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Defense fails to get black pastors banned from Ahmaud Arbery trial as 100 preachers prepare to rally

A group of 100 pastors plans to rally outside a Georgia courthouse in support of Ahmaud Arbery's (pictured) family

A group of 100 pastors plans to rally outside a Georgia courthouse in support of Ahmaud Arbery’s (pictured) family

The white man accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbery returned to the witness stand Thursday after the defense failed again to block religious leaders from sitting in the courtroom. 

Attorney Kevin Gough, appearing for William ‘Roddie’ Bryan Jr, made a third attempt to convince Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley to ban black pastors and civil rights activists – previously claiming they could intimidating for the 11 white jurors on the panel.

‘The court has already ruled on the motion at least twice,’ Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said. ‘I’m looking in the gallery and I don’t even see the two individuals that, Mr. Gough, you have raised as issues and the court is not going to address this matter this morning.’ 

The bid came as 100 black pastors from across the United States are due to mass at the courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia around 11am – in response to Gough’s first incendiary attempt when he said ‘we don’t any more black pastors here’. 

A small group of faith leaders were spotted getting breakfast together at a local restaurant before court resumed Thursday. 

Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton have both attended the trial, sitting with Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper-Jones.  

Gough last week asked Walmsley to remove Sharpton from the court, citing similar reasonings. The judge refused, and later called Gough’s remarks ‘reprehensible.’  

Accused Travis McMichael, 35, was cross examined Thursday by prosecutor Linda Dunikoski after a dramatic previous day’s evidence when he broke down in court as he relived the moment that he said Arbery forced him to make a split-second ‘life-or-death’ decision by attacking him and grabbing his shotgun. 

Travis McMichael is accused with his ex-cop father Gregory McMichael, 65, and Bryan, 52 – who took the cell phone footage of Arbery’s death. They all deny malice murder, four counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment. 

Judge Walmsley will decide on Thursday before the younger McMichael steps down from the witness stand whether a jury can hear from him about a racial slur officials say he uttered as Arbery lay dying on the pavement.

On Wednesday, McMichael’s attorney Jason Sheffield asked the court to prevent prosecutors from asking about the reported slur unless they could give a ‘good faith’ reason why it was relevant.  

Accused Travis McMichael now returns to the witness stand a day after testifying that Arbery forced him to make a split-second 'life-or-death' decision by attacking him and grabbing his shotgun

Accused Travis McMichael now returns to the witness stand a day after testifying that Arbery forced him to make a split-second ‘life-or-death’ decision by attacking him and grabbing his shotgun

Walmsley will decide on Thursday before Travis McMichael steps down from the witness stand whether a jury can hear from him about a racial slur officials say he uttered as Arbery lay dying on the pavement

Walmsley will decide on Thursday before Travis McMichael steps down from the witness stand whether a jury can hear from him about a racial slur officials say he uttered as Arbery lay dying on the pavement

A small group of faith leaders were spotted getting breakfast together at a local restaurant before court resumed Thursday

A small group of faith leaders were spotted getting breakfast together at a local restaurant before court resumed Thursday

Travis McMichael, a former US Coast Guard petty officer, took the stand on day nine of the trial, telling jurors: ‘I want to give my side of the story.’

He said the deadly tussle began after Arbery grabbed the shotgun he was holding. Tearing up, he told the court: ‘I was thinking of my son. It sounds weird, but that’s the first thing that hit me.’

Travis McMichael confirmed he and father Gregory McMichael had followed Arbery in his white pick-up truck after suspecting him of being behind thefts in their neighborhood.

Arbery, 25, had switched back three times and the pair had interacted as Travis said he had repeatedly asked him to stop, at one point yelling.

Eventually Arbery went out of sight around a dogleg bend in the mainly-white community of Satilla Shores in Brunswick, Georgia, the court heard.

Travis McMichael parked his pick-up, with his father in the flatbed, telling jurors at that point he did not want to ‘escalate’ the situation. But just then Arbery ran back into sight and towards the younger McMichael, jurors heard.

He said: ‘He turns and he’s on me.. in a flash. He grabs the shotgun and I believe I was struck on that first instance that we made contact.

‘I shot him. He had my gun. It was a life or death situation.’ 

