure to drill down on during cross-examination.
Two weeks before Arbery’s fatal shooting, McMichael told jurors he called the cops after seeing someone “lurking” outside a home under construction, whom he believed was “stealing, breaking in, [and] burglarizing.”
“It startled me a little bit having that just happen and him creeping through that yard and trying to avoid detection...was alarming. I don’t think anyone normal would do that,” he added. “The way that he was acting was a bold move.”
On Feb. 23, authorities say that Gregory McMichael spotted Arbery on his front lawn after leaving that unfinished home. According to a police report, the elder McMichael said he saw Arbery “hauling ass” and, believing he was responsible for the recent break-ins, went into his house to tell his son Travis and grab his .357 Magnum.
Travis McMichael told jurors on Wednesday that he was in the living room trying to get his son down for a nap when his father walked in “in an almost frantic state.” He said his dad told him that “the guy that’s been breaking in down the road just ran by the house. Something’s happened.”
“I assumed it was the same guy from Feb. 11. I think he told me to grab my gun...so I grabbed the shotgun,” McMichael said, noting that they did not know whether Arbery was armed or not.
Authorities say that the father and son got into a pickup truck and chased after Arbery, but were unsuccessful at cutting him off. Describing his perspective of the incident, McMichael said that he jogged up next to Arbery, who was still running, to ask him what was going on.
“I’m not screaming at the guy I’m just trying to figure out what happened,” he testified. “He looks very angry. He was mad. It wasn’t what I expected.”
McMichael said that he continued to follow Arbery and asked him to “please” stop at least once. He added that at the time, he believed his father had called the police, though he later learned the cops were never called.
Authorities have said that around the same time, their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, joined the pursuit in his own truck and began to record the encounter. Senior Assistant District Attorney Linda Dunikoski said during opening statements that during the chase, Gregory McMichael yelled, “Stop, or I’ll blow your fucking head off” to Arbery.
Travis McMichael eventually got out of the car to confront Arbery, prosecutors said. According to the McMichaels, Arbery then “began to violently attack Travis and the two men then started fighting over the shotgun, at which point Travis fired a shot and then a second later there was a second shot.”
Bryan’s now-infamous footage showed Arbery get shot in the chest. The footage also showed that while Travis McMichael and Arbery were in a scuffle, Arbery was shot another two times. A medical examiner concluded that Arbery suffered multiple shots at very close range—including the chest and wrist.
Prosecutors allege that Glynn County police officers arrived at the scene several minutes after the shooting, at which point Gregory McMichael insisted that his son “had no choice,” but to shoot Arbery, seemingly setting up the defense that his son was invoking his right to open fire under the state’s so-called Stand Your Ground law, which allows Georgians to use deadly force if they believe they are risk of bodily injury or death.