Did Travis McMichael Crack on Cross Examination?

Travis McMichael’s testimony continued on Thursday, November 18, with cross examination. You can find a detailed account of his direct examination here. Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski began her cross with a series of questions that emphasized how often Travis McMichael used the word “maybe” when talking about his suspicions that Arbery was committing a crime.

Travis had given the definition of “probable cause” under direct exam, when he was asked about his work in Coast Guard law enforcement. Miss Dunikoski asked Travis if an officer would need evidence before making an arrest. Travis said the videos of Arbery trespassing on the property of his neighbor, Larry English, were evidence that a crime had been committed.

The prosecutor brought up a Facebook post Travis wrote which said he had a pretty good idea about who stole his missing gun, and that he found out where the person lived and he had been watching him for several days. “This may be the same individual who has been causing trouble in the neighborhood,” he wrote.

Travis answered that the post was not about Arbery; it was about someone else he had suspected, but he soon realized he was wrong.

Miss Dunikoski asked why he told the police in his statement, two hours after the shooting, that his gun had been stolen from his truck. Why did he feel the need to mention it? Travis answered that he was thinking Arbery could be responsible.

He agreed with the prosecutor that he did not know who had stolen things from Larry English’s boat, but he suspected Arbery because it made sense that someone who trespassed on Mr. English’s property repeatedly would have done it.

Travis had testified that Arbery had lifted his shirt, making him think Arbery was armed. Miss Dunikoski said this did not appear in the statement to police. Travis insisted that he had told the police, and he was given a copy of his statement to refresh his memory. After Travis reviewed the statement, he realized that he had worded the gesture as “reaching into his pants” when speaking to police. The prosecution then showed a still frame from Mr. English’s security video, which showed Arbery inside Mr. English’s house, with his hand on his crotch. Miss Dunikoski asked if the gesture Travis had seen looked like the photo. Travis said no.

Next, the jury saw security cam footage from Travis’s encounter with Arbery on February 11. Arbery is wandering around inside the house, appearing on camera and then disappearing. Light from Travis’s taillights is visible, corroborating his testimony. Travis agreed that when he saw Arbery on February 11, Arbery had no bag or backpack, and Travis could see his hands, which were not carrying a weapon, or holding stolen goods. Travis also agreed that Mr. English suspected his building contractors of stealing the items that went missing from his boat.

Travis agreed that on February 23, the day of the shooting, Arbery did not reach into his pockets. He did not yell, threaten, or brandish weapons. He just ran. Miss Dunikoski asked the same questions several times during her examination, to suggest that Arbery had not been a threat.

She asked Travis if he startled Arbery; Travis didn’t think so, because Arbery did not seem to react in a startled way.

“What exactly did you say to him, the first time you pulled up to him?” Miss Dunikoski asked.

“I want to talk to you.”

Arbery turned around after Travis said that, indicating that he did not want to talk and would not stop.

Travis backed up his truck, so he could stay with Arbery. He spoke to Arbery again, but admitted in court that he could not remember his exact words. He said something to the effect of “I want to talk to you,” and “What happened down the road?”

During the previous day’s testimony, Travis said that he told Arbery the cops were coming, but he did not tell the police that when they questioned him.

Miss Dunikoski continued to go over the statement. Travis said that after he had his gun out, he handed the phone to his father and told him to call the police. She wanted Travis to say that this was the first time he had thought about calling the police, but he testified the day before that he and his father had a miscommunication. He thought that his father had already called 911. After he stopped the truck, he learned that his father had no phone and had not called.

Miss Dunikoski asked, “Do you remember yesterday, telling this jury that that’s what you said to your dad? ‘Call the cops, you know, there he is.’ Do you remember telling the jury this just yesterday?”

Travis answered, “I believe I said, ‘Have you called the cops yet?’”

Travis said he was nervous when he gave the police statement. Miss Dunikoski asked, “What were you nervous about, giving this statement?”

