WATCH LIVE: Day 6 of testimony in Arbery slaying trial

Published: Nov. 12, 2021 at 6:38 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 12, 2021 at 2:07 PM CST
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BRUNSWICK, Ga. - Testimony has resumed Friday in the trial of three white men accused in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

Watch the live stream above.

A police officer testified Friday he planned to give Arbery a trespass warning for repeatedly entering a home under construction before the 25-year-old Black man was chased and shot dead by neighbors who spotted him running from the property.

Glynn County police Officer Robert Rash said he spoke several times to the unfinished home’s owner, who sent him videos of Arbery at the site between Oct. 25 2019 and Feb. 23, 2020 — the day Arbery was killed at the end of a five-minute chase by white men in pickup trucks.

Rash said he had been looking for Arbery, whose identity was unknown at the time, in order to tell him to keep away from the home that was being built. He said police had a standard protocol for handling people caught trespassing — a misdemeanor under Georgia law.

“Once we make contact with the person on the property, we explain to them the homeowner does not want them there, they have no legal reason to be there,” Rash said. He added: “I explain to that person, if you ever come back onto this property for any reason, you will be arrested.”

Instead, Arbery ended up dead.

Father and son Greg and Travis McMichael armed themselves and pursued Arbery in a truck after he ran past their home five doors down from the construction site on a Sunday afternoon. A neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, joined the chase in his own truck and took cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery three times with shotgun.

More than two months passed before the three men were arrested on charges of murder and other crimes, after the graphic video leaked online and deepened a national reckoning over racial injustice.

All three men are standing trial on charges of murder and other crimes at the Glynn County courthouse in coastal Brunswick. Defense attorneys say the men reasonably suspected Arbery was a burglar and were trying to hold him for police. They say Travis McMichael, 35, fired his gun in self defense when Arbery attacked with his fists.

Larry English, who owns the unfinished home, has said there was no evidence Arbery stole anything from the site. Still, he said he was concerned that the same person kept coming in the house after dark.

A patrol officer assigned to the neighborhood, Rash said he was trying to find the young man with tattoos and short twists in his hair who had been recorded inside English’s house. He shared the clips with neighbors, including Greg McMichael, 65.

Rash said he shared Greg McMichael’s phone number with English in a text message that noted Greg McMichael was a former police officer and retired investigator for the local district attorney. He said it was Greg McMichael’s idea to let English know he could help watch the property.

“Did you deputize Greg McMichael? Did you give him any authority as a police officer?” prosecutor Linda Dunikoski asked Rash.

“No ma’am,” the officer replied, saying he never intended for Greg McMichael to do anything other than call police if the man was spotted inside the house again.

“Greg has training and experience,” Rash said. “He in my opinion would be an expert witness to be on the phone with 911.”

On Feb. 11, 2020, less than two weeks before Arbery was killed, Rash was again dispatched to the neighborhood after Travis McMichael called 911 and reported seeing the same man outside the unfinished home — and telling dispatchers the man reached for his pocket as if he had a gun.

The jury saw Rash’s body camera video, which shows him entering the home under construction with a flashlight and his gun drawn. Rash said Travis McMichael’s report that the man could be armed made him more of a potential threat.

“So this was a different situation,” said Robert Rubin, one of Travis McMichael’s attorneys. “You’re going into a house with a man who might have a gun.”

Defense attorneys contend the McMichaels were justified in arming themselves before chasing Arbery because they feared he might have a gun. Police determined after the shooting that Arbery was unarmed.

Rubin also asked Rash if anyone in the neighborhood said they had ever seen Arbery jogging in the neighborhood when the officer showed them his image from the security camera footage.

“I did not specifically ask, ‘Have you seen this guy jogging?’” Rash said. “But no one had seen him in the neighborhood period.”

Trial highlights from Thursday

Jurors on Thursday heard recorded testimony from the owner of a property where the suspects believed Arbery had been prowling.

Also Thursday, one of the suspects’ lawyers told the judge he doesn’t want “any more Black pastors” in the courtroom out of concern of influencing the jury.

Attorney Kevin Gough made the comment to the trial judge Thursday, a day after the Rev. Al Sharpton sat in back of the courtroom with Arbery’s parents.

Gough said he feared Sharpton’s presence could influence the jury.

Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said he barely noticed Sharpton in court.

