The day has come that we hope will be the first step towards justice. It has been long overdue.
Gregory and Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan, have been charged with felony murder for the February 23 killing of Ahmaud Arbery. The McMichaels finally made their first appearance at Monday’s probable cause hearing in a Brunswick County court. Due to concerns surrounding COVID-19, the defendants appeared by video from the Glynn County Detention Center. Bryan waived his rights to appear.
During the hearing, additional details were released regarding the events of the tragic day Ahmaud Arbery was killed. According to the family’s attorney Lee Merritt, the information was too much for Ahmaud’s mother, Wanda Cooper, to take, so she left the courthouse early, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper reports.
“It was still very difficult to hear in the context of this prolonged chase – this hunt – that after he successfully murdered Ahmaud Arbery, he stood over his body and proclaimed a racial epithet like that,” Merritt told the media during a break from proceedings.
Assistant Special Agent in Charge Richard Dial’s court testimony further detailed just how evil the McMichaels and Bryan are. Dial told the court that during William Bryan’s May 13 interview with the GBI, Bryan told police that after Travis McMichael shooting Abrbery with his shotgun, he stood over his body and called him a “F—— N—–.” Arbery died in the streets of Satilla Shores neighborhood, hearing those words.
When cross-examined, Dial admitted that Bryan did not make these allegations during his May 11 interview. But further investigations into Travis McMichael’s text messages and social media accounts prove Travis used the slur numerous times. One occasion, he sent a text to someone saying he liked his job because there “weren’t any N-words there.” In another instance, sometime before the shooting, he replied in an Instagram message saying things would be better if someone had “blown that N-word’s head off,” Dial testified. Dial did not say to whom McMichael was referring. Dial was not asked for more context, CNN reports.
Authorities also discovered messages in Bryan’s phone, he used racial terms and indicated that he might have prejudged Arbery when he saw him that day, Dial told the court.
“There’s evidence of Mr. Bryan’s racist attitude in his communications, and from that, I extrapolate the reason why he made assumptions he did that day,” he said. “He saw a man running down the road with a truck following him, and I believe he made certain assumptions that were, at least in part, based upon his racial bias.”
Dial’s statements regarding the pursuit were also critical takeaways from Monday’s hearing. As Dial outlined the events that led to Arbery’s death, it’s now clear that the three men engaged in an elaborate chase. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
They hit Arbery with their truck, including Bryan, who saw the McMichaels chasing Arbery that afternoon. When he saw the McMichaels chasing Arbery, he yelled out to the two, “Do you got him” before jumping in his truck to assist. According to attorney Merritt’s Instagram page, Travis McMichael’s attorneys suggested that Arbery was trying to break into Bryan’s truck during the chase. Dial quickly dismissed this allegation, and said he would say, “Mr. Arbery was trying to escape.”
According to CNN, at one point, Arbery was heading out of the Satilla Shores neighborhood, but the McMichaels forced him to turn back into the neighborhood and run past Bryan, the agent said. That is when he struck Arbery, Dial said, and Arbery kept running with the McMichaels in pursuit. It was Bryan who turned around, and that is where the widely disseminated video of Arbery’s killing begins.
Investigators found a swipe from a palm print on the rear door of Bryan’s truck, cotton fibers near the truck bed that they attribute to contact with Arbery, and a dent below the fibers.
What Dial testified also contradicted the McMichaels’ statement that they acted in self-defense. “I believe Mr. Arbery was being pursued, and he ran till he couldn’t run anymore, and it was [either] turn his back to a man with a shotgun or fight with his bare hands against the man with the shotgun. He chose to fight,” he said. It was also discovered that Arbery was first shot in the chest, contrary to what Gregory McMichael told police that his son first shot Arbery in his hand. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
“The first shot was to the chest – what that indicates to us was that was not a defensive shot, it was an offensive shot,” Merritt told the media. “He planned to kill Ahmaud Arbery by shooting him body center mass in the chest. It wasn’t in response to an assault on him. It helps us establish the intent requisite for murder.”
When police arrived after the scene, Dial said, Gregory McMichael said in remarks caught on police body camera footage that he didn’t know for certain if Arbery had stolen anything. Bodycam footage also captured a Confederate flag sticker on the McMichaels’ toolbox.
“He had a gut feeling that Mr. Arbery may have been responsible for thefts that were in the neighborhood previously. He actually says gut. His instinct told him that,” the GBI agent said.
All three defendants and their attorneys proclaim their innocence.
Protestors gathered outside in support of the Arbery and chanted “no bond.” After the hearing, Merritt Lee posted on his Instagram account that “If there were any doubt before this hearing-it is now clear the murder of #AhmaudArbery occurred almost entirely due to racial bias, actual animist and deep-seated hatred of blackness.” The caption read what we all have been waiting to hear: The magistrate judge found sufficient probable cause. All defendants will remain in custody.