A state investigator in Georgia on Thursday alleged that the white man accused of killing jogger Ahmaud Arbery was heard saying a racial slur as he stood over the mortally wounded man, moments after hitting him with three shots from a pump-action shotgun.
The lead Georgia bureau of investigation agent in the murder case testified that Greg and Travis McMichael, a father and son duo who were in a truck, and a third man in another pickup, William “Roddie” Bryan, repeatedly used their trucks to chase down and box in Arbery, an African American man who was jogging through a predominantly white neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia, in February.
Arbery repeatedly reversed directions and even jumped into a ditch in a desperate attempt to shake off his pursuers, the Glynn county court heard on Thursday.
Travis McMichael then got out of his truck and confronted Arbery. He told police he shot him in self-defense after Arbery refused his order to get on the ground, GBI special agent Richard Dial said.
A close examination of a video that later emerged of the shooting shows the first shot was to Arbery’s chest, the second was to his hand, and the third was to his chest before he collapsed in the road, Dial said.
Bryan, the driver of the second pickup truck who recorded that video, said he heard the gunman use a racist epithet as he stood over Arbery’s body before police arrived.
Special prosecutor Jesse Evans said Arbery “was chased, hunted down and ultimately executed”.
The evidence presented to support murder charges against the McMichaels and Bryan challenges the self-defense claim. Dial also described evidence that questions the idea that the three men were legitimately carrying out a citizen’s arrest of a suspected burglar.
He testified that Greg McMichael told police that “he didn’t know if Arbery had stolen anything or not, but he had a gut feeling” that Arbery had committed prior break-ins in the neighborhood.
Thursday’s testimony also could factor into a federal investigation into whether hate crime charges are warranted.
Dial testified that investigators found a Confederate symbol in Travis McMichael’s truck and several more racial slurs in messages on his phone.
Travis McMichael, 34, his father Greg McMichael, 64, and Bryan, 50, were charged with murder more than two months after Arbery was killed, after a series of recusals by local prosecutors and the emergence of Bryan’s video of the final encounter sparked uproar across the US and led to a state takeover of the case.
Greg McMichael was previously in law enforcement. The three defendants deny the charges.
Lawyers for the defendants and the state acknowledged in court the extraordinary context for the hearing, following a week of protests in the US over police brutality and racism, following the death of George Floyd in May and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky in March, who was asleep in bed when police raided her home in a case not involving her, and shot her dead.