“But, if we’re going to start a precedent, starting yesterday, where we’re going to bring in high-profile members of the African-American community into the courtroom to sit with the family during the trial in the presence of the jury, I believe that’s intimidating,” said Gough. “We don’t want any more Black pastors in here, or other, Jesse Jackson, whoever was in here earlier this week, sitting with the victim’s family, trying to influence the jury in this case. And I’m not saying the State is even aware that Mr. Sharpton was in the courtroom, I certainly wasn’t aware of it, until last night.”

“It’s a public courtroom and I have no idea how the Reverend Al Sharpton appeared to be here. So, the State had no part in that whatsoever, so,” said lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski.

“I don’t hear a motion, and I will tell you this, I am not going to blanketly exclude members of the public from this courtroom,” said Judge Timothy Walmsley, Glynn County Superior Court. “In fact, what I just heard, is that nobody was even aware that he was in here.”

Judge Walmsley also pointed out that a barrier in the courtroom likely prevented jurors from even seeing Sharpton from the jury box.

Sharpton released a statement saying, in part: “The arrogant insensitivity of attorney Kevin Gough in asking a judge to bar me or any minister of the family’s choice underscores the disregard for the value of the human life lost and the grieving of a family in need spiritual and community support.”

Gough represents William “Roddie” Bryan, who along with father and son Greg and Travis McMichael is charged with murder in Arbery’s death last year.

The 25-year-old Black man was chased and fatally shot after being spotted running in their neighborhood.

The McMichaels said they thought he was a burglar who’d been prowling in a home that was under construction.

Jurors on Thursday in the trial over Ahmaud Arbery’s death watched security camera videos from that home.

Property owner Larry English said in prerecorded testimony that his camera recorded Arbery at the construction site five times between October 2019 and Feb. 23, 2020, the day Arbery was slain.

English says there’s no sign Arbery took anything from his property.

English is not appearing in person due to health issues.

The deposition was recorded nearly two months ago, lasting more than three hours. But with breaks and sidebars, playing the video for the jury ended up taking up the entire day.

In that recording, jurors heard and saw attorneys asking English about his property, why he put surveillance cameras up around the unfinished house and the multiple instances where those cameras recorded people walking around the property, including Ahmaud Arbery the day he was killed.

English testified back in September that he put surveillance cameras up around the home he was working on because a neighbor said some kids were walking around the property. Concerned for the kids’ safety, and for his property, English said he wanted to keep an eye on it. When the cameras picked up motion, they started recording and sent an alert to his cell phone.

That happened several times over a few months, and captured images of kids around the house, a white man and woman at one point, as well as Ahmaud Arbery. English testified there had been several items stolen from the property, but he didn’t think Arbery was the culprit. Still, English shared clips of the video with neighbors in an effort to find out who was going there, video Greg McMichael saw.

Greg McMichael told an investigator the day of the shooting he thought he recognized Arbery from that surveillance video, prompting him and his son Travis to try to stop Arbery. An attorney with Arbery’s mother reacted to English’s deposition outside the courthouse.

“They said they had a hunch, they didn’t know he did anything wrong. They had a hunch. And a Black man was running down the road and they all got guns and hopped in their pickup truck. So your question goes directly to the issue of this case, which is why did everyone react differently to Ahmaud, to anyone else going about their business in the neighborhood,” said attorney Mark Maguire.

Last May we heard from English’s attorney who was attempting to distance English from the defendants in this case, saying he wanted people to know he had nothing to do with Arbery’s death.

“He wants people to know that he never would have done anything like this. He never would have wanted anything like this was developing. He never would have been a part it if he would have known,” said Elizabeth Graddy, attorney for Larry English.

Larry English testified during the pre-recorded deposition that he showed his neighbor Diego Perez a copy of the surveillance videos, including ones that showed Ahmaud Arbery on the construction site. He gave Perez permission to come onto his property and be a “neighborhood watch” for his property.

Travis McMichael’s defense attorney Bob Rubin used those words, and has said Mr. Perez is the one who shared the videos with other neighbors, including the McMichaels, so they could be on the lookout for those people on the property.

Prosecution also brought up Perez showing other neighbors the video in opening statements. Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski said 12 days before Arbery was shot, Travis spotted him at the house, called police, and he and Greg went to the house to confront Arbery. Police told Greg and Travis McMichael they had been in contact with English and that he believed the person just recorded on surveillance had not stolen anything from the property.

Greg McMichael told the cop “well, it’s at least criminal trespassing,” and the cop chimed in, “maybe loitering and prowling,” which are both misdemeanors.

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