Before the defense and prosecution closed their cases Friday in the federal hate crime trial of the three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, the jury had heard from several witnesses testify about words and racist and discriminatory rants that two of the men had made.
Father and son, Greg and Travis McMichael, and their neighbor, William “Roddie” Bryan”, chased Arbery, 25, through their coastal Georgia neighborhood in trucks after spotting him running near their home in February 2020 The three men cornered Arbery and Travis McMichael shot him with a shotgun.
While the three men were convicted of murder at a state trial in November, the federal hate crime trial seeks to establish that their crime was motivated by racial bias. Prosecutors have focused on building a foundation to support their claim that Arbery’s murder was the result of prejudice the men held about black people, a motive state trial prosecutors largely avoided.
Earlier in the week, an FBI analyst who had combed through the men’s social media posts and posts, testified to the racist slurs and views they had shared in the years leading up to the murder.
On Friday, prosecutors called several witnesses who had conversations with the McMichaels in which they expressed racial bias and used slurs and other derogatory remarks to discuss black people.
Kim Ballesteros, a former neighbor of the McMichaels family who lived across the street from them, testified that on one occasion she met Greg McMichael after leaving the neighborhood, the two discussed their experiences with tenants. .
Ballesteros testified that Greg McMichael disparaged a black woman who had fallen behind on her rent, calling her “a fat, fat black woman” and said he and others often called the woman “the walrus” because the woman was “tall and black”. .”
Ballesteros said the conversation made her feel uncomfortable, but she said Greg McMichael went further and claimed to have unplugged the woman’s air conditioner when she failed to pay her rent on time. .
“You should have seen how quickly her big black ass came with the rent check,” Greg McMichael said, Ballesteros testified.
Former boss Travis McMichael also spoke.
Joe Mandala worked with young McMichael at a small naval base in Georgia at the time of Arbery’s murder, where they worked on small boats. He testified that Travis McMichael openly admitted to shooting Arbery and appeared to be fine after the killing, beyond two days off.
Mandala testified that Travis McMichael said he suspected Arbery of breaking into homes and claimed he was attacked.
When the murder video surfaced months later, Mandala said he was shocked and upset, and he expressed surprise that Travis McMichael had not been arrested. After watching the video with co-workers, he testified that he reported it to their superiors in an attempt to strip McMichael of his security passes and access to the facility, which took days without recorded arrest.
“Watching him was heartbreaking and what happened was heartbreaking,” Mandala said.
The prosecution then called a former colleague from Travis McMichael’s time in the US Coast Guard.
Kristie Ronquille, who is still serving in the Marine Force, told the jury that Travis McMichael called her an “N-word lover” for dating a black man while serving under McMichael in Pascagoula, Mississippi, in 2011.
Ronquille began to cry as she testified, telling prosecutors it was the first time she had heard of something like this. She said Travis McMichael also made sex jokes about his dating history and black men.
She said she was afraid to report it at the time because she was “still green” and unaware of the resources available to her and because Travis McMichael was her boss.
Amy Lee Copeland, who is Travis McMichael’s defense attorney, noted that Ronquille told the FBI she was only “90%” sure he used the racial slur. The lawyer also noted that Ronquille called him “crazy” and used profanity to describe him during the interview.
Copeland, however, was unable to provide a recording or transcript of the exchange with the FBI.
The last witness called by the prosecution was Carol Sears, who met Greg McMichael in 2015 after a hearing outside the Glynn County District Attorney’s Office, where the elder McMichael worked as an investigator until 2019.
A realtor in Larchmont, New York, Sears and his daughter had traveled to Georgia to attend a court hearing for the man who killed her husband years earlier in a drunk driving incident.
Sears said at one point she expressed sadness over the death of civil rights activist Julian Bond. She said she remembered calling it “terrible” as Greg McMichael took Sears and his daughter to the airport.
“Terrible? I wish this guy was in the ground years ago,” Greg McMichael replied, Sears testified. “All these black people are just trouble. I wish they all died.”
Sears said McMichael then went on an anti-black tirade for several minutes that carried “the meanness and ugliness of a whole race of people.” She and her daughter were shocked into silence for the rest of the ride and expressed their fear.
The prosecution then rested and the defense called a single witness in the name of Greg McMichael. Evelyn Cofer, a longtime resident of Satilla Shores, where the McMichaels family lives, testified that she saw a white man under a nearby bridge who was suspected of breaking into local homes.
McMichael had previously called police about the man, although the prosecution noted he called the police non-emergency number, pursued the matter without urgency and did not respond as he had. made to Arbery who was passing by his house.
The defense rested after Cofer’s testimony. Lawyers for Travis McMichael and Bryan did not call any witnesses.
Oral arguments are scheduled for Monday.