BRUNSWICK, Ga. (WSAV) — The case against the three men charged with murder in the death of Ahmaud Arbery will move to the Superior Court of Glynn County.
After hours of testimony Thursday, with dozens of people gathered outside of the Glynn County Courthouse in Arbery’s honor, Judge Wallace Harrell determined the evidence merits going to trial on all charges.
Travis McMichael, 34, and his father Greg McMichael, 64, were charged with murder more than two months after Arbery was killed, after a series of recusals by southeast Georgia prosecutors and the emergence of William “Roddie” Bryan’s video of the final encounter led to a state takeover.
Bryan, 50, was later charged with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) Special Agent Richard Dial took the stand saying a jail cell phone call alleged all three men were in on the crime.
“Greg McMichael was on the phone with a caller. The caller asked him about Mr. Bryan. At first Mr. McMichaels says he can’t talk about it and then he says Mr. Bryan is an ally,” Dial said.
The McMichaels sat side-by-side watching the hearing onscreen at the Glynn County jail. The judge rejected defense motions to have them brought to the courtroom, citing emergency precautions because of the coronavirus pandemic. Bryan had a waiver excusing him from attending.
Dial also revealed that Travis McMichael, a white man, used a racial slur as he stood over Arbery, a black man, moments after hitting him with three shots.
“Mr. Bryan said that after the shooting took place, before police arrival when Mr. Arbery was on the ground, he heard Mr. McMichael make the statement ‘f – – – ing n – – – er,'” said the special agent.
When Arbery’s supporters heard that testimony, the courtroom and the courtyard erupted in gasps and shouts.
Dial says Travis McMichael used the slur several times in private messages and has a Confederate symbol on his toolbox.
The Arbery family attorney says it’s extremely hard to face.
“I had a very difficult time keeping my composure,” said S. Lee Merritt. “It’s not that we’re not used to the hate, but to know what was said in earshot of other witnesses — that the testimony was in the hands in of the original investigators and they did nothing — was heartbreaking for me and for the family.”
The attorney told reporters outside the courthouse that prosecutors had warned the family before the hearing of the coming testimony about the slur. But Merrit said: “It was still very difficult to hear in the context of a prolonged chase.”
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones called the release of new details in court “very, very heartbreaking.”
“He was afraid,” Cooper-Jones said of her son. “Life had placed him in a position where I couldn’t protect him, and he wasn’t able to protect himself.”
When the McMichael’s defense attorney brought up Arbery’s mental health in court, Merrit says it was a breaking point for Cooper-Jones.
“To have that instance between a mom and her son and him trying to get healthy, dealing with a real mental health issue to be used against him, as if mental health alone makes you a criminal, is very difficult for his mom and that’s why she decided to leave,” the attorney said.
Standing with signs for both Arbery and George Floyd, protesters say they plan to be there every step of the way.
“It’s just one thing after another, after another,” said Arbery supporter Marc Powe. “When I first saw this incident, I cried — and I cried the other day for the other gentleman. It’s just sad and we need change.”
The GBI says this is still an ongoing investigation. They are now looking through the McMichael’s cell phone records and social media posts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report