Travis’s eyes went wide. “I had just killed a man. I had blood on me still. It was the most traumatic event of my life. I was scared to death. I mean, it was the most traumatic event of my life. I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t be scared or stressed or terrified or anything. I mean, it was horrible!”

“You were nervous because you thought you were going to jail, right?”

“No, I gave them a statement. I was going through an investigation. I was following an investigation.”

The prosecutor referred to Officer Duggan’s body cam footage, which shows Arbery dead at the scene, unarmed. Greg McMichael goes over to his son Travis, grabs him by the shoulder, and says, “You had no choice; you had no choice!”

Travis agreed with the prosecutor that the detective did not threaten him, force him to make a statement, or promise anything in exchange for the statement. “But you’re telling the jury that you can’t get your facts straight about why you shot and killed a man?” Travis said he had never been through anything like that before, and he had tried his best, but seeing the police statement in hindsight, he may not have been clear. “This is what you got. I tried.”

In the prosecutor’s view, Arbery ran down Burford Road to get away from Travis. Travis said he was letting him run away. “You’re letting him run away? Wasn’t it your intention to go around the block and cut him off and find him over on the other side?”

“To head him off and to see where he is located. That was my intention, yes ma’am.”

She then asked if he could have just stopped right there and not done anything. Travis said he could have, but that was when he saw Arbery with the black truck, which was being driven by Roddie Bryan, also a defendant in this trial. That added to Travis’s suspicions, and he wanted to keep an eye on Arbery, so he would have information for the police.

When Miss Dunikoski asked him why Arbery seemed like a threat to him, Travis told the same story from his testimony the previous day. It was the combination of seeing Arbery on surveillance video, seeing him at the English house on Feb 11, and seeing Arbery reach into his pants that suggested he might be armed.

Travis had said during direct examination that he would not chase anyone who was armed. The prosecutor asked how the jury can believe now that Arbery was a threat. Travis replied, “I didn’t know if he was a threat or not. I wanted to talk to him.”

“Hadn’t he demonstrated three times by this point that he does not want to talk to you?” the prosecutor asked. Travis agreed. He also agreed that Arbery was not a threat, and that Arbery had not spoken or cursed.

She asked if Greg had a gun. Travis said he did not know if his father had a gun with him. He didn’t see it. “So he didn’t have it in his hand as he ran about ten yards down the road after Mr. Arbery?” Dunikoski asked.

Travis seemed puzzled. “He didn’t run, down the road, after Mr. Arbery.”

She asked if Travis saw Mr. Bryan pull out and try to run Arbery off the road. Travis said, “No, Ma’am, it didn’t look like he was running him off the road. . . . Arbery went to the left side, then went to the right, and then went back to the left. It looked like he was engaging with that vehicle.”

“And Mr. Arbery was able to get away from the vehicle?”

“He ran past the vehicle.”

As they went through the events leading up to the shooting, whenever Travis mentioned moving his truck, Miss Dunikoski asked if he was cutting off Arbery. Travis always said no.

She asked if his father Greg yelled expletives at Arbery. Travis answered, “I don’t think I heard him say that, no.”

A lot of the cross examination was confusing. It was hard to follow along and understand exactly where Travis was driving, stopping and backing up, and where he was in relation to Arbery. There was a lot that was not captured in the video everyone has seen. Travis and Miss Dunikoski kept referring to a “dog leg” — a bunch of bushes that blocked Travis’s view, but the dog leg was not marked on any of the maps presented in court. It only started to make sense when Travis described seeing both Arbery and the black truck coming toward him, a moment that was on the video. Miss Dunikoski said, “And at that point, he was pinned between two vehicles.”

Travis answered, “He was.”

I think the prosecution did a good job, because Miss Dunikoski was able to create an image of a man who just wanted to be left alone, who had two trucks coming and going all around him, everywhere he went. On the other hand, the neighborhood yards had no fences. Ahmaud Arbery could easily have gone off road. He could have knocked on doors and asked people to call 911 for him. If he actually felt like he was being “boxed in,” as the prosecution put it, why did he stay inside the box?

