A judge on Friday denied bond for Gregory and Travis McMichael as they await trial for murder in the death of Ahmaud Arbery.
The McMichaels chased down and fatally shot the 25-year-old Black man after he was spotted jogging in their Brunswick, Ga., neighborhood on Feb. 23, prosecutors said. Video of the shooting was shared widely on social media. Arbery’s death helped fuel racial-justice protests in Georgia and nationally, along with news that prosecutors failed to charge the McMichaels for months after the father, a former police officer, and his son claimed they thought Arbery was a suspect in recent burglaries.
Judge Timothy Walmsley’s decision comes after nearly two days of testimony in the bond hearing, during which character witnesses vouched for the father-son pair and the prosecution provided social media posts and texts that they say is evidence that the defendants are racially biased.
Walmsley ultimately said the court had a number of concerns about the McMichaels, who “appeared to take the law into their own hands.”
Prosecutors said Thursday that months before he fatally shot Arbery, Travis sent texts and published social media posts that were explicitly racist.
The 34-year-old White man used racist slurs while referring to a “crackhead” in one text, prosecutors said, and mocked Asians with racist terms in a Facebook post. Prosecutors used the messages to argue that McMichael and his father, Gregory McMichael, 64, who is also charged with murder in Arbery’s death, shouldn’t be released on bond.
The revelations add to allegations that the McMichaels’ racism contributed to the fatal shooting of Arbery. A third defendant in the case, William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., 51, who allegedly filmed the shooting on his phone, told investigators that Travis used the N-word after shooting Arbery three times, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Prosecutor Jesse Evans argued that the defendants’ racist beliefs should prevent them from leaving jail as they await trial.
Evans read a comment Travis left on a Facebook post of a friend, Zachary Langford, in October 2019, in which he wrote “sayonara” followed by derogatory descriptors of Asians and an expletive, according to a recording of the hearing published by WXIA. The prosecutor also read a text message he said Travis sent to Langford the following month in which he used a racist slur regarding a “crackhead” with “gold teeth and a Hi-Point 45,” a type of pistol.
Langford, who was a witness on Thursday, said he didn’t recognize either message, though after reviewing the transcripts he said the text was referring to a raccoon and was “facetious.”
In an exchange with defense attorney Robert Rubin, Langford said that Travis had at least one Black friend and that he worked with Black people at his job at a drilling company.
Judge Walmsley didn’t talk about racist social media posts extensively when he delivered his decision, but said he might address it in his written order.
Rubin and Evans did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bryan and Gregory and Travis McMichael spotted Arbery jogging in Brunswick, Ga., on Feb. 23. A video shot by Bryan appears to show Arbery running by the McMichaels’ truck and then a struggle. Finally, the video shows Travis shooting Arbery three times with a shotgun. The men told police that Travis shot Arbery when he tried to take his gun.
The case stalled when a first district attorney recommended that police not charge the McMichaels, but the incident made national headlines after the video went viral in early May. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation eventually took over the case and arrested and charged the father and son on May 7. Bryan was charged later that month with felony murder and criminal attempt to commit false imprisonment.
On Friday, the judge said the bond hearing was becoming a marathon and that the attorneys should focus on what the court really needs to hear, after another witness was called by the defense.
“I have given you a lot of leeway in this bond hearing,” he said. “There are four factors this court is supposed to look into. Y’all can sit and parse through everything the other side’s done. That’s not terribly informative.”
To make a ruling on bond, the court must determine if the men pose a significant flight risk; a threat or danger to people, the community or property; have no significant risk of committing a felony pending trial; and whether they have serious potential of intimidating witnesses or obstructing justice if they were to be released.
The McMichaels’ defense attorneys on Thursday claimed that the incident was not a hate crime and used a letter from Curt Hall, one of Travis’s roommates in the U.S. Coast Guard who described himself as “multiracial,” as proof that he is not racist.
“In no way, shape or form is Travis hateful toward any group of people, nor does he look down on anyone based on race, religion or beliefs,” Hall wrote. Ashley Langford, the wife of Travis’s best friend, also testified Thursday that Travis told her he “wished it never happened like that.”
Thursday’s hearing included character witnesses who testified that the McMichaels were nonviolent and not racist and that they were not flight risks.
Allison McMichael, wife of Gregory and mother to Travis, took the stand to testify that her husband and son were upstanding men who would stick around to face their day in court even if they were released. She told the court that Gregory had a motto: Treat people how you want to be treated.
Her husband never harmed anyone while he was working in law enforcement, and the man she has loved across decades has lost about 45 pounds and has grown paler and weaker since he’s been in jail, she said.
Travis was described as a “class clown” by a friend, and other witnesses said his father was respected throughout Brunswick. Character witnesses said they were willing to shelter, financially support the pair and transport them to court hearings upon release.
The prosecution argued that releasing the younger McMichael, who was said to have about $6,000 to his name, or his father, who was accused of wielding his time in law enforcement for influence, would be a danger to the community — particularly in light of the racist media they had consumed and messaged.
Evans submitted a flash drive with 21 folders on it and two large binders with what he argued was evidence of the McMichaels’ racist tendencies, including Travis telling his neighborhood community group to “arm up” and posts referring to Johnny Rebel, a musician who promoted white supremacist views.
The defense objected to many of the folders on the flash drive. Walmsley at one point paused to say he imagined much of the contents “would be trouble,” but that the information is helping the court understand.
“This is a road I really don’t want to go down,” he said about the racial content the defense presented. “This issue is going to keep coming up, and the court is going to have keep figuring it out.”
Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, closed Thursday’s hearing with her victim impact statement. She told the court that she was recently contacted by investigators in the spring about bone fragments, believed to be from her son, found in the neighborhood where he was killed.
“These men are proud of what they did. In their selfish minds, they think they are the good guys,” she said. “I and my family are literally left to pick up the pieces.”
“I don’t think he was remorseful, not at all,” Cooper-Jones said, referring to Travis, at a news conference outside the courthouse Thursday.
“Ahmaud wasn’t allowed to go home,” she added, “so them going home would be totally unfair.”