By Jonathan Allen and Rich McKay
(Reuters) – Travis McMichael testified at his murder trial on Thursday that he misspoke to police after fatally shooting Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man running through a mostly white neighborhood in Georgia.
A prosecutor grilled McMichael, one of three white men on trial for Arbery’s death, over apparent inconsistencies in the accounts he gave to police of how he chased and shot Arbery in Satilla Shores near the coastal city of Brunswick on Feb. 23, 2020.
He had told the jury on Wednesday that Arbery was grabbing his shotgun at the end of a five-minute chase and so he fired in self defense, but the defendant conceded that he told police that day that he could not say for sure whether Arbery actually grabbed it.
McMichael said his statements to police that day were “choppy” because he was nervous and under stress, at times saying he misspoke or “had it wrong” in his statement.
“I just killed a man,” he said. “I had blood on me still. It was the most traumatic event of my life.”
Prosecutors and relatives say Arbery was an avid runner jogging in a neighborhood a couple of miles from his home.
Outside the Glynn County Superior Court building, hundreds of Black pastors assembled from around the country to offer prayers for Arbery and his family.
The rally was organized after Kevin Gough, a lawyer for co-defendant William “Roddie” Bryan, unsuccessfully asked for a ban on Black pastors coming into the courtroom after Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and other civil rights activists sat with Arbery’s parents in the courtroom’s public gallery.
McMichael told jurors on Wednesday that at one point while he and his father and co-defendant, Gregory McMichael, were chasing Arbery in their pickup truck that Arbery “turned and ran” when the younger McMichael told him the police were on their way.
In cross-examination by prosecutor Linda Dunikoski, McMichael agreed that he did not explicitly mention such a moment in a police interview the afternoon of the shooting, nor include it in a written statement he made that day. He later conceded that his father had not called the police while they were driving after Arbery.
“You’re telling this jury you’re all confused and you can’t get your facts straight when you’re telling the police why you shot and killed a man?” Dunikoski asked.
“I’ve never been through a situation like that,” he said.
The younger McMichael said he tried to be calm when calling out to Arbery during the chase. Dunikoski contrasted that with the more aggressive language his father used recounting events to the police how they trapped Arbery “like a rat.”
Dunikoski pointed to a part of a map illustrating the chase.
“You stop, you get out and yelled, ‘Stop! Stop!’ That’s when your father yelled at him, ‘Stop or I’ll blow your fucking head off?'”
McMichael said he not think so.
“I mean, you’re standing right there, you heard your father say this, yes?”
“I don’t think I heard it,” McMichael replied.
“But you know that’s what he told the police he said?” Dunikoski asked.
McMichael said he had only heard that in court.
The two McMichaels are standing trial alongside their neighbor Bryan, who jumped in his own pickup truck and joined the chase after seeing it go past his driveway. His cellphone video of the shooting caused outrage.
McMichael left the stand after more than six hours of testimony over two days. His lawyers have argued that McMichael’s neighborhood was on edge over some recent thefts, and called some Satilla Shores residents to testify who said they did not know the McMichaels but had seen thefts discussed in a community Facebook group.