A father and son jailed on murder charges in the February shooting of Ahmaud Arbery have appeared in a hearing seeking bond, at which prosecutors introduced disturbing text messages from months before the killing.
Gregory McMichael and his adult son, Travis McMichael, appeared on Thursday morning before Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley in a lengthy hearing that continued until around 5pm CT when the judge announced the court would recess for the day.
They also have asked the judge to toss out two of the counts against them, including malice murder, saying they were charged in a legally flawed indictment.
The McMichaels have been jailed since their arrests in May, more than two months after Arbery was slain. The McMichaels, who are white, chased and fatally shot the 25-year-old black man after they spotted him running in their neighborhood just outside the port city of Brunswick.
At the hearing, the defendants brought forth character witnesses to testify that the father and son don’t harbor racist sentiment and would not flee on bail, while prosecutors introduced explosive text messages and social media posts to demonstrate a history of racism.
Arbery’s mother also took the stand to give an emotional victim impact statement where she pleaded with the court to keep her son’s alleged murderers behind bars and told how, long after his death, authorities were still finding her son’s bone fragments in the street where he was slain.
Gregory McMichael and his adult son, Travis McMichael, appeared on Thursday morning before Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley in a lengthy bond hearing
The father and son are charged with murdering Ahmaud Arbery (left and right) in February
At one point, Travis McMichael’s friend Zachary Langford took the stand and was questioned by prosecutor Jesse Evans about an incendiary text message exchange from November 2019.
Travis McMichael texted Langford about ‘shooting a crackhead c**n with gold teeth with a Hi-Point .45,’ according to the state.
Langford at first said he didn’t recall receiving the message. Then after reviewing a transcript of the exchange, he answered: ‘He was referring to a raccoon, I believe.’
‘A raccoon with gold teeth and a Hi-Point .45?’ the prosecutor asked, referring to the model of pistol. ‘He was being facetious,’ Langford replied.
Evans also cited a photo Langford posted to Facebook last year to which Travis McMichael replied: ‘Sayonara, ch**k f***s,’ using an offensive slur for Asians.
Defense attorneys for both McMichaels have denied any racist motives in the shooting.
Right after the February 23 shooting, Gregory McMichael told police that he and his son armed themselves and got in a pickup truck to pursue Arbery because they suspected he was a burglar.
Travis McMichael’s friend Zachary Langford (above) testified that McMichael’s November 2019 text message about ‘shooting a crackhead c**n with gold teeth’ was in reference to a raccoon
The McMichaels have been jailed since their arrests in May. Above, they are seen conferring during the hearing, where they appeared via video link from the jail
Langford’s wife, Ashley Langford, testified that Travis McMichael expressed remorse about shooting Arbery.
‘He told me he wished it never happened like that,’ she said. ‘He prayed for Ahmaud’s mother and his family daily.’
However, Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, took the stand and gave an emotional victim impact statement saying the McMichaels are ‘as dangerous today as they were on February 23’ and are ‘proud of what they have done’.
‘They tried to explain that they believed my son was a trespasser… that he was someone engaged in a criminal enterprise,’ she said.
She said the defendants believe ‘their defense of grabbing their guns, chasing, boxing my son in with their vehicles, pursuing him and eventually shooting him to death, ripping his body into pieces’ was ‘the right thing to do’ and she believes ‘if given the opportunity both men would do the same again.’
Cooper-Jones also told of her grief as authorities continued to find ‘pieces of her son’ in the street long after his death.
‘Someone contacted my child on behalf of Glynn County this past spring during the course of the GBI’s secondary investigation,’ she told the court.
‘They discovered what they believed to be one of Ahmaud’s bone fragments near to where he was murdered. They wanted to know what we wanted doing with those pieces of my son that they were still discovering in the street.’
Wanda Cooper-Jones (center in July), mother of Ahmaud Arbery, gave an emotional victim impact statement where she pleaded with the court to deny the McMichaels’ bond request
Arbery’s mother urged the judge to deny the McMichaels’ request to be released on bond so they can return home to their families because they ‘refused to let [her son] go home.’
