After calling witness, defense rests in Arbery's hate crimes trial

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Defense attorneys in the hate crimes trial of the three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery closed their cas...


BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Defense attorneys in the hate crimes trial of the three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery closed their case Friday after calling only one witness.

None of the defendants – Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William Bryan – spoke in their own defense.

Last year, the men were convicted in state court of pursuing Mr. Arbery in their South Georgia neighborhood and murdering him. All three were sentenced to life imprisonment. In the federal lawsuit, they are charged with pursuing and killing Mr. Arbery specifically because he was black.

On Friday, only Gregory McMichael’s lawyer presented evidence to the jury, in an attempt to bolster the defense’s central argument that the men sued Mr Arbery on suspicion of him committing burglaries in the region, and not because of his race.

The only defense witness, a woman who lived in the Satilla Shores neighborhood where the defendants lived and where Mr Arbery died, said that on one occasion in 2019 she saw a white man who looked suspicious under a bridge near the entrance to the neighborhood. AJ Balbo, Mr. McMichael’s lawyer, released a recording of a call Mr. McMichael made to authorities that summer after he too saw a white man under the bridge whom he thought was suspicious and possibly be responsible for burglaries. The defendants argued in both trials that they were on high alert due to a wave of break-ins.

A lawyer for Mr. Arbery’s family expressed skepticism about this line of argument.

“The defense tried to use this witness to show that their clients are not racist, that they called the police about a white man and that they were concerned about the crime, but that is not because you called the police about a white guy you’re ‘I’m not a racist,’ said Lynn Whitfield, senior counsel for the Transformative Justice Coalition who sat with Mr Arbery’s family during the court proceedings “They didn’t chase the white man through the neighborhood with guns and kill him.”

The jury is charged with determining whether the men deprived Mr. Arbery of his right to use a public street because he was black, not whether they committed murder. The men are also charged with attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels are each charged with using a weapon in a violent crime. If found guilty, they risk life in prison. The guilty verdicts would have practical ramifications if the men’s state convictions were overturned on appeal.

The defense witness came on Friday after prosecutors called 20 witnesses and presented dozens of pieces of evidence over three and a half days, including text messages, WhatsApp and Facebook messages and comments containing racist language that the men have posted and sent to others.

Among the witnesses for the prosecution was Kristie Ronquille, who testified Friday morning.

Ms. Ronquille said that in 2011, while in the Coast Guard in Pascagoula, Miss., Travis McMichael, then her supervisor, made derogatory comments about black people after learning she had previously dated a black man. Weeping on the stand, Ms Ronquille said Mr McMichael called her an “N-word lover” on more than one occasion afterwards.

Asked by Travis McMichael’s lawyer, Amy Lee Copeland, why she hadn’t reported him, Ms Ronquille said she was new to the Coast Guard.

“He’s my supervisor – that would be like reporting your boss,” she said. “Who are you talking to about your boss?” »

The prosecution also called Kim Ballesteros, a neighbor of the McMichaels, on Friday, who said she remembered standing at the end of an alley, telling Gregory McMichael she had a new rental property. Mr. McMichael told him about his own tenant, a black woman who had rented a house from him. He said he turned off the woman’s air conditioning in the summer to entice her to pay her rent.

“You should have seen how quickly her big black ass came with the rent check,” Ms. Ballesteros recalled, telling Mr. McMichael. Ms Ballesteros said Mr McMichael called the woman a ‘walrus’ because she was ‘tall and black’.

“I was surprised,” Ms Ballesteros said. “It was racist and uncomfortable, and I was frankly disappointed.”

Mr. Balbo, Gregory McMichael’s lawyer, noted that Ms. Ballesteros continued to speak with Mr. McMichael after the incident and that his client was renting to African Americans.

Another witness, Carole Sears, said she recalled hearing Gregory McMichael “ranting” about black people after finding out that civil rights leader Julian Bond had died. At the time, Mr. McMichael was an investigator for the local district attorney’s office and she was driving in his car due to his involvement in a court case in Brunswick, Ga. Ms. Sears was devastated by the death of Mr. Bond, while Mr. McMichael was thrilled, she said. “I wish this guy was in the ground years ago,” Ms Sears recalled, telling Mr McMichael. “All these black people are just trouble and I wish they all died.”

Ms. Sears said she didn’t speak for the rest of the ride because she was scared.

In their opening statements this week, the defense lawyers criticized the racist language used by their clients, but they also insisted that the use of such language does not prove that the men killed Mr. Arbery because he was black.

The men sued Mr. Arbery “not because he was a black man, but because he was the man,” Mr. Balbo said in his opening statements.

The jury will hear closing arguments from the government and the defendants on Monday.

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Newsrust - US Top News: After calling witness, defense rests in Arbery's hate crimes trial
After calling witness, defense rests in Arbery's hate crimes trial
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