The prosecution has rested in Brunswick, Georgia, and on Wednesday the three men accused of murdering 25-year old Ahmaud Arbery began their defense; arguing that Arbery posed a threat to the life of Travis McMichael when Arbery grabbed for a shotgun in McMichael’s hand.
In fact, Travis McMichael himself was the first witness called by the defense, and he walked jurors through the events of February 23rd of last year, arguing that he stepped out of his truck with his shotgun in hand after pursuing Arbery through the Satilla Shores neighborhood for five minutes because he was hoping to de-escalate the situation.
The 35-year-old attempted to paint a portrait of a neighborhood that lived in fear of break-ins. He said people would talk about things being broken into near their homes and said his mother had pointed out things she saw going on in the neighborhood. It was concerning for him, he said, when more patrol cars appeared in the community. He said his car was burglarized multiple times and that he reported a stolen Smith & Wesson pistol from his truck.
Travis McMichael’s lawyer, Jason Sheffield, stipulated off the bat that his client had previously pulled his gun on two other people long before killing Arbery.
In one instance, the attorney said, his client did so when he was approached by someone at an ATM, who then ran away. The second time, he said, the defendant was sitting in his truck and a person was allegedly attempting to carjack him. He pulled out his gun, leading the person to run away, according to Sheffield.
“This has now informed him of how using his gun can de-escalate situations,” Sheffield said.
We cover armed citizen stories on a daily basis here at Bearing Arms, including plenty of situations where the mere presence of a firearm in the hand of an armed citizen is enough to de-escalate the situation. In fact, research shows that the vast majority of defense gun uses are resolved without the trigger ever being pulled.
The biggest difference between the two earlier incidents described by McMichael’s attorney and what happened on February 23rd of last year is that prosecutors are making the case that McMichael, along with his father Gregory and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, were the aggressors. The three men were the ones chasing after Arbery, allegedly to make a citizens arrest, though the prosecution was able to show that none of the three mentioned anything about a citizens arrest when they spoke to officers at the scene. The state has also argued that the trio didn’t have the immediate knowledge that a crime had been committed, which meant they didn’t have the legal authority to initiate a citizens arrest on Arbery.
And if Travis McMichael were truly trying to de-escalate the situation that day, why didn’t he simply disengage his pursuit of Arbery? It’s one thing to point a gun at a guy trying to carjack you. It’s something else entirely to jump out of your truck gun in hand, in an attempt to get them to stop running away from you.
“I was thinking of my son,” a teary Travis McMichael told the jury of the moment before he pulled the trigger. “It sounds weird, but that’s the first thing that hit me.”
“He had my gun,” McMichael, 35, testified. “He struck me. It was obvious that he was attacking me, that if he would have gotten the shotgun from me, then this was a life or death situation, and I’m going to have to stop him from doing this so I shot.”
The fact that Travis McMichael shot Ahmaud Arbery isn’t in dispute. Instead, just as in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the question is whether or not the McMichaels were the initial aggressors. Travis McMichael may very well have been in fear of his life, but that description could also very well apply to Arbery in that moment, who had been pursued for several minutes at that point.
With Travis McMichael taking the stand, it seems almost a certainty that his father Gregory McMichaels will do the same, perhaps as early as today. I would expect more emotional testimony from the defendants, but at some point their attorneys are going to have to address the nuts and bolts of Georgia’s since-repealed citizens arrest law if they’re going to counter the prosecution’s main argument. If they can’t convince the jury that they had the right to pursue and detain Arbery that day, it’s going to be nearly impossible to win an acquittal.