‘He ran this path many times and our home was just a light jog away. But, for him, no matter how he manoeuvred, no matter how fast he ran or how quickly he turned, these men refused to let him go home,’ she said.
‘They should not go home now to prepare for their defense, to enjoy their children and grandchildren and be embraced by the community.’
She added: ‘Ahmaud wasn’t allowed to go home. Ahmaud wasn’t even allowed the chance to live.’
Cooper-Jones also told how she and her family ‘continue to suffer mentally and emotionally’ as they ‘wait for justice’, with her daughter Jasmine having just had her first baby without her brother ‘and best friend’ around.
Cooper-Jones echoed her plea that the McMichaels remain jailed pending trial because ‘those guys are dangerous’ outside the courthouse earlier.
She also said she doubted they had regrets.
‘I live right there in the community,’ Cooper-Jones said. ‘Nobody reached out to say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” I don’t think they are remorseful at all.’
Evans also read out an impact statement from Arbery’s father Marcus Arbery Sr. where he described the McMichaels as his son’s ‘judge, jury and executioner’.
Friends of the McMichaels also testified Thursday, saying they were willing to put up their homes as collateral for bail if the father and son were released before the trial.
Allison McMichael, wife of Gregory and mother of Travis, also took the stand, appealing for their release on bond pending trial
Allison McMichael, wife of Gregory and mother of Travis, also took the stand, appealing for their release and saying that Travis McMichael would never flee and abandon his three-year-old son.
‘He loves home, he loves his son, he will stand up to his responsibility and he wants his day in court,’ she said on the stand.
Arbery’s killing stirred a national outcry in a year marked by protests over racial injustice.
An investigator testified previously that a third defendant, who took cellphone video of the shooting, heard Travis McMichael, 34, utter a racial slur after he blasted Arbery three times with a shotgun.
The McMichaels’ attorneys say that never happened, and that the third defendant was lying because he wanted to protect himself from prosecution.
They weren’t arrested until the cellphone video of the shooting leaked online and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case. Prosecutors say Arbery was merely out jogging.
The video shows the truck stopping in the middle of a residential street and Travis McMichael getting out before Arbery tries to run around the vehicle.
Arbery can be seen grappling with Travis McMichael over the shotgun and punching him before being shot at point-blank range.
In video of the killing, Arbery can be seen grappling with Travis McMichael over the shotgun and punching him before being shot at point-blank range
In June, a grand jury indicted both McMichaels and a neighbor, William ‘Roddie’ Bryan, on charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Travis McMichael’s attorneys, Robert Rubin and Jason Sheffield, wrote in court documents requesting bond that he lives with his parents, has a three-year-old son and doesn’t have a passport.
They cited his past service as a U.S. Coast Guard machine technician as proof of his character.
‘In no way, shape or form is Travis hateful towards any group of people, nor does he look down on anyone based on race, religion or beliefs,’ Curt Hall, a former Coast Guard roommate of Travis McMichael who described himself as ‘multiracial,’ wrote in a letter supporting bond for his friend.
Gregory McMichael, 64, is a retired investigator for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit district attorney’s office and a former Glynn County police officer.
Gregory McMichael is taken into custody in Brunswick, Georgia in May
Travis McMichael is arrested in Brunswick, Georgia in May. The father and son now seek bail
Gregory (left) and Travis (right) McMichael have been jailed since their arrests in May, more than two months after Arbery was slain
His lawyers said in a legal filing that they plan to present evidence in court to show why he should be freed on bond.
The McMichaels’ attorneys are also asking the judge to reject the indictment´s malice murder charge, saying it was written in a way that improperly ‘charges two crimes in one count.’
They made a similar argument for tossing out a charge of criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Bryan was previously denied bond. His attorney has argued in court motions that the entire indictment should be dismissed.
The outside prosecutor assigned to the case, Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes, was defeated in the November 3 election.
Holmes’ successor, Flynn Broady, will inherit the case, said Katie Byrd, spokeswoman for state Attorney General Chris Carr.
The court hearing will resume at 10am Friday.