BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Prosecutors called their first witnesses Tuesday in the federal hate crimes trial for the three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery in 2020 in Glynn County.
Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was running through the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick when Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William "Roddie" Bryan, who are all white, chased Arbery in their trucks before Travis McMichael fired the deadly shots that killed Arbery.
Daniel Allcott, a former resident of the Satilla Shores neighborhood, was the first witness prosecutors called. He lived in the home Arbery was killed outside of.
Allcott teared up as he recalled the day of the shooting. He said he, his wife and their then six-month-old daughter were all home at the time of the shooting.
Allcott said he was cleaning the bathroom when he heard "three loud bangs." He told his wife, "no, no way" what they heard could be gunshots, describing the neighborhood as usually quiet. They went into their garage, looked through the window and saw Arbery laying in the street, he said.
Allcott said he brought his wife and daughter back inside, then went outside to see what had happened. He recognized the three men from the neighborhood, but didn't know them well.
Allcott said he also knew of car break-ins in the neighborhood through the Satilla Shores Facebook page, but said they were largely due to people leaving car doors unlocked. The defendants said previously they suspected Arbery was the suspect in the break-ins, and had stolen from the home under construction.
Allcott said he observed the scene, and at that point, an officer had responded. He saw Gregory McMichael make a phone call, and knew he had law enforcement connections. He said he remembered thinking it was strange that Gregory McMichael was allowed to make a call. Court documents show the phone call he made was to former Brunswick District Attorney, Jackie Johnson, who he used to work for. There's no evidence that she picked up or called back.
Shell casings landed in Allcott's yard. He said he didn't notice the three men express concern for Arbery, or render aid. Allcott and his wife had considered moving out of the home before the shooting, but after the incident, he said they wanted to even more so.
"The house didn't feel the same after that day ... it didn't feel like home anymore," Allcott said tearing up. He said he constantly had images of the scene in his head. They moved at the end of 2020.
Allcott also spoke with Arbery's parents when they left a cross and a wreath following the shooting. He said he felt guilty that the shooting happened outside his home.
During cross-examination, Travis McMichael's attorney, Amy Copeland, asked Allcott if he ever saw "joy or happiness" on Travis' face following the incident. Allcott answered no.
Matthew Albenze, a longtime resident of the neighborhood, described the area as "normal, peaceful."
He said he called police when he saw Arbery inside neighbor Larry English's home under construction the day of the shooting, but called the non-emergency line. He noted while Arbery's presence seemed suspicious, and he recognized him from surveillance video English showed him of Arbery in the home at a previous date. Albenze later testified that he had no reason to think he was doing anything other than looking around.
He said he called Glynn County Police Department's non-emergency number because it "wasn't an emergency type of situation." Albenze said during cross-examination when he saw Arbery while he was working in his yard, he went into his home, grabbed his phone and his gun. He said he grabbed his gun because "it's my right." When Gregory McMichael's attorney A.J. Balbo asked him if it's fair to say he wasn't sure about Arbery's motives at that exact moment, he answered yes.
Albenze also told Balbo he didn't want to be there testifying. Defense attorneys brought up that Albenze made a motion with his arm in the direction Arbery ran by him in, saying the McMichaels saw this. Albenze said the McMichaels had already pulled out of their driveway after Arbery when he made the motion. He also said the motion was never intended for anyone.
When he heard the gunshots, Albenze said he rode his bike towards the scene. He got about 50 to 60 feet away from the scene, rode his bike home, "freaked out" because he was so "upset and disturbed" at what he saw. He then "dug into my roommate's vodka."
He also testified that he'd have made the non-emergency call regardless of Arbery's race.
Sergeant Sheila Ramos with the Glynn County Police Department was the next witness called. She was a crime scene investigator at the time of the shooting. Prosecutors showed several graphic pictures from the scene that Ramos took of both wounds on Arbery, and the overall scene.
The final witness Tuesday was Assistant Special Agent in Charge with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Richard Dial. He was also the lead case agent in Arbery's death. Dial was on the stand for close to four hours.
Dial detailed the paths Arbery and all three defendants took during the chase. During his testimony, prosecutors showed graphic videos from the scene, including police body camera video, and the cell phone video of the shooting.
