Arbery, a 25-year-old former high school football player, lived near the coastal community of Brunswick in Glynn County, Georgia. Travis McMichael claimed on a 911 call that Arbery was trying to burglarize a home. He was said to be running near a property under construction when the McMichaels encountered him.
On that 911 call, Travis can be heard describing Arbery as “a Black male, red shirt, white shorts.” Travis told a dispatcher he was sitting across the street in his red Ford F-150 “watching the house” and he didn’t know if Arbery was armed “but he was acting like he was.”
The McMichaels later submitted a notice to introduce “certain other” acts of evidence last December, according to journalist Kailey Tracy. Arbery was on probation at the time of his killing, having pleaded guilty after facing charges related to trying to steal a TV from Walmart in 2017, ABC News reported.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley wrote in an order ABC News obtained that evidence of Arbery’s past legal troubles could unfairly “lead the jury to believe that although Arbery did not apparently commit any felony that day, he may pose future dangerousness in that he would eventually commit more alleged crimes, and therefore, the Defendants’ actions were somehow justified.”
“The character of victim is neither relevant nor admissible in murder trial,” the judge wrote.
Attorneys for Travis and his father said in their later motion:
“The state has already informed the defense and the Court that it did not intend to introduce any evidence that spoke to Mr. Arbery’s state of mind or his intent, motive, plan, etc. In part, the Court ruled against the defense in its pretrial order preventing such evidence by the defense when it stated the same was not relevant. Additionally, the state informed the defense and the Court that it was not going to bring in prior act evidence against the McMichael’s and withdrew their request for a hearing on the matter.”
Prosecutors responded simply in a motion responding to the defense that “the State will present the facts of this case, and one of those facts is that Travis McMichael purchased a new truck sometime after January 1, 2020 and put this vanity plate on it.”
They additionally wrote:
“The vanity plate was on the truck at the time of the homicide. The jury may interpret that evidence in any way they deem appropriate and the State may make reasonable inferences, in closing argument, drawn from the evidence.
The state is entitled to prove motive and can may present evidence of other acts that prove motive Without notice under Rule 404b. 1 The fact that the state has chosen to not tender evidence of racial animus in the form of communications by the defendants with third parties, in its case in chief, to illustrate the defendants’ motive, is a strategic decision made by the state. The State has and will provide the defense with potential racial animus motive evidence, and will seek a Rule 403 ruling prior to tending in such evidence, should the State decide that it is pertinent to do so.
However, the fact that defendant Travis McMichael knowingly, intentionally and purposefully attached a vanity plate to the front of his truck for all the world to see, has nothing to do with the State’s strategic decision regarding third party communications that show racial animus. Defendant Travis Michael’s choice, and the fact that this vanity plate was on the front of his pick-up truck on Feb. 23, 2020, are intrinsic evidence in this case and can be fully be used by the State to illustrate the intent and motive of Travis McMichael.”
Arbery’s family attorney Lee Merritt said when news of Arbery’s death initially broke that both Travis and Gregory, a former police officer and former investigator in the same prosecutor’s office initially tasked with holding him accountable, targeted Arbery because of his race. Gregory McMichael and his son “saw him, got their guns, got in a truck, chased him down, pulled up next to him, shot him at least two times, and killed him right there on the spot,” according to a petition to get the men arrested.
“When Gregory saw Ahmaud running in his neighborhood, Satilla Shores, a predominately white community, he and his son immediately armed themselves with a shotgun and a 357 magnum, hopped into their pickup truck, chased him down and shot him,” petitioners said on the website.
It took a full 74 days after Arbery’s death, which was ruled a homicide, for an arrest to be made. Former Glynn County District Attorney Jackie Johnson has been charged with obstruction and violating her oath of office in her handling of Arbery’s case following his death on Feb. 23, 2020.
Johnson notified Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr of a conflict of interest on Feb. 27, 2020, the state attorney said. But that notification came after Johnson had George Barnhill, the district attorney of the Waycross Judicial Circuit, take the case. “Not long after Mr. Barnhill’s appointment, he and Ms. Johnson learned that Mr. Barnhill’s son, an assistant district attorney in Ms. Johnson’s office, had worked with Mr. McMichael on a prosecution involving Mr. Arbery,” Carr said. “Mr. Barnhill, however, held onto the case for several more weeks after making this discovery.”
Barnhill told the Glynn County Police Department on Feb. 24 that “he did not see grounds for the arrest of any of the individuals involved in Mr. Arbery’s death,” Carr said. “He additionally stated his opinion to the Glynn County Police Department in writing that there was insufficient probable cause to make any arrests in the case and that he would be asking the Attorney General to appoint another prosecutor,” Carr added.
Meanwhile, the Glynn County Police Department had video footage of the encounter, which they obtained the same day as the shooting. The man who shot that footage, William “Roddie” Bryan, is also accused of murder in the case. Jury selection in the case is set to start Oct. 18.