While the jury was out of the room, the defense asked the judge to dismiss Juror 12, who fell asleep during Travis’s testimony the day before. Miss Dunikoski objected; she thought the jurors were paying attention. Judge Walmsley said Juror 12 seemed tired, but did not seem to be dozing off. He decided to keep an eye on her, and perhaps ask the juror if she missed any evidence, but if she was asleep, how would she know?

Mr. Gough put it on the record that Jesse Jackson was in the courtroom again. He said there was a man in the foyer outside the courtroom wearing a sweatshirt that says, “I support black pastors.” Mr. Gough said to the judge, “Given that the black pastors support the conviction of our client, we would object to those kind of slogans being outside in the foyer where witnesses are sitting. It’s not just an issue with the jurors who may or may not see them coming in and out of the court room, but now we have witnesses being exposed to all this.”

Judge Walmsley said, “It’s all noted for the record.”

When the jury returned, the prosecutor showed a bit of the video taken by Roddie Bryan, from a moment when Travis McMichael’s truck was in front of Mr. Bryan’s, and Arbery was between the two trucks. Arbery runs with his back to Mr. Bryan, then turns around and runs toward him. Miss Dunikoski asked Travis if it’s true that Arbery turned around because he saw the McMichaels headed toward him.

Travis said, “From that video there, I don’t believe so, ma’am.”

“For no reason whatsoever he turns?” Miss Dunikoski asked. The defense objected, saying this was speculation. The judge overruled the objection. He said that he allowed the defense to ask open-ended questions and he would give the prosecution the same leeway.

The prosecutor said that Arbery had the opportunity to run up the street. She asked why he would turn around and run back to a truck that had tried to hit him four times. Travis said he did not know that that happened, but he agreed he heard testimony from the police officer who said Bryan told him he tried to hit Arbery four times.

Miss Dunikoski showed more of the video, of Arbery running toward the McMichael truck, with his back to Mr. Bryan. “At this point,” she said, “He is pinned between the two pickup trucks.”

Travis corrected. “He is between the two pickup trucks.”

The constant arguing over semantics was tiring. No wonder Juror 12 was nodding off.

The prosecutor tried to refute Travis’s claim that he had been worried for his father’s safety. She pointed out that Greg had 30 years of law enforcement experience, a handgun, and was on higher ground than Arbery. Travis did not say in his police statement that he was worried about his father.

The subject turned to the moments before Travis and Arbery clashed. Travis said that when he moved from the driver’s side door to the front of the truck, he was trying to gain distance from Arbery. “I was thinking that, what I would do, or anyone else, was run across the yard.”

“So you’re expecting that he should take action to get away from you, because you’re pointing a shotgun at him?” Miss Dunikoski asked.

“I was not wanting him to charge me, to attack me, which I was assuming was happening.”

“So him coming down the road to get away from Mr. Bryan’s truck is him attacking you?”

“He was coming straight to me,” Travis said. “I was thinking, all right, he’s going to try to get in this truck, or he’s going to try to attack me or my dad, or who knows what. He was acting weird; he was acting funny; I was trying to talk to him prior, so I’m on alert. He turns, runs off, comes back, I’m sure I saw Mr. Bryan’s truck in this instance, but I was focused on what I perceived as a threat.”

He conceded that he pointed the shotgun, because he did not want Arbery to run at him.

The prosecutor showed a few seconds of video, of Arbery coming around the front of the truck. “You have closed the distance, haven’t you?”

She asked why Travis didn’t go to the back of the truck instead, if he wanted to “close the distance.”

Travis said if he had gone to the back, Arbery could have run around the front to get in the open door on the driver’s side of his truck.

“So you’re telling this jury that a man who had spent five minutes running away from you, you’re now thinking he’s somehow going to want to continue to engage with you, someone with a shotgun, and your father, a man who just said (bleep)?!”

The live TV broadcast bleeped out the words, but from Miss Dunikoski’s lips the words sounded like “f***ing n***er.” The live feed then bleeped out several more seconds, so unfortunately, I could not hear Travis’s reply. There appear to be no on-line accounts of the exchange.

