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Defense rests in Ahmaud Arbery shooting trial as dozens of Black pastors rally at courthouse

The judge said he expects closing arguments to begin Monday. Meanwhile, pastors and clergy gathered outside the courthouse in Brunswick, Georgia.
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After Travis McMichael took the stand Thursday for cross-examination in the murder trial in the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia last year, there was no rebuttal from the prosecution, and the defense rested.

Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said the court would reconvene Monday, when he expects closing arguments to begin.

Dozens of Black pastors rallied outside the courthouse in Brunswick on Thursday after one of the defense attorneys tried to block them from attending the trial.

More than 100 pastors and other clergy were expected to gather outside Glynn County Superior Court, among them the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Martin Luther King III and the prominent civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump also attended.

"Today, I will join @TheRevAl and hundreds of Black Pastors across Ecumenical lines in Brunswick, GA, in a prayer vigil calling for justice for #AhmaudArbery," King tweeted. "This trial is a test for the American Justice System. This is a story we have heard before."

He added in a separate post: "Black men are considered armed and dangerous with no evidence and we need to hold these men accountable for their actions. No American should be at risk of death while jogging in their own neighborhood. #JusticeForAhmaudArbery."

Attorney Kevin Gough has tried unsuccessfully to block Black pastors from the trial. Gough represents William "Roddie" Bryan, the neighbor who recorded cellphone video of the fatal shooting of Arbery in February 2020.

Bryan is on trial along with Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory McMichael. All three defendants have different attorneys.

During Thursday's proceeding, Gough again said that he had concerns about the pastors’ presence. He told Walmsley, the judge, that a person wearing a black sweatshirt had been heard saying, “I support Black pastors.”

“Given that the Black pastors support the conviction of our client, we would object to those kinds of slogans being outside in the foyer where witnesses are sitting,” he said.

Image: Trial over Ahmaud Arbery's killing, in Brunswick, Georgia
Members of the Nation of Islam stand in formation Thursday outside the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga., as Greg McMichael, his son, Travis McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan are tried in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.Octavio Jones / Reuters

Walmsley responded that he can't speak to what's happening outside the courtroom.

Gough had previously asked for Jackson to be removed from the courtroom, but the motion was denied. Jackson has continued to show up, sitting in the back of the courtroom.

Prosecutor Linda Dunikoski cross-examined Travis McMichael on Thursday, asking him about Facebook posts he made in early 2020, before the shooting, about recent thefts in their Satilla Shores neighborhood. In one post, Travis McMichael said he had a pretty good idea who had stolen items from his truck and had found out where the person lived.

He said in the message that he had been watching the person for several days and believed the person was responsible for the crime in the neighborhood.

The person he suspected of committing crimes in the neighborhood wasn't Arbery, it was revealed in court. However, in McMichael's written statement to police after he shot Arbery, he indicated that he believed Arbery had committed the crimes.

"I was under concern that Mr. Arbery could be a suspect in this or he could not be," McMichael said.

McMichael went on to tell the court that he had seen Arbery inside a home that was under construction where items had previously been stolen.

"So, of course, I’m thinking he is the suspect. But I don’t know if it was him or the other people that they’ve seen or heard about," he said.

Asked whether he knew for a fact who had stolen items from the home under construction, McMichael said he thought it was "a probability" that it was Arbery.

Dunikoski also pressed him about inconsistencies in his police statement and his court testimony.

McMichael said he might have mixed things up when he was speaking to police because he was "scattered" after the shooting, which he said was "the most traumatic event I’ve ever been through in my life."

He also recounted the day Arbery was shot. Questioned by Dunikoski, he said Arbery didn't have a weapon, didn't say anything to him and didn't verbally or physically threaten him.

McMichael testified Thursday that he shot Arbery after he was "struck."

"We were face to face. And being struck, that’s when I shot," he said.

Several residents of Satilla Shores were called as witnesses for the defense. One, Brook Perez, testified about crimes that had happened in the area and said her husband's tools were stolen from his truck.

As a result of the theft, they installed a high-definition security camera system, she said.

Perez said her husband, Diego Perez, would check on the property of their neighbor Larry English. English would send Diego Perez videos capturing people on English's home construction site.

"Sometimes he would call and say, how would he say, 'The colored man’s back at my house.' Or 'the colored boy' is what he would call and tell Diego," Brook Perez testified.

Another neighbor, Sube Lawrence, testified that after the shooting, she had a conversation with Travis McMichael and that he indicated that he and his father planned to leak video of the shooting.

Lawrence testified that she told the younger McMichael that she would share the video on social media and in text messages to get "the neighborhood's version of past events and, yes, kind of all the things that led to this."

Travis McMichael, his father and Bryan are accused of chasing down Arbery, 25, a Black man, after they saw him running in their neighborhood in Brunswick.

The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and chased Arbery in their pickup truck. Bryan joined the chase and recorded a video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range. All three defendants are white.

They have pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges.

CORRECTION (Nov. 18, 2021, 6:50 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misidentified Martin Luther King III and Benjamin Crump. They are not clergymen.