A Georgia Bureau of Investigations firearms examiner confirmed Monday Ahmaud Arbery was shot at close range.
Brian Leppard, a firearms and toolmark examiner for the GBI, testified about his investigation of the two guns submitted into evidence, a .357 Magnum and a 12-gauge shotgun, the gunpowder, pellets, cartridges and general ammunition from the guns and the clothing worn by Ahmaud Arbery the day he was shot.
The investigator also testified he conducted a muzzle-to-target test after the state prosecutor’s office requested it. The test helped to determine the approximate distance between the end of the gun and the shirt Arbery was wearing. According to Leppard, his examination of the garment showed the tearing, searing and rolling around the holes in the shirt were consistent with contact or near contact firing from the weapon.
“The end of the shotgun was very close to that fabric when it was fired,” Leppard told prosecuting attorney Linda Dunikoski. “To have something that large it had to be made by the, in my opinion, made by the gas from the tearing from the large amount of gas that exits the end of the barrel of the weapon, also observed is the rolling of the fabric where the edges of it are seared and rolled up.”
The defense presented images showing the size and condition of the holes in Arbery’s shirt.
Under cross-examination Robert Rubin, Travis McMichael’s attorney, asked the investigator if the shotgun would have been within “arms reach” or close enough for Arbery to touch due to the near contact firing. Leppard responded, if you were the victim “it would be reasonable to think that you could grab the shotgun.”
Court adjourned for the day after Leppard finished his testimony. The trial resumes Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. ET, with the state expected to call the medical examiner.
Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan Jr. are charged with malice and felony murder in connection with the killing of Arbery in Brunswick. They also face charges of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony. All have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, each man could face life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Arbery’s family has said he was out for a jog when he was shot and killed, while defense attorneys state the three men were attempting to make a citizen’s arrest before Travis McMichael shot Arbery in self-defense.
Jury shown 1,000 still images from shooting video
Enhanced videos of the fatal shooting as well as video from one of the defendants’ surveillance system were shown to the jury Monday, allowing jurors to take a careful look of the events that took place in February 23, 2020.
The jury was shown three enhanced versions of cell phone video that recorded Arbery’s death Monday. Jurors were also shown a frame-by-frame still version of the video, which resulted in more than 1,000 still images. Of the three videos shown, one was produced at half speed, one for contrast and one for stabilization.
GBI analyzed the videos, which were shown to the jury during the testimony of Lawrence Kelly, Special Agent with GBI.
Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery’s mother closed her eyes during replays of the Bryan cell phone video, according to a pool reporter in the room. The jury kept their eyes on the video as each one was played.
Surveillance video from Bryan’s home were also shown to the jury. The GBI investigator testified Bryan gave permission for the GBI to download the video. Three clips were played.
One showed Bryan working on his porch. The second video showed Arbery running with a white truck behind him then the video shows William Bryan getting in his truck and following the group. The third video showed Bryan returning to his home later in the day after the shooting.
Kelly also testified there was no communication between the phones of Bryan and Gregory McMichael prior to or on the day of the shooting.
Attorney complains multiple times about Jesse Jackson
As multiple investigators testified Monday, noted civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson attended Monday’s court proceedings in a show of support for the Arbery family.
Jackson arrived at the Glynn County Courthouse with Marcus Arbery Sr., Ahmaud Arbery’s father and Barbara Arnwine of the Transformative Justice Coalition. Jackson sat in the courtroom with Arbery’s parents.
Lawyers for all three defendants asked the judge to declare a mistrial in the late morning, but Judge Timothy Walmsley denied those motions.
Defense attorney Kevin Gough complained that Jackson’s presence distracted and unduly influenced the jury because Jackson is “an icon in the civil rights movement.”
Lawyer Jason Sheffield said the displaying of a photo of Arbery apparently caused weeping in the courtroom and the emotion of the moment was compounded by Jackson’s presence. Jackson said during a lunch press briefing the weeping was prompted by Cooper-Jones seeing a photograph of her son in court.
The judge said emotions in a courtroom are neither “unexpected or unreasonable” and how to handle it is left up to discretion of the court.
Jackson’s attendance followed comments made by Gough Thursday in court. He said “we don’t want any more Black pastors coming in here or other Jesse Jackson, whoever was in here earlier this week, sitting with the victim’s family trying to influence a jury in this case.”
