Travis McMichael, who along with his father and a neighbor is on trial on charges of murder and other crimes in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, said he believed he was in "a life-or-death situation" before he shot Arbery last year in Georgia.
McMichael was the first witness to take the stand as the defense began presenting its case Wednesday.
He said he wanted to take the stand to “give my side of the story,” adding, “I want to explain what happened and to be able to say what happened from the way I see it."
McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan are accused of chasing down Arbery, 25, a Black man, on Feb. 23, 2020, after they saw him running in their Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick, Georgia.
The McMichaels armed themselves with guns and chased Arbery in their pickup truck. Bryan joined the chase and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery at close range. Arbery died from gunshot wounds to the chest, a wrist and an armpit. All three defendants are white.
They have pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges.
Travis McMichael said that on the day of the shooting, he was trying to get his young son to take a nap when his father came in the house "in an almost frantic state" and said the person they believed was responsible for the crimes in the neighborhood had just run by the house.
Travis McMichael said he grabbed his shotgun and got into the driver's side of his truck. Gregory McMichael was in the passenger seat. The two men then drove in the direction they believed Arbery had run and eventually caught up with him.
The younger McMichael said that he tried to get Arbery to stop running several times but that Arbery kept going. He described Arbery as "very angry" and "mad." Arbery did not speak to the men, Travis McMichael testified.
"It wasn’t what I was expecting," he said on the stand.
McMichael said that Arbery eventually stopped running and that he told Arbery that police were on the way. Arbery began running away, which McMichael said he interpreted to mean he had done something improper in the neighborhood.
He said he then saw Arbery running alongside Bryan's truck as both came toward and then passed the McMichaels before they went out of view.
He said they did not follow them because he did not want to escalate the situation.
After a while, he said, Arbery reappeared and began running toward him. McMichael said that he yelled at Arbery to stop but that he continued running.
“I’m pretty sure he’s going to attack,” McMichael said he thought at the time.
McMichael said he raised his shotgun to Arbery because he was "closing in" and "focused" on him. He said he lost sight of Arbery and then was attacked.
"He's on me in a flash," McMichael testified, saying Arbery struck him and grabbed for his gun.
"This is a life-or-death situation, and I’m going to have to stop him from doing this, so I shot," he said.
Asked by his attorney whether he had left his home with plans to kill Arbery, McMichael responded that he had not.
McMichael began his testimony by describing how crime started building up around the time he moved to his parents’ home in Satilla Shores in September 2018. He said residents in the area said they knew of car break-ins, thefts and “suspicious persons.” He told the courtroom that his own vehicle had been broken into several times.
The prosecution has argued that the three men made assumptions about Arbery but had no contact with him or knowledge of his whereabouts before they began chasing him and that they could not have believed he was a burglar.
McMichael will return to the witness stand Thursday to be cross-examined by prosecutor Linda Dunikoski.