The man who shot dead Ahmaud Arbery took the stand in his own defense Wednesday, tearing up briefly as he described the moment he fired his gun, saying it was a “life or death situation.”
Travis McMichael, 35, told jurors he was trying to “de-escalate” the situation when he chased the 25-year-old black man through his Georgia neighborhood on Feb. 23 last year.
His testimony came as defense attorneys for the three white men currently on trial for Arbery’s murder began presenting their case, arguing their clients were lawfully trying to make a citizen’s arrest after suspecting Arbery of committing a crime.
McMichael told the judge he wanted “to give my side of the story” about what unfolded when he, his father Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan chased down Arbery on Feb. 23 last year.
He testified that he grabbed his shotgun and jumped into his truck alongside his father after the elder McMichael had come into their home in a “frantic state,” saying the man they suspected of breaking into houses “just ran by the house.”
McMichael said he believed his father had already called 911 when he repeatedly drove up alongside Arbery, saying: “Hey what’s going on. Stop a minute. I want to talk to you.”
He testified he didn’t try to block Arbery with his truck or brandished his gun early on in the chase, which prosecutors say lasted about five minutes.
After realizing his father hadn’t called 911, he testified he started to call police but saw “Mr. Arbery turn and come back” towards him.
At that point in time, McMichael said he was “pretty sure he’s going to attack” and he eventually raised his shotgun at Arbery in a bid to deter him.
Speaking of the moment he got into a physical confrontation with Arbery, McMichael said: “He struck me, he had my gun. It was obvious he was attacking me. This is a life-or-death situation. I’m going to have to stop him from doing this.”
Asked if he was able to get the gun away from Arbery, McMichael said: “I don’t believe I did.”
“I knew that he was on me, that I was losing this. I knew that if I had tripped or got hit in the head… I would have lost the shotgun… I knew he was overpowering me. I shot again to stop him.”
McMichael said after the final shot he was in shock, adding he initially thought he had only fired his gun twice, not three times.
Earlier in his testimony, McMichael had told jurors he first encountered Arbery 12 days before the shooting when he saw him “lurking” and “creeping” outside a vacant home on his street.
In that situation, McMichael said he turned his vehicle to point his headlights on Arbery, who tried to hide behind a portable toilet at the construction site.
“He comes out and pulls up his shirt, and goes to reach in his pocket or waistband area,” McMichael told jurors.
McMichael said “it freaked me out” and he went home and called 911.
“Once I realized what’s going on, he’s doing this, I’m under the assumption he’s armed. I jumped back into the vehicle and he runs into the house,” McMichael testified.
Earlier is his testimony, Travis spoke about a string of recent thefts in their neighborhood, saying it had put residents on edge. He told jurors his own car had been broken into several times, including once when his gun was stolen.
Travis also spent several minutes answering questions from his attorney about his firearms and law-enforcement training from when he worked as a Coast Guard mechanic.
He told jurors he had arrest powers and was trained on using force and the need for reasonable suspicion of a crime.
“What we’re taught is everybody has a weapon. Hands or fists are a weapon,” Travis testified.
When asked if pulling a weapon on someone can de-escalate a scenario, Travis said: “Yes. If you pull a gun on someone… from what I’ve learned that usually causes people to back off or realize what’s happening.”
The McMichaels are accused of arming themselves and chasing down Arbery in their truck after they spotted him running past their home. Bryan joined the chase in his own truck and filmed the younger McMichael shooting Arbery at close range with his shotgun.
The defense have argued Travis fired in self-defense after Arbery tried to take his gun.
All three men have pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges.