Arbery prosecutors question defendant McMichael in cross-examination

Prosecutors Thursday during their cross-examination of Travis McMichael, one of three white men on trial in the February 2020 murder of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, prompted a series of statements that could damage his defense.

McMichael, his father Greg, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan face felony murder charges in connection with the murder of Arbery, who was black, on February 23, 2020, in Brunswick, Georgia.

Prosecutor Lisa Dunikoski questioned McMichael in a multi-hour interrogation Thursday, analyzing two lines of his defense: that McMichaels and Bryan made a lawful citizen arrest and that young McMichael acted in self-defense when he fatally shot Arbery at close range. reach with your shotgun.

Dunikoski began by questioning McMichael, a former Coast Guard officer, about his definition of probable cause, which under a now-repealed Georgia law is necessary to make a citizen’s arrest.

“If the crime is a serious crime and the offender is escaping or attempting to escape, an individual can arrest him on reasonable and probable grounds of suspicion,” the old statute said.

The prosecution appeared to be arguing that McMichael’s stated reasons for probable cause were invalid because he did not see Arbery commit a felony even if he had seen Arbery trespass on property.

Trespassing into Georgia is a misdemeanor.

Upon questioning Dunikowksi, McMichael said that his belief that Arbery had stolen something from a property under construction along the way, which would be a serious crime, was due to the fact that security cameras had seen Arbery entering the home. several times before.

Chris Slobogin, director of the Vanderbilt University criminal justice program, said the statements were important because they suggested McMichael had no evidence to believe that Arbery had committed a serious crime.

He noted that the defunct law that the defense is using for its probable cause argument stipulates that the crime committed must be raised to the level of a felony.

“Just because you’ve committed a robbery before doesn’t mean you committed a robbery this time. There has to be some reason to believe that he has committed a robbery this time, ”Slobogin said.

“You need some evidence that you took something or did something beyond simply entering someone else’s property and then leaving that property,” he added.

The defense has argued that Arbery was trespassing, and earlier in the trial, Glynn County Police Officer Robert Rash had testified that he had planned to give Arbery a trespassing warning.

McMichael testified that he had personally encountered Arbery, although he did not know it was him, leaving the building several days prior to February 23.

Dunikoski also undermined the defense argument that young McMichael shot Arbery in self-defense.

The prosecutor bluntly asked McMichael if Arbery ever threatened him or brandished a gun on February 23.

“He didn’t threaten me verbally,” McMichael told Dunikoski, adding that Arbery never pointed a gun at him.

“Did you just run?” Dunikoski questioned more.

“Yeah, I was just running,” McMichael replied.

McMichael’s admission that Arbery never threatened him could sink the rhetoric of self-defense, Slobogin said.

“It cannot be argued in self-defense whether it was you who initiated the series of events that led to the use of deadly force. If you provoked the person you ultimately killed to attack you, you cannot assert self-defense in response to that attack, ”he explained.

McMichael testified that on February 23, one of his neighbors told him that something had happened on the road and that his father was convinced that the same person he had encountered earlier when leaving the property under construction had run down the street. Street.

This, McMichael said, led him to grab his shotgun, get into his truck with his father, and stop next to Arbery, who was jogging at the time.

When Dunikoski asked him about the last moments before Arbery was killed, he replied: “I was thinking it was a threat, that it could haunt me, my father or the truck.”

Dunikoski responded: “So you are telling this jury that a man who has spent five minutes running from you is now thinking that he will somehow want to continue interacting with you, someone with a shotgun, and your father. A man who just said, ‘stop or I’ll blow your fucking head off’, trying to get into his truck? “

“That’s what it shows,” McMichael replied.

In addition, he told police that Arbery, who was running in the direction of the McMichaels after being caught between his truck and Bryan’s vehicle, did not stop after he pointed his shotgun at him and eventually grabbed the firearm.

But, when asked by Dunikoski, he replied that he “honestly can’t remember” whether Arbery had the gun or not.

Placing a defendant on the witness stand is always considered risky, and Slobogin said the apparent inconsistencies in McMichael’s testimony underscored potential pitfalls.

“Yes [the jury] he’s paying attention, he’s going to notice inconsistencies in the testimony and that could come back to haunt the defense, ”Slobogin said.

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