Travis and Gregory McMichael, the father-son duo accused of stalking and killing Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged through their neighborhood, recently filed a series of motions including one that would prevent Arbery from being labeled a “victim” during their respective murder trials.
Arguing it’s a “prejudicial term,” the McMichaels’ attorneys asked a judge to impose a gag that would block prosecutors from describing Arbery as a victim in front of jurors, witnesses and potential jurors during the trial.
“Use of terms such as ‘victim’ allows the focus to shift to the accused rather than remain on the proof of every element of the crimes charged,” the filing read. “Working from the premise that an accused is innocent until proven guilty, it is the prosecution’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the essential elements of the crimes alleged.”
“This burden of the prosecution should not be alleviated, minimized or diminished by the use of loaded words which imply that the prosecution has met its burden of proof that the crimes alleged have actually been committed,” it later stated.
Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was fatally shot three times as he and Travis McMichael struggled over a shotgun Feb. 23. McMichael and his father Gregory stalked Arbery in a pickup truck when they spotted him jogging through their mostly white subdivision on the outskirts of Brunswick, Georgia. The father-son duo told authorities he fit the description of a suspected burglar and claimed they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest.
William “Roddie” Bryan, one of the McMichaels’ neighbors, trailed Arbery in a second vehicle and recorded the shooting on his cellphone.
No charges were filed in the case until after that video was leaked to the media on May 5. It quickly went viral.
Gregory and Travis McMichael were arrested May 7 and Bryan was taken into custody 14 days later. All three men now face felony murder charges and are being held without bond as they await trial.
No trial date has been set in either of the three cases.
Travis and Gregory McMichael’s legal team includes Robert Rubin and Jason B. Sheffield, both of Decatur, and Macon attorneys Franklin and Laura Hogue. All four signed the Dec. 30 motion, which signaled how the defense attorneys are maneuvering for the father and son’s respective days in court.
Gregory McMichael is a former Glynn County policeman who’d investigated Arbery long before the deadly shooting, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He retired from the Brunswick District Attorney’s office in 2019. McMichael told police he recognized Arbery from surveillance video of a recent burglary in his neighborhood.
The McMichaels maintain their innocence and seem intent on advancing the narrative that Arbery was plotting a burglary homes when they confronted him. The motion to strip him of the “victim” label was one of 10 court filings made by the defendants’ attorneys in Glynn County Superior Court on Dec. 30 and New Year’s Eve.
Their legal team plans to present evidence that Arbery was “jogging as a cover to commit crimes,” according to a Dec. 30 notice of intent filing.
To prove that theory, they will attempt to introduce Arbery’s criminal past during trial to establish a modus operandi for acts of theft, burglary and “forcible felonies.”
The defense attorneys have requested an evidentiary hearing to have surveillance footage, witness testimony and phone recordings admitted for trial. That evidence would be used to paint a damaging picture of Arbery.
It would consist of allegations that Arbery was seen on three separate occasions between October 2019 and Feb. 11, 2020 canvassing the under-construction riverfront house that the McMichaels claim they chased him away from just minutes before Travis killed him.
As a teen, Arbery was convicted on charges stemming from a December 2013 incident when he tried to bring a pistol onto his high school campus during a basketball game. He was sentenced to five years probation.
Gregory and Travis McMichael’s attorneys plan to use Glynn County police reports from that arrest.
According to the notice of intent, they also want to show jurors surveillance from a March 14, 2013 fight at South Georgia Technical College. According to the court filing, the security cam video showed Arbery hand a friend a pair of wire cutters to use as a weapon as they laid in wait just before attacking a group of men.
The attorneys plan to use bodycam footage from a 2017 encounter Arbery had with Glynn County police and 911 records from a 2018 domestic disturbance in which he was involved. The filing also listed a handful of other incidents where Arbery allegedly claimed he was out jogging when seen looking into homes or confronted by authorities for with trespassing on private property.
The defendants’ attorneys argued the past reports “are intrinsic to the events on February 23, 2020 and explain why Mr. Arbery ran and why Travis and Greg McMichael pursued Mr. Arbery.”
Meanwhile, prosecutors have included audio recordings of some of the defendants’ phone calls from jail in their discovery. Travis and Gregory McMichael’s attorneys filed a motion to make all the jail calls inadmissible, arguing that phone recordings showing Gregory McMichel making such utterances as “no good deed goes unpunished” could incriminate the defendants.
They filed a separate motion to restrict prosecutors from showing more than one photo of Arbery alive and to limit the number of photos showing him alone, as “the Court must balance the photograph offered into evidence against ‘the danger of unfair prejudice’” and “should limit the State to one photograph of Ahmaud Arbery in life, depicted alone, and to be introduced by a nonrelated witness to avoid creating cumulative prejudicial error in the trial of this case.”
The attorneys have also sought to have a judge ban spectators from wearing “Black Lives Matter” face masks and other clothing items that show support for Arbery inside the courtroom during trial.
“This case has garnered national attention by way of its characterization in the media as one more in number of recent examples of racially-motivated crimes by white men against Black men and women, such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, oftentimes acting in law enforcement capacity,” the motion argued.
“While defendants in this case are white and Ahmaud Arbery was a Black man, the similarities between this and these other famous cases end there. Yet this case has been swept-up in this narrative and, consequently, demonstrators and spectators appear to support this larger cause as they stand with the prosecution and Arbery’s family.”
Bryan’s attorney, Kevin Gough, filed a Dec. 31 motion requesting a second bond hearing, citing the fact that Bryan has “uncontrolled high blood pressure.” Gough also adjoined Bryan to the motions filed by Travis and Gregory McMichael’s legal team.
Bryan initially claimed he had nothing to do with the shooting and was nothing more than a witness. But police bodycam footage from questioning just minutes after Arbery was killed contradicted that claim.
“When I see him, I knew, hate that people were getting broken into out here, you know. So, I hollered at them and said, ‘Y’all got him?’ And he just kept running. He was full blown running,” Bryan told a police officer at the scene. “They got down to the end down there somewhere, must’ve passed him. Because I pulled out of my driveway, was going to try to block him. But he was going all around. I made a few moves at him, you know. And he didn’t stop.”