A Georgia judge will decide on Thursday whether a jury can hear from Travis McMichael about a racial slur officials say he uttered as Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, lay dying from shotgun blasts fired by McMichael last year.
Travis McMichael began testifying in his own defense on Wednesday, taking the stand even though it opened him up to questioning by prosecutors who have said they might ask him about evidence he had “racial animus” against Black people.
Travis McMichael, 35, his father, Greg McMichael, 65, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, all white men, are charged with murder, along with other crimes, in the Feb. 23 slaying of Arbery in their mostly white neighborhood just outside coastal Brunswick.
The McMichaels told police that they chased Arbery in a pickup truck because they thought he looked like a burglar, and Bryan joined the chase after they went by his driveway.
Defense lawyers have said the men were trying to stop Arbery under a now-repealed Georgia citizen’s arrest law, and the younger McMichael shot him in self defense. The McMichaels and Bryan face life in prison if convicted of murder.
Cellphone video of the shooting taken by Bryan was widely seen on the internet about two months after Arbery’s death and caused a national uproar before charges were ultimately brought.
Speaking on the verge of tears as he took the stand on Wednesday, Travis McMichael said Arbery tried to take his weapon.
“I shot him. He had my gun,” Travis McMichael said. “It was a life or death situation.”
In a court hearing in June 2020, a special agent with the Georgia Brueau of Investigation (GBI) said that co-defendant Bryan said in an interview that Travis McMichael uttered a racial slur as Arbery lay dying.
On Wednesday, Travis McMichael’s attorney Jason Sheffield asked the court to prevent prosecutors from asking about the reported slur unless they could give a “good faith” reason why it was relevant. Judge Timothy Walmsley said he would consider the matter first thing on Thursday, before Travis McMichael is slated for a second day of testimony.