Gough apologized for his comments, but the fallout has already brought further attention to a trial where race has been a key focus. Three White men are on trial for chasing and killing a Black man, and 11 of the 12 jurors in majority-White Glynn County are White.
On Monday morning, before testimony resumed, Gough asked the judge to order a court employee to preserve a record of people in the courtroom the jurors could see, in case any of the three defendants are convicted and an appeal is filed. Walmsley denied that motion, too.
Before the jury was allowed in after the morning recess, Gough said he objected “to his (Jackson’s) presence in the public gallery inside the courtroom.”
“How many pastors does that Arbery family have? We had the Rev. Al Sharpton here earlier last week … I don’t know who Mr. Jackson, Rev. Jackson is pastoring here.” Gough said.
“I guess the next question is which pastor is next? Is Raphael Warnock going to make, be the next person appearing this afternoon? We don’t know,” Gough said. “Your honor I would submit with all respect to the Rev. Jesse Jackson that his is not different than bringing in police officers or uniformed prison guards in a small town where a young black man has been accused of assaulting a law enforcement officer or corrections officer.”
Walmsley seemed bothered by Gough’s repeated requests.
“Mr. Gough at this point, I’m not exactly sure what you’re doing,” Walmsley said. “I have already ruled on this court’s position with regard to the gallery and with all candor, I was not even aware that Rev. Jackson was in the courtroom, until you started your motion.”
The judge said the court’s position had not changed, “it’s almost as if you’re just trying to continue this for purposes other than just bringing it to the court’s attention.”
Walmsley stressed he was attempting to ensure the defendants receive a fair trial before saying he was done talking about it.
Civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton had joined Arbery’s parents and held their hands to pray together during a break in Wednesday’s court proceedings.
Gough said Thursday he had “nothing personally against” Sharpton but decried bringing “high-profile members of the African American community into the courtroom to sit with the family during the trial in the presence of the jury,” adding, “that’s intimidating and it’s an attempt to pressure.”
Sheffield, an attorney for Travis McMichael, said Friday that Gough’s comment was “totally asinine. Ridiculous,” and said, “In no way do we want to exclude anybody from this process.”
Testimony from GBI investigators
On Monday, Anne Kisler-Rao, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) crime lab staffer, testified that she analyzed fibers taken both from Arbery’s shirt and a tape lift from a truck.
Kisler-Rao said the fibers taken from the truck were “consistent” with the fibers from Arbery’s shirt, but said she could not say definitively if they came from the T-shirt Arbery was wearing.
GBI Special Agent Lawrence Kelly testified while full-speed and half-speed replays of the Bryan’s cell phone video were played. The video showed the shooting of Arbery.
Arbery’s mother closed her eyes during the replays.
The day began with continued testimony from an agent who interviewed Bryan on two occasions more than two months after the shooting. The interviews were conducted while Gough was present.
GBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Jason Seacrist testified last week that Bryan told him he followed the McMichaels as they pursued Arbery in their vehicles, with Bryan videotaping the moment Travis McMichael and Arbery wrestled over McMichael’s firearm before Arbery was shot.
Bryan said he tried to slow down Arbery during the chase to get a picture of him, so “something would happen in the end other than just him getting away and cops not knowing who he was.” Seacrist testified he asked Bryan why police would need to know who Arbery was.
“Because I figured he had done something wrong,” Bryan responded, according to the transcript. “I didn’t know for sure.”
When the agent asked Bryan what made him think Arbery had done something wrong, Bryan said, “It was just instinct man, I don’t know,” according to the interview transcript.
Neighbor sought to find unknown trespasser
The confrontation between the McMichaels and Arbery on the day of the shooting came minutes after a neighbor called police to say Arbery was at homeowner Larry English Jr’s property that afternoon.
A police officer testified Friday that English had contacted authorities numerous times in the months before the shooting about trespassers on his property — which was undergoing construction — and English had provided video of an unidentified individual on the premises.
Gregory McMichael, investigators testified, said he initiated the pursuit that led to the shooting after seeing Arbery speedily run by McMichael’s home, and he believed Arbery matched the description of someone who’d been recorded at the construction site in the past.
But prosecution witnesses have testified McMichael did not know at the time Arbery was at the site that day or whether the man in English’s surveillance videos had ever stolen anything.
The prosecution has said surveillance videos show Arbery at the site multiple times but always without breaking in and without incident. In his deposition, English denied he ever authorized the McMichaels to confront anybody on the construction site.
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