Defense lawyers have said the men were trying to stop Arbery under a now-repealed Georgia citizen's arrest law, and the younger McMichael shot him in self defense (Pictured: Struggle between McMichael and Arbery)

Defense lawyers have said the men were trying to stop Arbery under a now-repealed Georgia citizen’s arrest law, and the younger McMichael shot him in self defense (Pictured: Struggle between McMichael and Arbery)

The above map shows Ahmaud Arbery's approximate path and locations of the events that occurred on February 23, 2020

The above map shows Ahmaud Arbery’s approximate path and locations of the events that occurred on February 23, 2020

Travis McMichael then started to tear up as he said: ‘I was thinking of my son, it sounds weird but it’s the first thing…’ His voice tailed off as he fought back sobs.

Asked by his attorney Jason Sheffield what he did next, McMichael said: ‘I shot. He had my gun. He struck me. It was obvious that he was attacking me, that he would have got the shotgun from me, it’s a life or death situation.

‘I wanted to stop him from doing this so I shot.’ Asked if Arbery stopped when he was shot, McMichael replied: ‘He did not.’  

The McMichaels told police that they chased Arbery in a pickup truck because they thought he looked like a burglar, and Bryan joined the chase after they went by his driveway.

Grainy video footage of Ahmaud Arbery roaming around a partly-constructed home on five occasions in the months before he was shot dead last year was played in front of the jury Thursday

Grainy video footage of Ahmaud Arbery roaming around a partly-constructed home on five occasions in the months before he was shot dead last year was played in front of the jury Thursday

The 25-year-old is seen above at the same home on February 23, 2020 - the day he was chased and killed

The 25-year-old is seen above at the same home on February 23, 2020 – the day he was chased and killed

Prosecution vs. Defense: The arguments in Ahmaud Arbery’s murder trial

Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William Bryan are all charged with malice and felony murder in the February 2020 shooting death of black jogger Ahmaud Arbery.  

The McMichaels armed themselves and jumped in a pickup truck to pursue Arbery after he ran past their home from a nearby house under construction.

Their neighbor, Bryan, joined the chase in his own truck, telling police that he tried to run Arbery off the road and then recorded cellphone video as Travis McMichael fired three shotgun blasts before Arbery fell facedown in the street. 

The defendants also face charges of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony. 

During the trial, the prosecution aimed to prove that the defendants wrongly assumed the worst about Arbery.

The state also sought to rebut arguments that the defendants were attempting a valid citizen’s arrest, which required that someone have ‘reasonable and probable’ suspicion that a person is fleeing a serious crime they committed.

The defense argues that Travis McMichael shot Arbery three times in self-defense, as the McMichaels and Bryan attempted to conduct a citizen’s arrest of Arbery under their suspicion that he committed a burglary at a nearby property.

They also argued that the chasing of Arbery was justified under Georgia’s 19th-century citizen’s arrest law that was repealed after an outcry over the killing. 

Defense lawyers have said the men were trying to stop Arbery under a now-repealed Georgia citizen’s arrest law, and the younger McMichael shot him in self defense. The McMichaels and Bryan face life in prison if convicted of murder.

Cellphone video of the shooting taken by Bryan was widely seen on the internet about two months after Arbery’s death and caused a national uproar before charges were ultimately brought. 

McMichael told jurors his decision to grab a gun and chase Arbery was driven by an encounter 12 days before, when he saw the black man ‘creeping in the shadows’ at night around a house under construction nearby. McMichael stated he thought Arbery was armed at that time.

Police have said nothing was taken on that day. The property’s owner has said through his lawyer that Arbery probably stopped to drink from a water faucet. 

Arbery had nothing on him besides his running clothes and shoes on the day he was shot.

Defense lawyers have said the men were legally trying to stop Arbery under a now-repealed Georgia citizen’s arrest law.

McMichael, however, repeatedly said he chased Arbery only to ask him questions and that he wrongly believed his father had called 911.

‘I ask him: ‘Hey, what are you doing? What’s going on?” McMichael testified, saying he pulled alongside Arbery running in the road. Arbery never spoke a word in reply and looked angry with clenched teeth, McMichael said.

‘He was mad, which made me think something’s happened,’ McMichael said. 

McMichael also said he had arrest powers while in the US Coast Guard and was trained on using force and the need for reasonable suspicion of a crime, although he never had cause to use force while on duty.

In cross examination, which is due to continue on Thursday, McMichael agreed with prosecutor Linda Dunikoski that he had been trained in constitutional limitations on law enforcement powers.

‘So you learned in your time in the military that you can’t force anyone to speak with you?’ Dunikoski asked.

‘That’s correct,’ McMichael replied.

‘And that if someone walks away, you have to let them walk away?’ she asked.

‘Yes,’ he said. 

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