(Background to this question: On June 4, 2020, Agent Richard Dial of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation testified at a pretrial hearing and said, “Mr. Bryan said that after the shooting took place, before police arrival, when Mr. Arbery was on the ground, that he heard Travis McMichael say what appears to be “f***ing n***er.” The words are covered by a bleep. Mr. Dial also said he didn’t think Travis McMichael was acting in self-defense. This video does not appear to have been shown to the jury. In April, Greg and Travis McMichael and Roddie Bryan were charged with federal hate crime charges; the trial is scheduled for next February. Any evidence of “racism” kept out of the state murder trial will surely be introduced then.)

Miss Dunikoski then read from the interview with Detective Roderic Nohilly immediately after the shooting. Det. Nohilly had asked, “Do you remember if he grabbed the shotgun at all?” Travis replied, “I want to say he did, but honestly I do not remember. Me and him were face to face the entire time.”

Miss Dunikoski said, “So, you didn’t shoot him because he grabbed the barrel of the shotgun, you shot him because he came around the corner and you were right there, and you just pulled that trigger immediately.”

Travis said, “No, I was struck. And he was, we were face-to-face, and I was struck and that’s when I shot.”

Miss Dunikoski alluded to the idea of citizen’s arrest. “You never told Mr. Arbery, ‘You’re under arrest for the crime of fill-in-the blank?’ ”

Travis replied, “I didn’t have time.”

The prosecutor asked Travis if he had other choices, such as calling 911 from home, not speaking to Arbery at all, and not getting out of his truck on Holmes Drive, where the confrontation happened. Travis said that he thought his father already called 911, but he acknowledged that he could have done other things. Arbery could have done other things, too, of course.

The defense called a string of witnesses who were residents of Satilla Shores. The first was Mindy Cofer, a Satilla Shores resident since 1976. She told the court she had seen a person and trash under the bridge when she was boating, corroborating testimony from Travis McMichael.

She read posts on the Facebook group, Satilla Shores Neighborhood Watch, and sometimes shared them. People on Facebook were talking about seeing strangers in the neighborhood, and items going missing, and she made a post that perhaps it was the homeless person she had seen under the bridge.

Larissa Ollivierre, a black female lawyer on prosecution team asked her, “Do you believe that someone stealing is worthy of the death penalty in the state of Georgia—” The defense objected immediately and she withdrew the question.

The jury was sent to lunch, and the moment there were out of the room, Greg McMichael’s lawyer Laura Hogue asked the judge to admonish Miss Ollivierre in front of the jury for asking a question that she knew was impermissible, and to instruct the jury to disregard that question. “It’s inappropriate. It’s incendiary. It’s prejudicial. It’s improper. And we ask that she be sanctioned in front of the jury,” Mrs. Hogue said.

Kevin Gough asked for a mistrial. He has been steadily building an appeal case, making many mistrial motions. Miss Olliverre told the judge she thought it was an appropriate question.

When court resumed after lunch, Judge Walmsley said to the jury, “Ladies and gentlemen, an improper question was asked of the last witness that the state knew or should have known was objectionable. The court has admonished the state, and has ordered that these actions are not to be repeated. You are instructed to disregard the last question asked, and any implications arising therefrom.”

The next witness was another Satilla Shores resident, Cindy Clark, who said she was aware of crime in the neighborhood, such as cars being broken into, and guns being stolen. Because of this rise in crime, she installed a doorbell camera. “We locked our doors and we locked our cars at night,” she said.

Mrs. Clark was a member of the neighborhood Facebook page. She posted on it only once or twice, but she read it often. She did not witness any crime, but she was aware of an odd situation in 2019, when two men parked in front of a house across the street from her home at night. Her neighbor across the street came outside and startled them. One man drove off and the other was left walking around the neighborhood. She also remembered when a car broke down just outside Satilla Shores in 2016, two people came into the neighborhood, instead staying by their car to get help. It turned out to be a stolen car.