Arbery's father and aunt left while the videos were shown. His mother moved closer to see the videos better, but shook her head in disgust as they played.
Defense attorneys noted all three men were cooperative with law enforcement, and willingly agreed to questioning twice on the day of the shooting.
Dial testified that the McMichaels blamed Arbery for what happened, citing the interviews they did with officers. Gregory McMichael is heard in police body camera video calling Arbery a crude word as Arbery laid dead in the street.
Travis McMichael said if Arbery would've stopped, "this wouldn't have happened." Travis McMichael also said he was mad that Arbery put him in that situation.
Dial continued, saying Gregory McMichael changed his story a few times talking to police. The first time he told police he moved Arbery's arm to check his pulse after the shooting. Later, he told police he did this to check to see if Arbery had any weapons. Arbery did not.
Prosecutors also showed surveillance video of Arbery at the home under construction four separate times before the shooting in the months leading up to the shooting. Dial testified that Arbery never took anything from the home.
During cross-examination, Balbo suggested Arbery's multiple visits to English's home under construction at night were suspicious. Dial said Arbery could've just been curious.
Dial also testified that English thought contractors may have stolen items off his boat. The McMichaels had said previously they suspected Arbery took the missing items.
During redirect by prosecutor Barbara (Bobbi) Bernstein showed a picture from the GBI's investigation of a suspect believed to have stolen a weapon from another neighbor. The person was white, and the picture had been shared on the neighborhood's Facebook page.
Arbery's father said it was difficult to sit through testimony Tuesday.
"I’m just really disappointed in our town here," Arbery Sr. said. "I’m really disappointed in the town I was born and raised in, and that this kind of stuff was going on, that we could’ve done better than this. That’s what I’m disappointed in," he said.
Arbery Sr. and Barbara Arnwine, founder of the Transformative Justice Coalition, said they think prosecutors are doing a very good job so far.
“The U.S. has an obligation to show that the actions that were taken were done because of Ahmaud Arbery’s race, and I think that they are really laying a good foundation for proving their case," Arnwine said. "If you’ve noticed, they’ve gone through every single step so carefully," she said.
Just before lunch Tuesday, Copeland claimed there were sleepy jurors. Judge Lisa Godbey Wood, however, noted that she has a clear view of everything, and said it was quite the opposite.
"I can assure you there is not a sleepy eye," she said.
The entire day jurors have been very engaged. Several took notes Tuesday, and watched the videos attorneys showed intently. The judge also sequestered the jury, the motion filed Monday night.
Leigh McMichael, Gregory McMichael's wife and Travis McMichael's mother, was also in the courtroom Monday and Tuesday.
Prosecutors will continue to call their witnesses Wednesday starting at nine a.m. The list of witnesses is 30 to 40 people long between the prosecution and the defense.
On Monday, attorneys for both the prosecution and the defense gave their opening statements after the jury was sworn in following a week of jury selection. The jury includes eight white jurors, three Black jurors and one Hispanic juror, with four alternates who are white.
During opening statements, prosecutors detailed what they called a consistent use of racial slurs, including the N-word, by the defendants over several years, documented in texts and social media posts. Prosecutors said Travis McMichael had referred to Black people as animals, criminals, monkeys and sub-human savages, among other names. They argued the defendants targeted Arbery based on the color of his skin.
The prosecution said the racial slurs themselves aren't crimes, but they provide evidence about the defendants' mindsets and motivation.
Defense attorneys said the language used by their clients was "offensive and sad," but that the defendants did not chase Arbery because he was Black. They said it was because they recognized Arbery as a trespasser on a neighbor's property that was under construction and suspected him of committing a crime.
No cameras are allowed in the federal courthouse, but you can follow along below for live updates.
As this second trial of three defendants already convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery gets underway, there are many questions swirling about the reasons for the seemingly repetitious proceeding.
- What’s the difference?
Unlike their murder trial in state court, the new trial is a federal hate crimes case. Georgia did not have a hate crimes statute when Ahmaud Arbery was killed – it was just one of four states without one.
The state subsequently adopted a hate crime law, but the men could not be prosecuted retroactively under that law in state court.
- What’s a hate crime?
Despite the name, it is not necessary for prosecutors to prove the three men actually “hated” Ahmaud Arbery; only that they committed the alleged crimes because of his race.