Brooke Perez also testified. She has lived in Satilla Shores since 2015, with her husband Diego Perez and their three children. On June 30, 2019 someone posted a note about a theft on the Facebook page, so she checked and found power tools missing form her husband’s truck. She called the non-emergency police number. Not much came of it; she did not have serial numbers for the tools, and the officer who came out told her that the door handle on Diego’s truck would not take fingerprints.

“It’s a very uneasy feeling,” Mrs. Perez said. “At the time, I only had two children. I’m a stay-at-home mom, have been for several years. Home-schooled my children. So, I’m home alone with the kids. So, it felt like a violation. Something that shouldn’t be this close to my home.”

Mr. and Mrs. Perez bought a hi-definition camera home-security system. Mrs. Perez became a member of the Facebook page the day after it was created. She posted about the theft, to let other people know that they should check for stolen items.

She became the administrator of the Facebook page, which meant she could approve new members. Only people who lived in Satilla Shores or have a relative there could become members. She read each post. Members posted about thefts, suspicious people, the water or power going out, and police activity. Many neighbors were elderly, and the neighborhood has vacation homes, that are vacant much of the time. When there was suspicious activity, she told her husband about it. “He is my protector,” she said.

Mrs. Perez saw Larry English’s son playing outside, so she introduced herself to Mr. English to arrange a play date for the English boy and her same-age daughter.

In October 2019, when the tools went missing from the truck, a neighbor, Sube Lawrence, called Mrs. Perez, saying she had just seen someone on her surveillance camera. Mr. English, who was not staying at his Satilla Shores property that night, also texted Diego Perez, writing “the colored man is back [at my house under construction].” The Perez family lived two doors down from Mr. English’s house, so Diego Perez went to investigate. He wore night vision goggles and was armed.

Mrs. Perez spoke to a police officer who came that night. She said they were looking for a young black man who had been seen at Mr. English’s house. The police did not find the intruder.

Mrs. Perez messaged Larry English’s wife, suggesting that they put up “No trespassing” signs. “Maybe that would deter something,” Mrs. Perez said.

She posted about the intrusions on Larry English’s property on the Facebook Page in December 2019. It described a “black male, short hair, tattoos on chest and arm” caught on Mr. English’s security camera.

On February 11, 2020, Mr. English called and said the same guy was back, so Mr. and Mrs. Perez went outside. They saw Greg and Travis coming down the road. Travis was talking loudly to his father, so she signaled to them to hush, because Diego was on the English property looking for the intruder. With a pistol tucked under her arm, she shined a high-powered flashlight across to the river behind the house under construction, but neither she nor her husband saw anyone.

The next day, Mrs. Perez posted on Facebook: “It’s the same guy the last few times. We have him all over our camera, but boy, is he fast. He knows the neighborhood really good.”

Mrs. Perez said if Diego couldn’t find the man, he either knew where to hide or he ran away fast. “The same person coming over and over; it made me worried,” she said.

She assumed that since this man kept returning to the English property, he must have been the same one who stole from Mr. English. She did not see the black male steal on the security videos.

“It was an uneasy feeling that the cops never found out who the person was,” Mrs. Perez said.

On February 23, as the Perez family drove home from church, a police car came up behind them. “A cop come hauling tail in,” Mrs. Perez said, “And I was like, ‘What the heck is going on?’ So, I got off the side of the road and he come flying on in.” They drove past their house and came upon the shooting scene. She saw Travis. She said he looked scared, frazzled, and was not himself. He had his hands up on his head and he was looking around, wide-eyed. “He was bloody and he was pacing back and forth, and I remember he just plopped himself down.”

Mr. Perez saw Arbery in the road and said, “He’s dead. Go, go!” They drove away quickly, so the children would not see Arbery. The Perez surveillance camera had captured Arbery that day, so Mr. Perez gave the file to an officer.

Under cross examination, Mrs. Perez said that Larry English never said he suspected the contractors working on his house stole from him. It was Mr. Perez who suggested that the contractors might have something to do with it, not Mr. English. This point was a loss for the prosecution, because they had been using the story about Mr. English suspecting the contractors to take suspicion off Ahmaud Arbery.

Jack Brinson, another Satilla Shores resident, testified that some things were stolen from his car, but nothing valuable. His wife is on the Facebook page, and their family discussed the rise in crime. They had had fake cameras around their house, but because of the rise in crime they installed real ones.

Annabelle Beasley lives alone in Satilla Shores; her divorced daughter Sube Lawrence lives next door. Sube has three boys. Mrs. Beasley recently installed a camera at her front door. “After all the happenings in the neighborhood, it was unnerving, and so I had to. . . have cameras put up.”

Mrs. Beasley left her car in her driveway. He daughter found the car with the door open and the interior ransacked. The week before, someone’s jeep had been broken into and the police told that car owner, “You should have locked your [car] door; there’s nothing we can do about it.” Mrs. Beasley’s had left her door unlocked too, so her daughter did not make a police report.

Mrs. Beasley was so worried about property crime in the neighborhood that she and her daughter would not let the children play outside.

Her daughter Sube Lawrence then took the stand. She said that her boys played with Larry English’s son and Mr. English gave the boys scrap wood from his house under construction.

In late October, the camera on Miss Lawrence’s home security system detected motion. She saw two men with flashlights, looking around. She asked Mrs. Perez to send Mr. Perez over. “I feel very safe with Diego,” Miss Lawrence said. “I know that he would look out for me and my boys at all cost.”

If Mrs. Perez saw that there was a suspicious person, she would text her daughter Sube to get the boys inside and lock the door. The boys always played outside, even at night, until the neighbors began talking about car break-ins and suspicious people. “I didn’t have to stop them [going out],” Miss Lawrence said. “They kind of did that themselves. They didn’t even want to get the groceries out of the car at night, because they were a little afraid.”

Miss Lawrence installed security cameras. She was an administrator of the Satilla Shores Facebook page. When she started seeing posts about crime, she made a better effort to lock her car. She told the jury she felt violated and upset that her kids weren’t getting to grow up in the safe neighborhood she grew up in. She tearfully told the jury, “Previously, we lived on some land, and we had a dirt driveway and all they wanted was a neighborhood with roads, so they could ride their bikes. And to have to say, ‘Come inside. Stay inside.’ Or ‘Mom, I don’t want to go outside.’ It was just disappointing.” She worried when her sons were home alone.

During a jury break, defense counsel Jason Sheffield asked the judge to let the jury see evidence known to the court but so far, withheld from the jury. He wanted to admit testimony from a police officer who, in 2017, tried to talk to Arbery about strange behavior. The hostile encounter was caught on bodycam video that is available on the internet. “That officer was dressed in uniform, with badge and gun, and a marked patrol car, and that still happened,” Mr. Sheffield said.

Another was a police encounter in which Arbery was chased out of an abandoned building where he was thought to be smoking marijuana. An officer in a patrol car told him to stop, but he kept running. Mr. Sheffield said this was relevant because: “When an individual approaches Mr. Arbery and questions him about his conduct, he doesn’t engage in a typical fashion. He runs, or he gets combative or confrontational. We have evidence of that over the timeline we have submitted to the court.” The judge held to his prior decisions and kept this evidence from the jury.

Kevin Gough reminded the judge of prejudicial protester activity at the door of the courthouse. Moreover, Martin Luther King Jr. III and Lee Merritt [high-profile “civil right” lawyer] sat in the gallery with Ahmaud Arbery’s parents on that day.

The defendants rested their cases. Neither Greg McMichael nor Roddie Bryan testified, and their lawyers presented no evidence. They were under no obligation to testify in their own defense. Mr. Bryan was not armed. Greg was armed but neither brandished nor fired his weapon. The defense may have decided not to put them on the stand so they would not be examined on Greg’s use of what appears to have been the N-word.

Court is adjourned until Monday morning at 9 a.m., when the jury will hear closing arguments.

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